"It is important to understand that Asia and the Pacific have become the primary focus of U.S. war planning and preparations"
by Joseph Gerson (American Friends Service Committee, USA) *
I want to thank the conference organizers for the privilege of joining you. It has been ten years since 9-11, when believe it or not, Secretary of War Donald Rumsfeld told President Bush that invading Afghanistan would violate international law, and Bush the Lesser responded that he wanted to “kick some ass.”
It’s been ten years since we first warned that one of Bush’s motives was to circumvent Russian control of
Central Asian fossil fuels by building a natural gas pipeline from Turkmenistan though Afghanistan, and
now President Obama’s “Silk Road Initiative” which reaffirms that goal.
It has been ten years and countless deaths between what was supposed to be a short little war to liberate
Afghans from their Taliban oppressors to today’s Afghan "entropy" swirling in "360 degrees of chaos."
And it’s been more than a century that Afghans have resisted being sacrificed in Eurasia’s deadly “Great
Game” for geostrategic advantages.
Martin Luther King taught that the arc of history is long but bends toward freedom, but this is only true if
people willing to act for justice do the bending.
In the few minutes that I have here to do a little bending, I want to briefly review how, midst the irrevocable
U.S. economic, military and diplomatic decline, U.S. elites are working to reinforce their hegemony. And,
from Occupy to our planning for the NATO/G-8 summit in Chicago, I want to say a little about how U.S.
peace movement campaigns are of a piece with yours.
The Obama Administration’s Central Asian game plan is clear, even as there is reason to doubt it can be
implemented. Complete military withdrawal in 2014 is no longer on Washington’s table. As Vice-President
Biden urged before President Obama kowtowed to Pentagon demands to escalate the Afghan War, the U.S.
plans to reduce the size and financial costs of its footprint across Afghanistan by turning from counterinsurgency
warfare to what is called a counter-terrorism campaign: fewer troops, more night raids and more
drone attacks. As we feared, the 2014 withdrawal deadline has been cast aside, and one of the Bonn
summit’s functions is to bless the U.S./NATO war and a permanent military presence in Afghanistan for at
least another decade. The permanent U.S. military bases being negotiated by Obama and Karzai have
additional roles in buttressing U.S. global dominance: reinforcing the U.S. power on Russia’s oil-rich and
geo-strategically vital southern frontier, as well as the encirclement of China, which now extends from Korea
and Japan in the north; through Singapore, the Philippines, Vietnam and Australia in the south, to India in the
Defeating Al Qaeda, now a battered and decentralized Third World force, is no longer Washington’s primary
Central Asian military concern. Instead, pursuing the failed Vietnam War era strategy of “coercive
diplomacy,” the Washington consensus is to attack the Taliban until it comes to a negotiating table set by the
United States. If it signs on to the Silk Road Initiative – the neo-liberal integration of Central Asia resources
and markets and their orientation to the West and India rather than to Russia – Washington is open to its
having a role in the Afghan government.
But the U.S. ruling elite isn’t unified, and as the novelist William Faulkner advised, “The past isn’t dead. It
isn’t even past.” Paleolithic voices of Bush-era neo-conservatives like Max Boot will likely become more
influential as the 2012 U.S. election approaches. Worshipping power and still committed to the Bush-
Petraeus counter-insurgency strategy, they fear that as part of his campaigning Obama will withdraw more
than 28,000 U.S. troops (which would still leave more than 100,000 U.S. warriors in Afghanistan) before the
election. They will argue that Obama is losing Afghanistan as a way to divert attention from their equally
primitive economic policies.
With the understandable focus on the economic crisis, most U.S. people are in denial that with Obama we
have a second, if more sophisticated, war president. Once again in the name of “humanitarian intervention”
Washington manipulated the United Nations to win a green light for NATO’s “New Strategic Concept” war
in Libya. Now, and not surprisingly, the U.S. and the NATO nations that toppled the Qaddafi dictatorship
have privileged access to Libya’s oil, construction contracts and the other spoils of war. Elsewhere, as we
could read last week, Moscow is digging in against U.S. and NATO so-called missile defenses. Moscow
understands that while Iran is a cause for concern, the U.S. refusal to share missile defense technologies
demonstrates that a key missile defense role is to serve as a shield to reinforce U.S. first strike nuclear
swords. Similar to the late 1940s, when the Cold War was sparked by U.S. fantasies of a devastated Soviet
Union somehow invading Western Europe, NATO’s expansion and the insistence on “missile defenses”
threaten to precipitate a dangerous new arms race.
That said, it is important to understand that Asia and the Pacific have become the primary focus of U.S. war
planning and preparations. Former Deputy Secretary of War Joseph Nye explained why, writing: “…Asia
will return to its historic status, with more than half of the world’s population and half of the world’s
economic output,” that “America must be present there,” and that “Markets and economic power rest on
political frameworks, and American military power provides that framework.” The Obama Administration
has since trumpeted that as it withdraws from Iraq and reduces the number of troops in Afghanistan, it will
“pivot” to Asia and the Pacific: militarily, economically and diplomatically. The commitment to “contain”
China’s rise is thus being re-enforced by expanding and deepening the Cold War alliances with Japan, South
Korea and the Philippines, by tacit alliances with Vietnam and India, and by drawing an increasingly
militarized line across the oil- and mineral-rich South China Seas seabed. And in Northeast Asia, As former
U.S. Ambassador to China R. Stapleton Roy put it during last year’s Korea crisis, “We poked China in the
eye because we could.”
Despite the economic crisis and possible Pentagon spending cuts, the Obama administration has pledged that
there will be no turning back on the U.S. Asia-Pacific military build up. And, it has committed to a $185
billion increase in spending for nuclear weapons and their delivery systems over the next decade.
So where are the sources of hope, the silver linings in these dark clouds?
As Paul Krugman reminded us, “Things that look like they can’t last don’t.” The U.S. is suffering from
imperial overreach, and these stresses are compounded by the corporate and plutocratic assaults on the U.S.
political system. The wealth of the 400 richest U.S. people now equals the combined wealth of the bottom
60%. As working and middle class families lose their jobs and homes, millions have been forced into the
ranks of the working poor and the impoverished with tragic consequences for them and their communities as
As the bi-partisan debt reduction commission reported more than a year ago, the U.S. cannot have economic
prosperity and a military budget that is nearly twice what it was a decade ago. Our “Move the Money”
campaigns to cut military spending to end wars and to address real human needs will need to step up
organizing to defend our recent debt reduction supercommittee victory: $600 billion in military spending
cuts over the next decade from Republican campaigns to restore the full dimensions of the Pentagon’s deadly
cornucopia and Democratic politicians’ election year fears of being charged with being “soft on security.” If
we can secure our victory, we will see accelerated troop reductions from Afghanistan – though not complete
withdrawal – as well as here in Western Europe.
The Occupy movement, fueled by outrage over growing economic inequality, the end of the New Deal social
contract, and truncated opportunities, has raised hopes across the U.S. and inspired similar protests in other
nations. The police have been one of the movment’s most powerful allies, as ordinary people have been
shocked by the pepper spraying of their daughters, sons and grandmothers. While we can’t predict the
movement’s future we should recognize that it has already won a great victory. Its slogan “We are the 99%”
and its commitment to nonviolence have transformed the national discourse, providing a new frame of
reference for the political struggles ahead. More, after years of young people identifying more as consumers
than as citizens, significant numbers of the rising generation have identified and are struggling for their real
interests. And, like the Civil Rights and Vietnam War era peace movements, Occupy has inspired older
activists, many worn down by years of struggle, to support a new generation of democracy and justice
One caveat needs to be added. Greater democracy in the United States – participatory, political and economic – is certainly in everyone’s interest, and it would reduce Washington’s
ability to prosecute its wars across the planet. But, to keep things in perspective, Occupy is for the most part
a militantly populist movement. Its condemnation of “colonialism at home and abroad….torture and murder
of innocent civilians overseas” comes only at the very end of the September 29 Declaration of Occupation of
New York City, and we’ve heard little from Occupy about winning the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops
from Afghanistan or opposing the massive U.S. military build-up across the Pacific and Asia.
For the moment, in addition to support of Occupytions, “Move the Money” campaigns are the leading and
unifying force for the traditional U.S. peace movement. With popular education tools, like this graphic
picture of U.S. government priorities (60% of discretionary funding going to the Pentagon, and just 6 % for
education and 1% for non-nuclear energy,) with YouTube videos, city council resolutions and plans for
referenda, these campaigns are building bridges between the traditional U.S. peace movement, community
based movements and organized labor. We used to call the AFL-CIO, long the umbrella organization for
U.S. organized labor, the AFL-CIA, but with its call for cutting military spending, they too have joined the
Finally, I want to report to you about our plans for the NATO/G-8 summit in Chicago this May. As with
other summits, a host of organizations, networks and coalitions are planning events to challenge the 1%’s
corporate globalization, and are demanding an end to U.S./NATO wars and of NATO itself. Reminiscent of
the Strasbourg NATO summit’s police repression, Chicago authorities are already enforcing the closure of
the center city during the summits, and thousands of police are being trained for “mass arrests” to prevent –
more likely to create – “chaos.”
Since last year’s Lisbon summit, a number of us have organized the Network for a NATO Free Future,
which demands the complete withdrawal of all U.S. and NATO forces from Afghanistan, the withdrawal of
all foreign deployed U.S. troops, bases, nuclear weapons and missile defenses, substantial reductions in U.S.
and NATO military spending, and NATO’s retirement.
Because the U.S. peace movement knows as little about NATO as a global and offensive military alliance
focused on out of area operations as it does about the increasingly militarized struggle for the South China
Seas’ mineral wealth, Network for a NATO Free Future is focused on capacity and movement building for
the longer term. In addition to traditional peace movement forces, we have drawn in other substantial forces
like the Grassroots Global Justice Network (the primary force behind the U.S. Social Forum,) the National
Day Laborers’ Organizing Network, and Chicago’s Southwest Youth Collaborative. The three main thrusts
of our organizing are a national speaking tour; popular education, including youth created videos; and an
international counter-summit conference being organized from the bottom up, with participating
organizations developing the plenaries, tracks and planning and workshops. It also seems likely that the
Occupy movement will converge on Chicago, and we will be exploring how best to build on this opportunity.
As we hear reports about ISO-led planning for a permitted protest march, I find myself thinking about Strasbourg. Thus far, no permits have been issued, and with the center city being closed down, their recent statements have focused more on demanding respect for the U.S. Constitution’s guarantees of freedom of
speech and assembly. AFSC and other members of the Network for a NATO-Free Future are supporting their
appeal to the courts for the march permit, but our planning for a feeder march is understandably on hold.
In closing, I want to pay homage to Malalai Joya’s courage. Some time ago, Lucas wrote that this
workshop’s title derives from a Che Guevera observation about tenderness and revolution. That led me to
Che having said “If you tremble to every injustice, you are a comrade of mine.” To my mind, Malalai Joya
exemplifies the sensitivity and courage essential to human liberation, and I want to take this opportunity to
thank her for her struggle which is as much about the liberation of the U.S people as it is of Afghans.
Viva Malalai and viva the struggle for peace, freedom and justice!
1 Rangina Hamidi, human rights activist, Truthout, Nov. 12, 2011
2 Joseph Nye. “The Right Way to Trim”. New York Times, August 8, 2011.
3 See, among others, the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision which permits unlimited corporate
contributions to election campaigns.
4 American Wealth Disparity: http://larvalsubjects.wordpress.com/2011/03/21/american-wealth-disparity/
* Dr. Joseph Gerson is Director of Programs and of the Peace & Economic Security Program of the American Friends Service Committee in New England
Speech at the International Conference "For a self-determined Afghanistan", December 4th 2011, Bonn (Germany)
Back to Afghanistan
Back to the Peace Movement
Zurück zur Homepage