Sunday, May 16, 2021

Moral Questioning and the American War Machine


Members of the US Army 1st Division 9th Regiment 1st Battalion unload heavy combat equipment including Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles at the railway station near the Pabrade military base in Lithuania, on October 21, 2019. PETRAS MALUKAS/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

By Marianne Williamson

Newsweek Columnist

April 29, 2021 - In the 1960s, the war on poverty, the civil rights movement and anti-war movements made strides against what Martin Luther King Jr. called "the triple evils of poverty, racism and militarism." None of the three was eradicated, of course, but they were certainly hit hard. President Lyndon B. Johnson built a federal framework for poverty eradication, legalized segregation was abolished and the Vietnam War came to an end in the face of massive protest. While no one at the time thought America's problems had all been solved, those struggles for justice were real and in many ways successful.

Today, a similar era of protest has erupted as a new generation of Americans—representing even greater numbers—struggles to tackle existential threats and injustices in our midst. Desire to end poverty is expressed in calls for a higher minimum wage, union protections, a tax system that doesn't favor the rich and the removal of college loan debt. Desire to end systemic racism is expressed in Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality, and increased calls for police and criminal justice reform. Americans are pushing back passionately in the face of economic and racial injustice.

Yet the "third evil" decried by Dr. King—militarism—does not get the passionate protest today that it got in the 1960s. Perhaps this is due to the fact that during the Vietnam War, it was everyone's son, brother, husband, lover or friend constantly threatened by the specter of a low draft number, whereas today there is no draft at all. Today's armed forces are manned by a volunteer army, making their deployment here or there far easier to ignore. The military is so much a part of the way we function that those born since 9/11 have grown up never having known an America not at war. They never knew a time when we didn't have over 800 military bases in over 150 countries, and on every continent in the world except Antarctica. To them, a sign that says "Ban the Bomb" would be seen as a quaint reminder of a time gone by. The system has succeeded in distracting and exhausting people to the point of acquiescence. All they have to do is tell us we're leaving Afghanistan, and we're too distracted to ask then why they're still spending all that money.

What a tragedy that is. For American militarism today is no less dangerous, and no less a threat to our democracy and to our world, than it has ever been. In fact, it is more so. It is a budgetary behemoth that pollutes our planet, defines our economy, undermines our moral authority around the world and recklessly increases the risk of nuclear tensions all in the name of our "security."

In no area has the wool been pulled over the eyes of the modern American than in the area of our perpetual war machine. Every year—unchallenged and under-investigated by our mainstream media—in slavish devotion to defense contractors who fuel their campaigns, both political parties pass an increasingly gargantuan National Defense Authorization Act in easy breezy lockstep. Our military budget, almost twice the size of the military expenditures of every other country on Earth, is like a sacred edict handed down from on high, treated with some weird political reverence as though to question it is to suggest that our safety and security do not matter.

But this has little to do with our safety and security, and everything to do with how things work in Washington. Our current secretary of Defense is a former general and Raytheon board member, in defiance not only of Congress' own injunction against military leadership at the DOD (they simply waived their rule for Secretary Jim Mattis under Donald Trump, then did the same for Lloyd Austin), and seemingly with no concern that someone who had just been a board member at one of America's major defense contractors just might have a teensy bit of proclivity for seeing our defense through the eyes of those for whom the most money is to be made.

President Joe Biden's $715 billion proposed defense budget this year has less to do with our security than with our economy, as 54 cents of every dollar of discretionary spending in America is spent on defense related activity. Politicians tout how many jobs are created by the defense industry, in clear absence of any moral consideration of what all that equipment is used for and whether it serves humanity that the United States is the world's biggest supplier of arms as well as the biggest perpetrator of military misadventures. While it's been proven that investment in education and infrastructure actually provides more return on investment in terms of job creation, there is very little serious talk of how to move us from a war economy to a peace economy. MSNBC and CNN aren't going to touch that any more than Fox will.

Romantic views of the U.S. military as a purveyor of freedom have withered away, the coattails of World War II having long given way to the cynical truth of our post-war military involvements. The people of the world no longer see America as a champion of democracy, and rightfully so. The U.S. military has become less a purveyor of freedom and more a purveyor of protection for the corporate forces they represent, from the military defense industry to the fossil fuel industry and more. No less powerful a person than the vice president of the United States said recently that, "For years and generations, wars have been fought over oil"—she said she had learned this from "attending a lot of meetings on foreign policy"— and it hardly made a headline. My God, how cynically accepting we are of people in other parts of the world dying so we can keep the lights on in every room of the house.

I guess it's good we're not even pretending anymore. But perhaps we could drink in what that means. The perverse size of our military budget does not simply represent money that could have been used to help people in the United States; it also represents a lot of harm done to people in other parts of the world for reasons that are neither altruistic nor even honest. What a moral void exists in the center of the American psyche now, that the murderous mistakes of Vietnam, Iraq and Libya have earned little more reaction from political officialdom than, "Oops. Yeah, we probably shouldn't have done that."

There are people raging at the machine, to be sure. The People over Pentagon campaign has called for a $200 billion reduction, and the Congressional Progressive Caucus has proposed a 10 percent reduction in annual defense spending. The Friends Committee on National Legislation and others have argued vigorously for an end to U.S. support of Saudi Arabia's blockade of Yemen. But it's the people ourselves who need to rise up now against the military madness in our midst.

It's important we understand how aberrational is this chapter in our history. At the outset of World War II, the United States didn't have a standing army. By the end of that war, our triumphant military machinery was not dismantled but rather repurposed for the post-war era. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the supreme allied commander during World War II turned president seven years later, warned us in his 1961 Farewell Address of the dangers of the "military industrial complex." Interestingly enough, he originally called it the "military-congressional-industrial complex," and he was right. This isn't just an unholy alliance between the military and industry; it's a corrupt, murderous and immoral three-way.

"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed," said Eisenhower. "This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron."

Those words would mean so much less were they not spoken by the man who had himself led America's military through World War II, a man who knew as few ever did what it means to fight a necessary, even a moral war. The man who led the D-Day invasion was hardly soft on the military. But he was strong on the moral questioning of war, and that is what we are lacking today.

Marianne Williamson is a Newsweek columnist, best-selling author, political activist and spiritual thought leader. She is founder of Project Angel Food and co-founder of the Peace Alliance, and was the first candidate in the 2020 presidential primary to make reparations a pillar of her campaign. She is the author of 13 books, among them Healing the Soul of America and A Politics of Love.

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Progressives in Congress Should Unite to Slash Biden’s Military Budget


Rep. Barbara Lee speaks as Rep. Pramila Jayapal looks on during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on November 19, 2019.OLIVIER DOULIERY / AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

By Medea Benjamin & Marcy Winograd, 

Salon via Truthout

May 4, 2021 - Imagine this scenario: A month before the vote on the federal budget, progressives in Congress declare, “We’ve studied President Biden’s proposed $753 billion military budget, an increase of $13 billion from Trump’s already inflated budget, and we can’t, in good conscience, support this.”

Now that would be a show-stopper, particularly if they added, “So we have decided to stand united, arm in arm, as a block of ‘no’ votes on any federal budget resolution that fails to reduce military spending by 10 to 30 percent. We stand united against a federal budget resolution that includes upwards of $30 billion for new nuclear weapons — slated to ultimately cost nearly $2 trillion. We stand united in demanding the $50 billion earmarked to maintain all 800 overseas bases, including the new one under construction on Okinawa, be reduced by at least one-third, because it’s time we scaled back on plans for global domination.”

“Ditto,” they say, “for the billions the president wants for the arms-escalating Space Force, one of Trump’s worst ideas, right up there with hydroxychloroquine to cure COVID-19. And, no, we don’t want to escalate our troop deployments for a military confrontation with China in the South China Sea. It’s time to ‘right-size’ the military budget and demilitarize our foreign policy.”

Progressives uniting as a block to resist out-of-control military spending would be a no-nonsense exercise of raw power, reminiscent of the way the right-wing Freedom Caucus challenged the traditional Republicans in the House in 2015. Without progressives on board, President Biden might not be able to secure enough votes to pass a federal budget that would then greenlight the reconciliation process needed for his broad domestic agenda.

For years, progressives in Congress have complained about the bloated military budget. In 2020, 93 members in the House and 23 in the Senate voted to cut the Pentagon budget by 10% and invest those funds instead in critical human needs. A House Spending Reduction Caucus, co-chaired by Reps. Barbara Lee of California and Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, emerged with 22 members on board, including all four members of the “Squad” but also quite a few more moderate or mainstream Democrats.

We also have the Congressional Progressive Caucus, the largest in Congress, now with almost 100 members in the House and Senate. Caucus chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., is all for cutting military spending. “We’re in the midst of a crisis that has left millions of families unable to afford food, rent and bills,” she told The Nation. “But at the same time, we’re dumping billions of dollars into a bloated Pentagon budget. Don’t increase defense spending. Cut it — and invest that money into our communities.”

Now is the time for these congresspeople to turn their talk into action.

Consider the context. Biden urgently wants to move forward on his American Families Plan rolled out in his recent address to Congress. The plan would tax the rich to invest $1.8 trillion over the next 10 years in universal preschool, two years of tuition-free community college, expanded health care coverage and paid family medical leave.

In the spirit of FDR, Biden also wants to put America back to work with a $2 trillion infrastructure program that will begin to fix our decades-old broken bridges, crumbling sewer systems and rusting water pipes. This could be his legacy, a Green New Deal-lite to transition workers out of the dying fossil fuel industry.

But Biden won’t get his infrastructure program and American Families Plan with higher taxes on the rich, almost 40% on income for corporations and those earning $400,000 or more a year, unless Congress first passes a budget resolution that includes a top line for military and non-military spending. Both the budget resolution and the reconciliation bill that would follow are filibuster-proof and only require a simple majority in the House and Senate to pass.


Maybe not.

To flex their muscles, Republicans may refuse to vote for a budget resolution crafted by the Democratic Party that would open the door to big spending on public goods, such as pre-kindergarten and expanded health care coverage. That means Biden would need every Democrat in the House and Senate on board to approve his budget resolution for military and non-military spending.

So how’s it looking?

In the Senate, Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a state that went for Trump over Biden more than two to one, wants to scale back Biden’s infrastructure proposal, but hasn’t sworn to vote down a budget resolution. As for Sen. Bernie Sanders, the much-loved progressive, ordinarily he might balk at a record high military budget. But if the budget resolution ushers in a reconciliation bill that lowers the age of Medicare eligibility to 60 or 55, the chair of the Senate Budget Committee might feel compelled to hold his fire.

That leaves antiwar activists wondering if Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a critic of the Pentagon budget and “nuclear modernization,” would consider stepping up as the lone holdout in the Senate, refusing to vote for a budget that includes billions for new nuclear weapons. Perhaps with a push from outraged constituents in Massachusetts, Warren could be convinced to take this bold stand. Another potential holdout could be California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who co-chairs the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, the committee that oversees budgeting for nuclear weapons. In 2014, Feinstein described the U.S. nuclear arsenal program as “unnecessarily and unsustainably large.”

Over in the House, Biden needs at least 218 of the 222 Democrats to vote for the budget resolution expected to hit the floor in June or July. But what if he can’t get to 218? What if at least five members of the House voted no — or even just threatened to — because the top line for military spending was too high and the budget included new “money pit” land-based nuclear missiles to replace 450 Minuteman III ICBMs, deployed since the 1970s.

Polls show that most Democrats oppose “nuclear modernization” — a euphemism for a plan that is anything but modern, given that 50 countries have signed onto the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which would make nuclear weapons illegal, and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) requires the U.S. to pursue nuclear disarmament to avoid a catastrophic accident or intentional nuclear holocaust.

Now is the time for progressive congressional luminaries such as the Squad’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Presley to unite with Congressional Progressive Caucus chair Jayapal, as well as Lee, Pocan and others in the House Spending Reduction Caucus to stand as a block against a bloated military budget.

Will they have the courage to unite behind such a cause? Would they be willing to play hardball and gum up the works on the way to Biden’s progressive domestic agenda? Odds will improve if constituents barrage them with phone calls, emails and visible protests. In a time of pandemic, it makes no sense to approve a military budget that is 90 times the budget of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The billions saved from “right-sizing” the Pentagon could provide critical funds for addressing the climate crisis. Just as we support putting an end to our endless wars, we also support putting an end to our endless cycle of exponential military spending. This is the moment to demand a substantial cut in the Pentagon budget — and to defund new nuclear weapons.

Medea Benjamin is a co-founder of CODEPINK and the fair trade advocacy group Global Exchange. She is the author of Drone Warfare (OR Books, 2012) and has played an active role in the Green Party. She has a master’s degree in both public health and economics. In 2012, she was awarded the U.S. Peace Memorial Foundation’s Peace Prize. She is also recipient of the 2014 Gandhi Peace Award and the 2010 Martin Luther King, Jr. Peace Prize from the Fellowship of Reconciliation.

Marcy Winograd of Progressive Democrats of America served as a 2020 Democratic delegate for Sen. Bernie Sanders and co-founded the Progressive Caucus of the California Democratic Party. As coordinator of CODEPINK Congress, she spearheads Capitol Hill calling parties to mobilize co-sponsors and votes for peace and foreign policy legislation.

Saturday, May 1, 2021

A Kinder, Gentler Foreign Policy?

By Marc Pilisuk 


Gentler Foreign Policy

Happily, in some measure, in his first three months in office, Joe Biden has shown a needed system change toward healing, sharing, caring, helping, and cooperation in his domestic policy achievements and goals. 

Sadly, an equally urgent need for structural change is missing from his foreign policy agenda. 

The progressive steps taken by the Biden administration so far are important and commendable. Reaffirmations of the steps needed for protection against the spread of the Covid virus have gone remarkably well. Provisions for an economic stimulus targeting the neediest of our society are welcome. In addition, there is much to admire in the goals on environmental sustainability, the new levels of visible concern over violent actions whether by police or civilians, and the appointment to cabinet positions of competent indigenous and union leaders are all signs that this administration may be leading an important historical change. Progressive critics are reluctant to declare this another FDR moment citing the depth of problems still remaining. Nevertheless the Biden overtures represent a dramatic opening for continued dialogue on needed policies. 

But in foreign policy, the old games persist. Since 1947, the United States has been mired in a national defense policy, typically with bipartisan support, in which the world is seen as a battle ground for geopolitical and economic influence. We have been led by policy officials such as Henry Kissinger, Dean Rusk, Madeleine Albright, and Condoleezza Rice. However bright they may be, they worked within an inadequate paradigm of thought. 

In this world the players at the table of nations are not the needy individuals within countries but rather their sovereign leaders. Each nation is assumed to be participating for its own advantage. The guiding line has been, in words attributed to Henry Kissinger: “We do not have principles, we have interests.” 

Given this assumption, we have formed a strange network of allies and adversaries. Throughout the Cold War and beyond, the major adversaries were assumed to be trying to destroy us. National leaders who posed threats to American economic domination were met with specific strategic actions, even if those foreign national leaders were operating in the interests of their own people and posed no threat to the people of the US (e.g., Arbenz in Guatemala, Mossadegh in Iran, Allende in Chile). 

The U.S. response has too often been a demonization of their leaders, economic sanctions that punish their citizens, interference with their elections, military interventions, assassinations and a domination of media to assure us that we are the good guys and those challenging us are enemies. 

We have nurtured a class of highly competent military leaders who move comfortably with the heads of major military production facilities. We have invested great resources in military intelligence and surveillance which have reaped an extensive dossier on the misdeeds of other nations and have used this information to keep legislators and the media “informed” about what the military establishment chooses to share. And if all public-facing information they can muster fails to make their case, they fall back on two basic lines: 1. national security, and 2. If you knew what we know, you would all agree with us. These veils permit misdirection and lies.

While we endlessly claim to be fighting for democracy, we have in truth overthrown democratically elected leaders when they are perceived as interfering with extracting profits—including GuatemalaIranCongo, and Chile.

The reason I term this an inadequate paradigm of thought is that it has inspired potential adversaries to operate in the same way, creating a toxic dynamic. It has also interfered with the development of international peacekeeping institutions. It has served to preserve the dominance of nations manipulated by transnational corporations and has led to obscene extremes of inequality. 

Nowhere is this clearer than in the military and trade arrangements with El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Haiti, in which governments sustained by the U.S. appropriate once viable farmlands and distribute them to external mining and agribusiness interests. This displaces people and forces a massive flow of refugees and asylum seekers, virtually all to our southern border.

Appointments to key positions of officials like Anthony Blinken and Jake Sullivan reflect a continuation of the view that foreign policy is a game of military threats and economic bullying and blockades. Early practices of the Biden administration have so far pointed toward a continuity of this dangerous order of geopolitical manipulation. 

Remarks by Biden publicly calling Putin a killer and leveling gross accusations against China reflect the least possible way for peaceful remediation of the underlying issues. The old policy is seen in the bombing of Syria and in continuing to supply weapons and training to oppressive authoritarian governments such as the Saudi monarchy and the UAE regardless of their record in human rights. Such policies remind us of how we were brought into economically and morally costly wars in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. These policies are used to justify more than half of the federal discretionary budget for military purposes.

U.S. government officials continue to promise technological advances in weaponry, claimed to be essential for security while not being able to make us safer against any of the major threats to human life. 

In very different ways the isolationist popularity of Donald Trump and the humanist popular support for policies by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren reflect the dissatisfaction of many people with policies supporting an American empire. 

It is time for the Biden administration to show the same courage in negotiating for peace with all countries that it has shown in domestic reform. The dangers posed by radioactive and chemical contaminants, like viral infections and the plight of displaced people, are not problems that can be solved by competitive pressures. 

An environment with water and air safe to assure life requires cooperation beyond the actions of any particular country, while global climate chaos is accelerated by a massive military patrolling the planet and consuming more carbon fuels than any other sector. 

Punishing and threatening some nations guilty of severe suppression of human rights while condoning and assisting similar outrages by strategic partners is bad policy. The world we need must replace national or corporate interests with human needs. Mutual aid is so much more adaptive than mutual threats.

In a world increasingly threatened by nuclear annihilation, there is need for a new vision in which adherence to the values of peace with justice and environmental sustainability are prominent. This goes with support for the international institutions supporting them like the World Health Organization, UNESCO and the International Criminal Court. 

The outmoded world of aggressive gamesmanship will need dramatic U.S. reformist initiatives if it is ever to change.