Lindsey Graham, a war-supporting senator from South Carolina, said
what he fears most is a Left-Right alliance against the Afghanistan
He recognizes that such an alliance could stop war funding and force
American troops to return home. But the masters of war may not have to
use divide-and-rule tactics, because many war opponents on both sides
of the political spectrum seem too willing to divide themselves.
The recent war funding vote
in Congress, while showing some progress in legislators voting against
war, also showed that a Left-only antiwar movement will never succeed
in achieving its ends. The Democrats were divided, but that was not enough.
Despite broad opposition among Americans to the Afghan War, widespread
evidence of its failure, and leaks of tens of thousands of military documents
showing that as bad as the war has been reported, it is worse, the Congress
voted by a landslide to pour tens of billions into the failed war.
Antiwar activists should have
learned from the buildup to the Iraq War that a Left coalition is insufficient
to stop a war. Record-size demonstrations opposing the Iraq War
were held throughout the country. And even though it is easier
to prevent a war than to stop one, we failed. What lessons do we
learn from the experience? Do we rebuild the same failed strategy,
or find another way?
What can Americans who oppose
war, militarism, and empire do to change the course of the country?
This is no easy task. The U.S. military is the strongest in world
history and deeply embedded in the American psyche from its roots in
Manifest Destiny, the Mexican War, and the war in the Philippines. The hubris
of American exceptionalism seems to block rationality. Today, the government
keeps investing more and more borrowed dollars into making the world’s
strongest military even stronger – something for which the leaders
of both parties do not mind borrowing hundreds of billions. The
U.S. keeps building its military despite spending as much as the whole
world combined on weapons and war, even if it is at the expense of the
rest of the U.S. economy.
And, the U.S. empire is far
reaching, with more than a thousand military bases and outposts on all
corners of the earth. Yet, most Americans do not think of the
United States as an empire. Euphemisms, such as the U.S.
is the policeman of the world, falsely describe the U.S. role
as a benevolent rather then self-serving one. The corporate media
rarely mentions the word “empire” when describing U.S. foreign policy,
thereby keeping most Americans unaware of this reality. Education
across the political spectrum is needed.
Thus, the task of those who oppose the weapons and war policy of the
United States is a great challenge. It is easy to get frustrated by the
challenges of undoing America’s militarist foreign policy. But there
are unique opportunities right now to confront the American war
machine. The economy is in the worst shape it has been in decades, and
more see the direct connection of how military spending undermines the
civilian economy. The public debt and deficit are at record highs in
large part due to trillion-dollar wars and record military budgets. The
Iraq and Afghan wars, the opening rounds of what some describe as the
multi-generational “long war,” are going poorly. And the already
stretched-to-the-breaking-point military is seeing the potential of new
wars in Iran, Pakistan, North Korea, Latin America, and Africa. Thanks
to WikiLeaks and other sources, more and more Americans see the ugly
reality of U.S. war. This is an opportune time for peace activists to
have an impact.
But so far we have been unable
to take advantage of the opportunity. There are many obstacles for the
peace movement not of our own making, but some are our own fault. Too often
those who oppose war and empire argue with each other rather than work
together for peace. It is time to find areas where we can unite
so that a strong American peace movement can develop, get the truth
out about U.S. militarism, and create a political environment where a
paradigm shift away from weapons and war is possible.
It can be challenging for some antiwar activists on the Left and the Right to put aside prejudices
even though none of us are the cardboard-cutout stereotypes that the
other side sometimes imagines.
Recently I had the chance to
participate in what I hoped would be a reasoned discussion of how to
build a broad-based antiwar, pro-peace movement at a left-leaning national
peace conference. I participated in a panel titled “The Rise
of Right Wing Populism and the Tea Party: Do We Need a Right-Left Antiwar Coalition?” The panel was inspired in large part by my writing and
organizing on the issue. But I should have known from
the title that it would not be as useful a discussion as was needed.
The area of potential for a Right-Left alliance is with traditional conservatives whose opposition
to war and empire goes back decades. These conservatives do not
feel an alignment with the militarist neocons who dominate the Republican
Party, and most are curious observers of the Tea Party. They see
neocons as destroyers of real conservatism and worry about the Tea Party being
co-opted by them. From the Left perspective, if you do not want to reach
out beyond those who already agree with you, it is much easier to create
a straw man like the most extreme elements of the Tea Party as the focus
of debate than to wrestle with the real question of forming a broad-based antiwar movement not limited to the “Left.”
From the conservative side,
labeling those on the Left as socialists, Trotskyites, Maoists, or whatever
other red-bait label they want is the easy way to marginalize the “left-
wing” peace movement. Red-baiting has been a decades-long attack
approach by the Right. Rather than talking about specific issues
and whether they are better handled by government or private industry,
or whether employee ownership or cooperatives are more effective than
capitalist ownership, just putting a red label on it is a way to avoid
My hope is that we are at the beginning of opening lines of
respectful communication between those who oppose war and empire, who
want to see the military budget cut and re-investment in the U.S.
economy. Unless we find a way to get antiwar advocates from all across
the political spectrum working together, we will never challenge the
While the American empire is an empire in its own special, American
way, empires are not new, nor is ending them. E.P. Thompson, an
influential British historian who was editor of the New Left Review, wrote about the downfall of Rome
and the importance of slave and peasant revolts: “Empires only
fall because a sufficient number of people are sufficiently determined
to make them fall, whether those people live inside or outside the frontier.”
It is time for those inside
the American empire to join together and demand its end: empire undermines
the economy, weakens security, increases racial divisions, destroys
the rule of law, and creates failed democracies. Isn’t that enough
to unite around?
Click here for video of the debate at the National
Peace Conference on a Right-Left antiwar coalition.