Ending war

Inauguration Issue: Will Obama be able to achieve peace?
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Photo by Charles Russo

sarah@sfbg.com

As Commander-in-Chief Barack Obama takes the reins of power, the peace movement is watching to see if he will follow through on foreign policy campaign promises — and preparing to apply pressure if he doesn't.

CodePink has compiled a list, "President Obama's Promises to Keep," taken from his campaign statements on which activists intend to hold him accountable. These promises include a pledge to end the war on Iraq, close the Guantánamo Bay detention facility, reject the Military Commissions Act (which critics say violates the civil rights of people deemed enemy combatants), adhere to the Geneva Convention, work to eliminate nuclear weapons, support direct diplomacy with Iran without preconditions, and abide by international treaties.

But as CodePink's Media Benjamin noted in an article that was published in the Huffing ton Post last summer, the peace movement helped Obama beat Sen. Hillary Clinton, who supported the invasion of Iraq, in the primaries — only to see Obama begin talking tough on Afghanistan and pledging to essentially escalate the war there.

"This has come back to hit us in the face during Barack Obama's Middle East trip, where he called for sending 10,000 more troops to Afghanistan," Benjamin observed, noting the high death tolls of both US soldiers and innocent Afghans almost eight years after the US invasion.

"The Taliban has gained new strength, opium production has soared, and Osama bin Laden has not been found," Benjamin wrote. "And amid it all, Afghan people continue to be among the poorest in the world, its women continue to be oppressed and the US has not succeeded in rebuilding Afghanistan."

But Benjamin acknowledged that it's not enough to simply say "troops out now."

"We, the peace movement, need to come together and develop a strategy before our troops are sent from the 'bad war' in Iraq to the 'good war' in Afghanistan," Benjamin warned.

Given Obama's naming of Clinton as his Secretary of State and his pledge to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, Benjamin reiterated her belief that increasing troop levels is not going to help subdue a country that has resisted invasions from the likes of Genghis Khan and the Soviet Union.

"Yes, it's a complex region, but what has history taught us about it?" Benjamin told the Guardian last week. "That foreigners get defeated. Yes, maybe by increasing troops they'll get to stay for a few more years, but in the end, they leave with their tail between their legs, having suffered more deaths and without imposing their will."

"Theirs is a very tribal culture, so it's not easy to get a centralized government," added Benjamin, who first visited Afghanistan shortly after 9/11, at the height of the US-led invasion. "And the oppression of women, unfortunately, preceded the Taliban."

Observing that Afghan President Hamid Karzai has admitted to engaging in low-level talks with the Taliban, which the Saudis helped broker, Benjamin claimed that "plenty of US military reps know that a negotiated settlement is the way forward."

"Our concern is that women will be at the table when that happens and that women's issues and rights are at the front," Benjamin stressed. "So, we want a negotiated settlement with a more moderate faction of the Taliban. And troops going into Pakistan isn't the solution, either."

Benjamin, who attended Clinton's Jan. 13 Secretary of State confirmation hearings, says she got the sense that Obama's administration wants a policy overhaul.

"So, yes, we are sending 30,000 more troops, but we are not pretending it is a surge, à la Iraq. It's more of a holding pattern," Benjamin said. "We are hoping this is going to be an administration that disengages.