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Joseph Gerson in Bonn, "International Conference For a Self-Determined Afghanistan"

International Conference For a Self-Determined Afghanistan
Bonn,Germany, December 4, 2011
Joseph Gerson*

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 invadingAfghanistanwould 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."[1]

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, especially as Pakistan and  Iranhave refused to participate in the official conference here on Monday. 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 counter-insurgency 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 East.

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,” theWashington 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–Washingtonis 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. Missile defense deployments also provide cover for the U.S. to deploy still more U.S. troops to military bases on Russia’s periphery. 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.”[2] The Obama Administration has since trumpeted that as it withdraws fromIraq and reduces the number of troops in Afghanistan, it will “pivot” toAsia 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 suffering from imperial overreach, and these stresses are compounded by the corporate and plutocratic assaults on the U.S. political system.[3] The wealth of the 400 richest  U.S. people now equals the combined wealth of the bottom 60%.[4] 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 a whole.   

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 activists.

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 while one can find posters and graffiti about the Afghan war at Occupy sites, we’ve not heard a lot 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 peace movement.

Finally, I want to report to you about our plans for the NATO/G-8 summit inChicagothis 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.

In closing, I want to pay homage to Malalai Joya’s courage. 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.


* Dr.Joseph Gersonis Director of Programs and of the Peace & Economic Security Program of the American Friends Service Committee inNew England.

[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:


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