BROOKLYN, N.Y. — On the evening of October 2nd the cavernous body of the Park Slope United Methodist Church in Brooklyn was filled beyond capacity with people who came to hear Tom Hayden discuss "Does U.S. Policy in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan Mean Endless War?" The focus of the talk would be what path the peace movement and other forward thinking forces in our country should take in addressing the issue of endless war. There was a brief introduction by David Tykulsker and Carolyn "Rusti" Eisenberg, co-chairs of Brooklyn for Peace, the 25 year old community group that organized the event. They said that they wanted to understand what makes militarism such a force in our society, how can we build activism for peace and justice, and what can we, as a community, do about the escalation of war in Afghanistan by a supposedly progressive administration. Dr. Eisenberg said that Tom Hayden was not just a voice of the 60's and 70's but someone who had been in the forefront of the greatest struggles of our time, who represents idealism and hope for a better future, and who keeps battling for the principles of his youth.
Hayden began by saying that after 18 years in the California legislature he was tired of speeches and wanted the evening to take the form of a conversation. He then went on to explain how social change works and how to apply it to the Obama administration and the concept of a very long war – one that is being predicted to take a 50 to 80 year commitment. He pointed out that it challenges the idea that we live in a democratic society where the people are the ones supposedly determining events.
Two forces, he said, create social change: movements and Machiavellians, or, the power elite. Movements come along unexpectedly from communities with alternate ideas. If they persist they come into conflict with the power elite, Machiavellians with a "the end justifies the means" mentality. Movements divide between the more and the less militant. The more militant want to change the system while the less want to reform it or stick to the original concept. The Machiavellians also divide between those that want to crush the movement and the others that want to accommodate it. When movements succeed they demobilize and that is the time the Machiavellians make their countermove. We see this today in the anti-Obama movement. A social, not a political movement elected Obama. It was the activation of African-Americans and youth that made the election winnable and they will make up the core of the activist movement in the future and create a new wave of activism. It was no accident that he was a community organizer. Obama's forces are now demobilized.
The election of Obama was a mixed victory. The candidate was progressive but he ran as a centrist in order to win and govern. So the victory was ambiguous. It is up to the movement to build itself into a force that he will have to respond to, and push him out of the centrist position towards the left. From the beginning, as early as 2002, Obama said the Iraq war was wrong. He was propelled to the presidency on the basis of that position. Meanwhile, the Machiavellians are trying to get us to abandon that position and support some war. So they've reminded us that the attack on the U.S. came from Afghanistan, therefore, the Afghan war is a "good" war. The positive news is that 75% of registered Democrats are against the war in Afghanistan. Why? People know they were lied to about Iraq so they are skeptical. Also, the peace movement against the war in Iraq has been active and has affected people's thinking even though the peace movement has not yet been pushing hard for an end to the war in Afghanistan.
The minimal support for the war has Democrats in congress nervous. They don't like 10's of millions of people being against their position. Politicians want to remain in power and not lose Democratic seats. What we do as a base will affect how far the Democrats go. It is our job to get the Democrats to dump the Afghan war and "save Obama from himself."
There are several "pillars" that argue against the war: public opinion being against it can act as a drag on the war policy. Scarcity of personnel – we should be doing counter-recruitment work at recruiting centers and with high school students explaining what the war is about and telling them how to avoid their school sending their name to the military. Torture – we should engage with clergy who are working against torture, which seems to be an integral part of this war. The expected casualties should be pointed out. Lives lost while Obama fights this war could number over 1,000. The economy – we do not have the money to pay for war. Allotting our meager resources to be used for war jeopardizes Obama's domestic program. The environment – we should point out to environmentalists that peace is necessary to save the ecology of the planet. All of these long wars take place in the Middle East where there is oil. The issues of peace and pollution are interconnected. Some women's groups support the Afghan war because they think it will ultimately lead to the protection of girls' and women's lives. Show them how this is not the case. We have to engage on all fronts.
Daniel Ellsberg has studied the escalation of war. He said that administrations escalate when they are trying to show that they are not losing. No retreat would be acceptable before a small, disorganized power. Obama must have a "strategic defeat" or an "exit strategy." The Republicans will oppose him very strenuously. We, as a movement, have to help the country accept a strategic defeat. People will ask, what about the terrorists gaining ground? Our response should be to point out that we are creating more terrorists when we fight a war against a people, many of whom are innocent, we are creating more grievances and allowing the forces against us to expand and then band together. Ultimately, staying in an endless war will end the promise of Obama. We have to save him because of our concern about who may replace him.
The presentation was followed by a question and answer period. One person asked if we should abandon Obama. At that point someone in the rear of the church shouted, "He abandoned us!" Hayden said he shouldn't be abandoned. We should pressure him and really hold his feet to the fire. Obama can't afford to lose his base. If he does the Democrats will lose seats and it will be harder for him to be reelected. The Republicans will continue to fight against him. Hayden then pointed out that very many people want to kill Obama. In fact, there is the creation of an atmosphere of absolute hate and demonization that reminds him of what existed against John and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King in the 60's. We should learn a lesson from the past.
Another questioner said that she thought it would be difficult to convince people that strategic defeat was an option. Hayden said that it would not be as difficult as not doing it. 90% of the money going to the Afghan war is going to the military and only 10% for the Afghan people's needs. The progressive caucus in the House wants to reverse that with 90% going for people's needs like schools, housing, food, and medical care. This should be supported.
The last question was complex and dealt with an area not yet covered – the politics of why we are fighting in Afghanistan. Hayden said it had nothing to do with 9/11 and that the Machiavellians supporting the war do not openly deal with the reasons we are there. Why is NATO in Asia? Why did one of the generals in NATO say that without Afghanistan NATO might fall apart? One of the reporters in Asian Times wrote that we are in Afghanistan because there is an oil pipeline in the country next to Afghanistan and Karachi is the only place where oil tankers can port. We all have to remind ourselves that the endless wars take place where there is access to oil.
After carefully explaining the dynamics of a people's movement and the forces against it Tom Hayden mapped out an excellent strategy for the peace movement today. He also raised some questions. Exactly how do we show support for Obama while being critical of his policies on Iraq (we're still there), Guantanamo (we're still there too), Afghanistan, Palestine, healthcare (no single payer and, maybe, no public option), and the bank bailout. Whenever we take to the street with a placard that says, "Medicare for All", as part of pushing him further left, we are perceived as being against him. And, in reality, on many issues we are. He has been a disappointment. Also, Hayden only touched on the complicated political elements at the end of the evening. This is not a criticism of him – it would be impossible to cover everything in an evening. But the politics raise many more questions. For example, if we in the peace movement are able to stop the Afghan war, yet the Machiavellians (who we can also call, the 'reactionaries') need control of the oil lines, won't another war follow very quickly? Won't we continue to have endless war while the people's needs are not met? Does the movement have to live forever with it's foot on the figurative neck of the reactionaries? Is that sustainable? Probably not, and we'll be put in the position of forever reinventing the wheel. Or, as Hayden mentioned in the beginning of his presentation, will one group or the other divide and demand bigger societal changes? Will elements of the peace movement, in their desire to stop endless war, see a need to end capitalism while some of the reactionaries move toward fascism?
Thomas Good, Editor
Next Left Notes (NLN)
National Writers Union - UAW Local 1981
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