Facing down some of the greatest threats to our country and to the world in perhaps a generation, our people’s resistance has risen to pull off some pretty impressive victories — won by protests in the streets, civil disobedience blocking efforts to deport our friends and neighbors, and challenges to voter suppression efforts.
Meanwhile, lively combinations of cross-movement organizers are meeting to hash out intersectional strategies to reveal, resist, and replace the policies of white supremacy and oppression flooding out of Washington.
The women’s marches showed the world just how powerful our resistance could be. And then we flooded U.S. airports and surrounded the White House to derail both versions of the Muslim ban. Brave judges were empowered to see that tens of thousands of people across the country had their backs. Those actions set the stage for further rallies to hasten the collapse of the Republicans’ vicious health care bill, as their first big legislative effort dissolved into internal right-wing bickering.
But despite all the good, we remain in crisis — and standing back or resting on our temporary victories isn’t an option.
Every day we’re whip-sawed with new outrages and horrors — with raw racism, escalating militarism, and false populism all on parade in and around the White House. I talked about some of that with Jacobin’s Bhaskar Sunkara on The Real News here and here. And in Foreign Policy in Focus, I wrote about the threats of escalating U.S. involvement in the wars already raging in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and beyond.
Here at home those White House threats inspire angry movements rooted in racist, misogynist, Islamophobic, anti-immigrant, and anti-Semitic lies. Violence and threats against whole communities are on the rise — targeting refugees, Muslims, immigrants, Arabs and South Asians, Latinos, African-Americans, LGBTQ folks, Jews, and more.
Even here the ties to U.S. militarism are unmistakable. What a surprise! The seven Muslim-majority countries originally singled out for special punishment in the first Muslim ban all happen to be countries where the U.S. is either dropping bombs, levying sanctions, or stationing U.S. troops and bases. (And it turns out there’s another unmentioned factoid in the Muslim ban: None of the seven targeted countries have any known Trump hotels or other investments — just a coincidence?)
While the Muslim bans were rejected by the courts, the effort to keep Muslims out of our country is still underway. Recently we heard about a new memo from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to consulate staff around the world, requiring them to extensively increase scrutiny of anyone seeking a U.S. visa. It was, as the New York Times described it, “the first evidence of the ‘extreme vetting’ Mr. Trump promised.” Stay tuned for Muslim Ban 3.0.
And despite the scandals that should have brought down the administration months ago, it continues to issue orders that put whole communities — indeed, whole countries — directly in their line of fire.
Meanwhile, the White House proposal for a new budget presents an unambiguous plan to privilege guns over butter. The Pentagon currently swallows 54 cents of every discretionary dollar in the U.S. budget — and now Trump wants to raise that another 10 percent, to add $54 billion more taxpayer dollars to the already bloated budget.
To pay for it, he wants Congress to slash critical programs that protect human needs, the environment, and diplomatic alternatives to war. The extra money for the military would be taken from the EPA, slashing 31 percent of its funding and gutting its ability to protect our endangered environment; from the State Department, scheduled to lose 29 percent of its funds to guarantee the triumph of war over diplomacy; and from foreign aid appropriations, essentially gutting all of our humanitarian programs, proving to an already skeptical world that the U.S. government really doesn’t care about starving children or women dying in childbirth.
In response, leaders from a broad array of movements convened at IPS last month to begin discussions of a statement of principles challenging the $54 billion military escalation. The statement was linked both to the 50th anniversary commemorations of Martin Luther King’s urgent 1967 Riverside Church speech (which linked opposition to racism, materialism, and militarism) and to the mobilization underway for the April 29 People’s Climate March. Stephen Miles from Win Without War and I wrote about it in The Nation.
As Congress gets ready to return to Washington, the White House is already running into trouble on their proposed budget, including from their own party. The Republican military hawks like his proposed military increase, but they want to pay for it by cutting entitlements. The deficit hawks love the cuts to EPA and health care, but are mad that his budget doesn’t cut enough entitlements, and some of them aren’t so sure about his military budget increases. And lots of Republicans looking at re-election are worried that Trump’s proposed cuts are attacking programs popular in their districts.
Some Democrats have challenged the military escalation, but they haven’t yet been strong enough in challenging the military budget overall — they need to be reminded that most people in this country don’t want to raise military spending. So, this is simultaneously a huge challenge and opportunity. We’ve got a lot of work ahead.
…And the Wars
Right now, the administration is intensifying existing U.S. wars and carrying out provocative actions that threaten new ones. In Common Dreams I described the current array of Washington’s global escalations and reckless threats — all designed, according to the White House, to “send a message.”
In North Korea, that means provocative threats, including deploying U.S. naval, and potentially nuclear, armadas towards the nuclear-armed state, calling on UN ambassadors to press for harsher sanctions, and summoning the entire Senate for a classified briefing on North Korea with top military leaders. In Iraq, that includes the massive U.S. assault on Mosul that left hundreds of civilians dead. In Afghanistan, it meant dropping the largest non-nuclear bomb ever used in combat — the 21,000 pound “Mother of all Bombs.”
Then there was the U.S. strike on a Syrian military base — supposedly in retaliation for a horrifying chemical weapons attack (of which, regardless of the White House’s allegations, we still don’t have any definitive proof about who carried it out). The Syria strike generated an unusual level of press coverage, along with public and some congressional opposition — perhaps because it was often described as being the first time the U.S. had bombed the country.
But that’s not true — the U.S. has been bombing Syria since 2014. The difference here was that the attack was explicitly directed at the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad, rather than supposedly targeting ISIS or al-Qaeda. But like other attacks, it was carried out in direct violation of both U.S. and international law. I discussed and wrote about the attack on Democracy Now, MSNBC, AlterNet, and NPR’s Indivisible and 1A.
Meanwhile Trump continues to ratchet up his reckless rhetoric about going after Iran. And while I don’t think a direct military attack on Iran is on the White House agenda, at least for now, I do fear that a major U.S. escalation in Yemen is likely. And if it happens it’ll be justified as a “message” to Iran. I wrote about this danger in The Nation a few weeks ago, noting that the U.S. is already a major player in Yemen’s civil war, backing Saudi Arabia and the UAE with arms and participating directly in their bombing campaign, which has killed numerous Yemeni civilians.
None of these attacks are linked to a strategy or policy beyond the assertion of raw power, none will end the wars now killing hundreds of thousands and forcing millions to become refugees, and none will keep people in the U.S. — let alone in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, or Yemen — safe. “America First,” in Trump’s America, means “Military First.” Anyone who thought Trump’s hints of isolationism included the military had better think again.
Is Yemen Washington’s Next Full-Scale War?
The result of the U.S.-backed Saudi air war is that Yemen, already the poorest country in the Arab world, is now on the verge of famine. Large numbers of Yemenis don’t know where they’ll find food in the next 24 hours.
The Saudis have blockaded Yemen’s main port. It’s a humanitarian catastrophe, and the U.S. is making it worse. And don’t forget the new war budget that slashes our already paltry foreign aid contributions. I talked about all this on MSNBC.
With an escalation already underway in the U.S. counter-terrorism bombing raids supposedly targeting Yemen’s al-Qaeda branch, a further escalation in the civil war is looking all too likely. In fact, a recent Washington Post headline read “U.S. Weighs Deeper Involvement in the Yemen War” — including a request from Secretary of Defense “Mad Dog” Mattis to remove the Obama administration’s modest restrictions that were designed (however insufficiently) to reduce civilian casualties.
And since Iran has provided some economic and military support to the Houthi rebels who are longtime domestic opponents of the Saudi-backed Yemeni government, the White House is likely to justify such an assault with the false claim that the Houthis are somehow a proxy of Iran. The result will be a serious rise in U.S.-Iran tensions — and more importantly, a serious increase in the number of dead Yemenis.
We should note that Congress has never authorized any U.S. military involvement in Yemen’s civil war. Cutting funding for the U.S. role in the war and demanding that Saudi Arabia end the blockade of the Hodeidah port is one of so many demands we should be making to our representatives and senators right now.
Trump’s Emerging “Foreign Policy” That Isn’t
In the meantime, U.S. troop deployments in Syria and Iraq are already on the rise.
A recent little-noticed announcement mentioned that 500 more soldiers have been sent to Syria — supposedly to join the attack against the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa. Other reports indicate that hundreds, or maybe a thousand or more, will follow soon. That bodes ill for the up to 400,000 people still living under ISIS’ brutal rule in Raqqa. They will soon face the “we had to destroy the city in order to save it” air assault that devastated Mosul and its people in Iraq.
There is no indication that the Trump administration has a plan for how to manage Washington’s hostile and competing proxies all eager to fight each other in order to occupy these cities when ISIS is routed. And there is no clarity about what the U.S. will do after ISIS has been militarily vanquished in any of these towns, when its militants have likely fled to other hideouts, leaving behind destroyed ruins of once historic cities and devastated populations of hundreds of thousands of half-starved, homeless, traumatized survivors.
Our government remains, as Dr. King identified it 50 years ago, “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world.”
Here at home, I’m thrilled to announce we’ve just hired our first Michael Ratner Middle East Fellow to join my project here at IPS. Maha Hilal, an experienced organizer and activist, will be spending a year here working on anti-Islamophobia and anti-war mobilization, local campaigns linking protection of refugees with opposition to the wars that create refugees, Palestinian rights, supporting diplomacy over war, and more.
For those of you who don’t know his life and legacy, Michael Ratner was the long-term president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, a former president of the National Lawyers Guild, and among the greats of the legal activists of our movements. Michael sued in U.S. courts to implement the decision of the International Court of Justice holding the United States liable for bombing Nicaragua. He defended inmates charged in the Attica prison uprising. He worked to get protesters out of jail, among them Central American activists and Palestinian human rights defenders. And he was among the first to say that detainees at Guantanamo Bay prison, held without charge or trial in the so-called “global war on terror,” deserved lawyers, legal rights, and a challenge to their illegal detention. Michael was also a consummate internationalist, committed to international law as well as global activism on Vietnam, Cuba, Haiti, Palestine, and beyond. He died almost a year ago — and Maha’s work will help build on his legacy.
I’ve been on the road an awful lot in the last couple of months — in Syracuse, Ithaca, New Hampshire, New York, Albany, Detroit, Williamsburg, and Chicago for the Jewish Voice for Peace convention. And soon I think we’ll be seeing Maha speaking at universities and convening strategy discussions around the country, too. We have a lot of work to do — and Maha will be a huge part of making it happen.