The shout of the Occupy movement, at least in D.C., has been “End the Wars, Tax the Rich!” in that order and in combination. Over half of federal discretionary spending goes to the war machine. We ought to fix that problem first, and then fix the problem that our overlords aren’t actually paying their fair share of the taxes. My friend Leah Bolger is about to face a possible sentence of months in prison for having taken this message to the Super Committee. Remember them?
But the big, well-funded liberal/progressive groups that are borrowing the language of Occupy and organizing 99% Spring nonviolence trainings are talking about taxing the rich, never mind what the taxes are spent on. I just spoke with someone organizing a bunch of “patriotic millionaires” to come to Washington, D.C., and talk about how they’d like to be taxed more. I suggested that they might also comment on what their money should go to, and I was told that saying more than one simple thing was bad messaging policy.
Really? How about if it rhymes? How do we fix the deficit / End the wars and tax the rich! When we chant that, random people join in marches. Are we sure it’s bad messaging policy? Has that been focus grouped?
The annual Take Back the American Dream conference actually had a panel on war last year. I was on it. But it was far from the focus. Here’s the event’s current “messaging” about its conference this coming summer:
“At this conference, we’ll be tackling some of the most pressing questions we face today:
“How do we compel candidates to embrace a jobs agenda big enough to end our economic crisis?
“How can we stop unlimited corporate campaign cash from buying this election?
“How many progressive champions can we help win in congressional, state and local races?
“How will we take back our democracy—to Take Back the American Dream?”
In fairness there’s nothing there about taxing the rich either. But there’s certainly no mention of military spending or war. Perhaps when the full agenda is announced I’ll be pleasantly surprised , as I was last year.
Another upcoming “progressive” conference has just published its full schedule of panels and workshops. This one is called Netroots Nation. In recent years, I’ve always complained that they had nothing on war. They’ve always responded that I ought to have proposed a panel on the topic. I’ve always pointed out that I did in fact do so. I did so this year as well, just as I did for Left Forum and UNAC and other conferences that said Yes and included them. Among the dozens and dozens of panels announced by Netroots Nation, none focuses on cutting military spending, a fact that never ceases to amaze me, as pinching a bit from the military could pay for everything else progressives want. There are a few panels that touch on war, one of which even mentions the Pentagon budget in passing:
“Decoding Defense: Speaking with Authority on National Security Issues
“It’s an old cliché: The GOP is the ‘national security’ party. But Barack Obama’s foreign and domestic policies are changing that idea. The armed services have played a key role in debates over foreign policy, the budget, gay rights, immigration and civil liberties. Vets transitioning to the homefront have taken the lead in the Occupy movement, the push for clean energy and reforms to education. Speaking with authority on military issues is critical for progressives in the coming year, but it’s also daunting. How do you navigate a Pentagon budget? What’s the difference between a commissioned and noncommissioned officer? Who watchdogs military contractors? What organizations exist to connect progressives and vets? Attendees to this workshop will learn how to ‘speak DOD,’ find and decipher important military info, articulate progressive national security goals in simple statements, rebut conservative talking points and reach out with empathy to veterans who are receptive to progressive ideals.
“Panelists: Bryan Rahija, Adam Weinstein.”
Hmm. The goal here seems to be making the Democratic Party the party of militarism. If that’s not entirely clear from the above description, check out this one for another Netroots Nation panel:
“Intervention, Isolation and the Future of Progressive Security Policy
“The long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with the economic crisis at home, have soured many progressives on foreign policy ideals long held dear by liberals: human rights, multilateral interventions, nationbuilding and support for democracy abroad. Recent debates over Libya, the Arab Spring, drones and Israel/Palestine have deepened this split between interventionists and isolationists. So where’s the common ground? What should the next progressive foreign policy look like? Can liberal interventionists distinguish themselves from right-wing neocons? Is Ron Paul onto something with his anti-war stance? From sanctions and special forces to drones and no-fly zones, attendees to this panel will hear a variety of views on humanitarianism, state sovereignty, multilateralism, limited conflicts and domestic war fatigue from the left’s most prominent experts in international affairs.
“Moderator: Adam Weinstein
“Panelist: Tom Perriello”
Tom Perriello, my former representative, is a proponent of humanitarian war and a faith-based believer in “nationbuilding” who works with an organization that is promoting war in Syria. The problem in this panel will not be that our recent and current wars have killed a lot of people or made us less safe or destroyed the environment or stripped our civil liberties or wrecked the economy, but that they have turned us away from the great Liberal Tradition of favoring war making. Solving the Afghanistan Syndrome is not quite the same goal as solving the Military Industrial Complex problem.
Netroots Nation will also have a panel on “Military Sexual Trauma: The Women’s War,” focusing on rape in the military, and a panel on “COINTELPRO 2.0: Surveillance, National Security and Our Eroding Civil Liberties.” The latter looks excellent, and I think the organizers are taking some risk with some of the panelists, namely that they might point to war as the root cause of the outrages under discussion.
Then there is one more panel, one with some potential to address the core problem, but ultimately a determination not to. There is no indication of who the panelists might be, but here is the title and description:
“Iran 2012: Iraq 2003 All Over Again?
“Despite broad opposition from military and security leaders in the United States and internationally, the sponsors of the Iraq War are fear-mongering their way into another costly Middle East conflict. Bush has dropped from the headlines, but the architects of his foreign policy have taken over the shadow cabinets of GOP presidential contenders, the corner offices of think tanks and the halls of Congress. But 2012 is not 2003. A restrained economy, an ascendant model of less-militarized foreign policy and a war-weary public create an opportunity for a responsible policy outcome and a definitive blow to the (neo)conservative death-grip on national security politics. Attendees will hear from experts well-steeped in the trends and decisions behind the war drumbeat both then and now, who will spotlight the web of familiar players, debunk their arguments and discuss strategies for achieving a sounder policy and winning the political debate.”
Now, who are the sponsors of the war on Iraq that are pushing the war on Iran? Are exclusively Republicans creating a new war despite the president inconveniently being a Democrat who constantly talks up the Iranian threat, who forbids the State Department to speak to Iran, who increases weapons sales to Israel, who doubles down on commitments to veto any U.N. accountability for Israel, and who has reportedly promised to arm Israel for an attack on Iran as long as it is delayed until 2013? What is this less-militarized foreign policy? What nation is it in? Surely not ours. Obama has increased military spending, increased military privatization, increased the use of secret agencies for war making, radically expanded the use of drones, openly claimed and used the power to launch wars without even bothering to lie to Congress, seized the power to murder anyone including U.S. citizens and children and U.S. citizen-children, claimed and exercised the power to imprison or spy without charge or justification, expanded governmental secrecy and retaliation against whistleblowers beyond anything Bush ever dreamed, and expanded U.S. military bases abroad. It’s a step forward for Netroots Nation to be opposing Republican wars. It’s just a shame that these folks waited until Obama was waging the wars to launch that now-out-of-place protest.
I’ve been on a number of email threads discussing the complicated question of whether big groups loyal to the Democratic Party are co-opting Occupy. Well, of course, they’re trying to. But much of Occupy has itself been weak on the central problem of the military industrial complex. And individuals who identify themselves with occupy movements or big Democratic groups have all sorts of different outlooks. The co-opting can and does go both ways. Principled activists can educate their neighbors, even at events planned by people who believe that voting for Obama will fix most of our problems. We should never dismiss actual people in the way that we dismiss an ineffective agenda. But in figuring out which events have been planned with useful agendas and which need to be nudged in a better direction, the test should never be merely “Are they trying to drag us into electoral campaigns?” It should also include the question of what is missing. “Tax the rich,” is the very best that the big organizations sometimes offer, and it leaves a whole lot missing.
On March 28th, Oscar Arias, former president of Costa Rica, spoke in Washington, D.C., about his country’s decision to disband its military. In Costa Rica, war is found only in a museum. I know we should never ever ever learn from that 95 percent of humanity that has the misfortune to not be our compatriots. Nonetheless, the results in Costa Rica, often listed as the happiest country on earth, are at least more interesting than the deadly chaos we’ve brought to Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. Here’s Arias:
“This resulted not only in a healthy, educated, and free society. It resulted in concrete gains for national and regional security. When conflicts and civil wars swept our region in the 1980s, Costa Rica was able to maintain its stability and freedom from violence. What’s more, this enabled my little country to become the platform for the peace accords that gradually ended the unrest in our part of the world. And today, while the terrible consequences of drug trafficking in our region and consumption in the developed world are posing serious challenges to our government, Costa Rica continues to maintain its foothold in the world of peace. Here in the developed world, those achievements might seem distant, or even insignificant. But an oasis of democratic stability in a region that is among the most dangerous in the world, and whose exports of goods and people have a direct effect on its northern neighbors, is valuable indeed.”
Proposing some options for redirecting part of what the United States spends on war preparation, Arias remarked:
“Imagine the impact on security of reducing poverty by half. Imagine the impact on security of universal primary education. Imagine the impact on security of eliminating the digital divide. Imagine the impact on security of drastic reductions in hunger and sickness. These changes would take power from dictators and terrorists in ways that weapons never could.”
Surely some of those things also touch on “ideals long held dear by liberals”? Arias even has a plan that he proposes could be put into practice:
“I have proposed a change: the Costa Rica Consensus. This simple idea uses international financial resources to support developing nations that spend more on environmental protection, education, health care and housing for their people, and less on arms and soldiers. It would change the way international aid is distributed. It would end the ridiculous policies that punish countries when they make good choices, and reward corrupt or misguided governments that create conflict and deprivation. It would make a real difference in some of the most dangerous and conflict-ridden nations on earth. . . .
“. . . Why not allow rich countries to double the impact of their aid dollars by not only addressing human need, but also requiring developing nations to make changes from within, and promoting best practices in socioeconomic development? . . .
Speaking from the standpoint of the victims of humanitarian wars, Arias has a different prescription from Perriello’s:
“. . . We learned the hard way that a shipment of weapons into a developing country is like a virus in a crowded room. It cannot be contained; we do not know whom it will attack; and it can spread in ways we would never have imagined. As I watched what was happening to my region, I realized that the same story was being repeated, time and time again, in developing countries all over the world. It is happening today, in countries such as Libya and Syria, where conventional weapons are being channeled in the service of short-term goals, with no thought for the eventual consequences. As any Central American can tell you, the weapons sold to the Middle East today might end up in anyone’s hands. We cannot foresee their consequences. The only certainty is that we cannot control the outcome.
“That is why I began an effort in 1997, along with other Nobel Peace Laureates, to establish a comprehensive Arms Trade Treaty, which would prohibit the transfer of arms to States, groups or individuals, if sufficient reason exists to believe that those arms will be used to violate human rights or International Law. The destructive power of the 640 million small arms and light weapons that exist in the world, most in the hands of civilians, demands our attention. It is a threat to security that requires no great expenditure to combat. It requires only political will. That is why its path to reality has been such a difficult one. It is scheduled for a vote this July at the United Nations, but the struggle to ensure that that event results in a comprehensive and binding treaty that covers all conventional weapons, munitions and ammunition, faces opposition from the strong and consolidated interests of some of the world’s leading arms exporters – foremost among them, the United States.”
Now there’s an issue we could seize hold of and pressure our government on, if we were independent people speaking to our government as a whole. As fans of one team in a partisan competition, we’re rather disabled. Both teams view weapons as jobs programs and campaign funds, not instruments of death. The fact that these weapons are used for nothing other than murder is left out of our conferences, so we forget to think that we might want to put an end to that.
We can participate in any events we like, but we must eternally emancipate ourselves from mental slavery.