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Bush's war: where is it going & what should we do about it?

Keynote Address for the 'Taking Our Message Home' Conference

I want to thank the conference's organizers for all that you have done and all of you who will be working hard throughout the day and in the coming weeks and months. You could not be doing more important work than thinking about and charting the best ways to organize to stop Bush's war and to help restore greater peace, justice and security.

Your expectations of me, as reflected in the title I was given for this talk are daunting. Some of what I'll be saying today may seem as bleak as the times and somewhat provocative, but as one of my favorite early lines from Dylan goes, "So let us not talk falsely now. The hour is getting late." We all know that answers to the questions of who lives, who dies, and how, depend in large measure on seeing the human condition clearly and acting upon it.

As some of you know, I have recently returned from Japan. As I heard it, many in East Asia think the U.S. has gone mad. True, many East Asian governments have properly joined the U.S. in seeking out and arresting terrorists. But, as you could read in this week's New York Times, the Chinese are wondering aloud about the sanity of those in power in Washington. They know that the Bush Administration's military over reach will be disastrous; they and much of the rest of the world are waiting for this wave of militarism to break in failure and to build from what then emerges.

The commitments of our movement have been clear since the beginning:

1) The September 11 attacks were crimes against humanity whose perpetrators must be brought to justice.

2) War is not the answer. Legal and diplomatic means must be relied upon.

3) We must protect our constitutionally guaranteed civil liberties and communities at risk:.

4) We must addressing the root causes of the 9-11 attacks. And, with the Atomic scientists' decision to move the hands of the Doomsday clock forward, with Washington's new "Nuclear Posture", and with preparations for escalation of the war against Iraqmoving into high gear, we obviously need to be integrating prevention of nuclear war into our priorities.

dot Arrangement for the 21st century

Vengeance and war, not justice and security, are the order of the day. The Empire was struck, and the Empire is striking back. If you think about it, what Washington is doing is not much different that what we would have expected Genghis Khan or the British monarchy to have done years ago. The empire has been shown to be vulnerable, and the empire is striking back, seeking to kill or to terrorize all potential challengers.

Looking closely, we see that the 9-.11 attacks gave the Bush Administration the political opening to attempt to impose its will militarily, to massively increase military spending and weapons acquisition, to advance its right-wing domestic agenda, and to exercise an arrogance of power that was beyond our imaginations.

How did this happen? At the popular, the 9-11 attacks plunged the country into a dangerous identity crisis. For the first time in almost 200 years, the two great oceans were not vast enough to protect U.S. Americans from attack. The losses and pain suffered by many people have been amplified and manipulated by the president and his mandarins who are no strangers to Machiavelli, by the mass media, by politicians, by the U.S. military-industrial-complex, by religious fundamentalists and racist authoritarians, and by our culture of U.S. exceptionalism. This has been compounded by the erosion of democratic values, practices and structures over the past generation.

The Bush Administration, is using this confusion and disorientation, and the United States' enormous military and economic power, to create a New New World Order to guarantee U.S. dominance far into the 21st century. Colin Powell put it well when he said that the 9-11 attacks "set the reset button" on U.S. foreign and military policies. This restructuring of the global disorder predated 9-11.

Last spring, our elusive National CEO, Dick Cheney , told the New Yorker that "the arrangement [for] the twenty-first century is most assuredly being shaped right now...the United States will continue to be the dominant political, economic and military power in the world." Even then, Cheney, Rumsfeld and others were modeling themselves after Captain Alfred T. Mahan and Teddy Roosevelt who charted the way to global empire at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, with the aim of reinforcing the Pentagon's commitment to "Full Spectrum Dominance" with new generations of high-tech and nuclear weapons and by monopolizing the militarization of space. Their goal, as Space Command's Vision for 2020 Report states is to "control" space to "dominate" earth.

Now we have the Bush Doctrine that nations are either "with us or against us." Those who question U.S. ambitions or policies face devastating military attack. Until the leaking of the secret text of the Nuclear Posture Review, Cheney, Rumsfeld and company had been quite successful in consolidating incipient alliances with Russia and India, diminishing European Union and Chinese challenges to U.S. regional hegemony, expanding the U.S.-Japan alliance, disciplining its Saudi, and other Arab clients, deepening its military presence in oil-rich Central Asia, and increasing the already gargantuan U.S. military budget. (On Sept. 10, it equaled the military budgets of the United States' allies, China, Russia and the so-called "rogue states" - combined!)

Thus far, the war has been less than the successful than Secretary Rumsfeld has been reporting: Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar apparently remain at large; thousands of innocent Afghans have been killed as a result of the U.S. war; the same U.S. supported War Lords of old who oppressed women, built their power on the drug trade, and plunged Afghanistan into civil war, are now competing for power and threatening renewed civil war. Even the New York Times tells us that in broad areas of Afghanistan the Taliban remains far more popular than the United States' corrupt clients, and that we are about to be on the receiving end of a new wave of Afghan heroin. I was on a panel several weeks ago with recently retired senior diplomats and the president of CARE, all of whom agreed that at least 30,000 foreign "peacekeeping" troops will be required if there is to be a chance of restoring stability and secruity to that long tortured nation. But you certainly don't see the wrold's nations committing themselves to engage the Afghan morass. And, as the kidnapping of Daniel Pearl and the India-Pakistan confrontation testify, the forces the U.S. has nurtured and unleashed in nuclear Pakistan could yet prove disastrous.

This only begins to describe our situation!

With its dangerous and comic book-like rhetoric of an "Axis of Evil," the Bush Administration has trumpeted its commitment to use "all the means at our disposal" - from covert operations, to hi-tech and nuclear warfare - overthrow the Iraqi government. The divided clerical government in Iran is now the second great Satan. And, as it undermines Kim Dae Jung's Sunshine Policy, North Korea has been added to Bush's "Most Wanted" list. The U.S. is again at war in the Philippines. Commitments to the U.S. war in Colombia may soon become unlimited. Troops are being dispatched to Yemen and Georgia, and the Pentagon is expressing interest in Indonesia, which will not be much easier to tame than Vietnam was forty years ago. The Bush Administration has named Iraq, Iran, North Korea, China, Russia, Libya and Syria as the most likely targets of U.S. nuclear and attack, and it has threatened to take its a "Crusade" to as many as eighty nations. This meglomaniacal ambition is as dangerous as it is staggering.

The world is not blind to what the U.S. is attempting nor to its hypocrisy. They have long been aware of Washington's support for repressive dictators, its use of terrorism, its refusal to ratify or fully implement nuclear arms control treaties, and its contempt for international law. Few are fooled by Washington's rhetoric of threatening to enforce a "regime change" in Iraq in the name of nuclear non-proliferation. And, like Jesse Helms, they know that some day the U.S. will be held accountable, and could well face the World and International Criminal Courts. (Years ago, during the Vietnam War, I read a series of lectures by the German Philosopher Karl Jaspers, called On The Question of German Guilt, which he gave at Yale in 1948. I'm afraid that if you read what Jaspers wrote, and substitute the words "United States" for "Germany", you'll find that much of it still applies.) This situation is not, however, entirely unprecedented. In the opening phase of the Cold War, the author of the containment doctrine, George Kennan had this advice for President Truman:

"We have about 50 percent of the world's wealth, but only 6.3% of its population. In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity... The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts."

Or, as Professor Ello taught, when I studied international relations with Bill Clinton at Georgetown in the 1960s, "The study of international relations is analogous to studying the rules of the game among Mafia families." There are, of course, different approaches to the study of international relations, but Bill was a good student. On his watch, the U.S. threatened to initiate nuclear war at least four times and adopted the Full Spectrum Dominance doctrine.

Like John Foster Dulles' either/or approach to the Cold War, the Bush Doctrine is clear that nations that question U.S. ambitions face devastating military attack. Look, for example, at the threats to attack Pakistan in late September. Beneath Bush's rhetoric, diplomacy, threats, and current two-front war, is that commitment to impose "the arrangement [for] the twenty-first century." Just as we had the "containment" doctrine, "Massive Retaliation", the creation of the IMF, the World Bank, the UN, the U.S.-Japan alliance, and NATO , now we face an era of U.S. Empire based on unilateralism, the abrogation of treaties, "Full Spectrum Dominance", the Bush Doctrine, the so-called "war on terrorism," and the promise that this war will not end in our lifetimes. Deputy Secretary of War Wolfowitz says Bush's war has been successful because it inspires fear among the world's nations.

Before turning to oil, which is one of the great "prizes" of this war, I want to say a few words about the mobilization and discipline on the home front needed for this war for Empire. It has generated a new McCarthyism that verges on what Molly Ivans and others have had the courage to call the first stages of fascism. While people have been distracted with waves of government and corporate inspired "United We Stand" patriotism, Ayatollah Ashcroft, the chief law enforcement officer, has warned that criticism "gives ammunition to America's enemies..." From the secret arrests and imprisonment of more than 1,000 people, many of them immigrants, to "invitations" from police for thousands of people to be "interviewed", the assault on academic freedom, wire tapping, proposals for a new military Homeland Command and to covertly place police in religious institutions and organizations, and the secret military tribunals to which as many as 20 million people in this country are now vulnerable, essential elements of our constitutionally guaranteed civil liberties and government are under assault. Just as no middle ground is to be permitted internationally, the administration wants to crush critical thinking and democratic dissent.

dot War for oil

The New New World Disorder is also about oil, the jugular vein of the world's economies. Remember, the U.S. has threatened to initiate nuclear war at least eight times to preserve its privileged control of the world's oil reserves. The U.S. elite was sobered by the fact that most of the September 11 terrorists were from Saudi Arabia. This may well have been part of Osama Bin Laden's objective, to drive a wedge between the U.S. and the Saudi monarchy in order to free Arabia of U.S. military bases and the corrupt Saudi regime. Washington is now using Russia and its vast oil reserves against Saudi Arabia, and Bush and Company are hardly innocent bystanders in the ongoing Russia-OPEC price wars. The thinking seems to be that what is good for SUV's will be good for Bush's reelection. Meanwhile, the Saudis are being disciplined, as Washington increases and diversifies its oil producing dependencies and teaches the Saudis that they too are expendable.

Why the obsession with Iraq? Washington saw its 1991 Desert Storm victory as the conquest of the entire Arab world. Saddam Hussein's continued refusal to quietly accept U.S. dominance jeopardizes U.S. privileged access to the region's oil. Thus the Bush Administration made its decision to topple the Iraqi government, using "all the means at our disposal." Serious words from a nuclear power.

The Afghan war has also been about the vast oil reserves around the Caspian Sea and Central Asia. It was the hope of building a pipeline from Turkestan, through Afghanistan, to Pakistan and the Indian Ocean, free of Russian and Iranian influence, that played a powerful role in U.S. support for the Taliban's rise to power and Washington's tolerance its brutal excesses. With its new network of bases in Central Asia nations ruled by post-Soviet dictators, the U.S. has created a military infrastructure to control the region's oil reserves while simultaneously encircling China.

dot Nukes

On the nuclear front, we should note a pattern in recent routine of U.S. warfighting. As the U.S. prepares to go to war, it threatens nuclear attack to ensure that those it is targeting will not be tempted to use chemical or biological weapons. Just as Bush the elder threatened nuclear attack before the 1991 war, this Bush Administration communicated similar threats to Al Queda and the Taliban. As former Secretary of War Harold Brown explained, the U.S. nuclear arsenal ensures that U.S. "conventional" forces remain "meaningful instruments of military and political power." As we read in the New York and Los Angeles Times in early March, this approach has been reified in the Bush Administration's Nuclear Posture Review.

Even before the story broke in the press, the Natural Resources Defense Council and others concluded that the Bush Administration was "Faking Nuclear Restraint", seeking to "breakout" of the NPT regime. The NRDC had reported that "the administration's hostility to arms control, and its infatuation with nuclear weapons," are nearly unprecedented and that "Not since the resurgence of the Cold War in Ronald Reagan's first term has there been such an emphasis on nuclear weapons in U.S. defense strategy." In a section entitled "Nuclear Weapons Forever?" the NRDC reports that "The Bush administration assumes that nuclear weapons will be part of U.S. military forces for the next 50 years" and "is planning...programs to sustain and modernize the existing force..." The announced reductions in the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal are a sham. Yes, the Pentagon is planning to honor START II by reducing the number of "operationally deployed" nuclear forces from 8,000 warheads to 3,800 by 2007, and as per the Bush-Putin agreement, it will reduce the number of "operationally deployed" weapons to 1,700 and 2,000 by 2012. BUT, with nuclear weapons that are not "operationally deployed" and those that are stockpiled, "the Bush administration is actually planning to retain the potential to deploy not 1,700 to 2,200 nuclear weapons, but as many as 15,000."

* 240 warheads of Trident submarines being overhauled * 1,350 strategic missile and bomber warheads in the "responsive force reserves" * 800 "nonstrategic" nuclear weapons deployed on US/NATO dual capable aircraft, * 320 "nonstrategic" "sea-launched cruise missile warheads in the reserve force" * 160 "spare" "strategic and non-strategic warheads" * 4,900 "intact warheads in the 'inactive reserve' stockpile" * 5,000 "stored 'primary" and "secondary" components available for reassembly.

The Bush Administration is also on a fast-track for deployment of so-called "missile defenses" designed to monopolize the militarization of space, to finance a revolution in military electronics, and they hold the promise of creating a shield to reinforce the U.S. first-strike nuclear and high-tech swords.

Over the next six years, the plan is to deploy an Airborne Laser, "a "rudimentary" system in Alaska ... and sea-based missile defenses." Between 2006-2008, the Pentagon plans to add more Airborne Lasers, land-based sites, and sea-based missile defense platforms. Clearly China and to a lesser extents North Korea and Russia -- not Iraq or non-state terrorists -- remain the initial primary targets for the first-strike weapons "missile defenses" are designed to complement.

The most frightening aspect of the Bush Administration's nuclear war strategy is its plan to blur the distinction between nuclear and high-tech weapons, and to more fully integrate the "unthinkable" into U.S. war fighting practice. In the past, the U.S. has threatened to initiate nuclear war during more than twenty crises and wars, but with the Nuclear Posture Review, the threats will be far more explicit and immediate.

In the days leading up to the Desert Storm War, Brig. Gen. Glossom, who was responsible for identifying targets and the weapons to be used against them, urged the use of tactical nuclear weapons against suspected Iraqi biological warfare sites. General Schwarzkopf offered no objection. Their recommendation was overruled by Colin Powell, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but Glossom has since prevailed. The official Bush Junior policy is to prepare for "surge" production of new nuclear weapons. They plan to "design, develop, manufacture and certify new warheads", some of which will be designed to destroy "H]ardened and Deeply Buried Targets", and "chemical and biological warfare sites." To facilitate this, the Pentagon is giving top priority to research for inserting existing nuclear warheads into new 5,000 bombs - perhaps in time for use against Iraq or North Korea. And, thinking somewhat longer term, the Bush Administration is also planning to reduce the time needed to resume nuclear weapons testing. In short, as Zia Mian tells us, the Bush Administration's goal is to ensure that no one even thinks about challenging U.S. dominance.

dot Our priorities

I have been asked to close by identifying key elements for organizing to prevent the expansion of Bush Administration's global war, which is to say naming the ways to engage and mobilize the altruistic, democratic and universalist values of our neighbors and compatriots. I approach this responsibility with considerable humility.

As David McReynolds reminded us in December, our first months of educating, vigiling, writing to Congress, and all of those meetings we have endured have been critically important. We have reaffirmed and named the moral responses to the current catastrophe with the faith that, as in the past, political realities and dynamics would eventually begin to engage our moral and practical vision. This is beginning to happen. Congresswoman Barbara Lee is no longer standing alone in Congress. Significant sectors of the U.S. elite are beginning to signal that there are hard questions about the war in Afghanistan to be answered, and they are telling us that they have questions about the possibly catastrophic consequences of the Bush Administration's growing and still undefined global crusade, and about its assaults on constitutional democracy. In February, 15 members of the House of Representatives informed President Bush that he had no legal authority to widen the war. This month, in their cautious ways, Senators Daschle, Byrd and Biden have shattered the illusion of unanimity in Washington, as they begin to identify themselves with the majority of U.S. Americans who value diplomacy, multilateralism, international law, and working through the United Nations over unilateralism, treaty abrogations and war.

What, then, must we do? Let me respond with a paradox. On the one hand, we need to identify and focus on critical openings and cutting imaginative actions that will take advantage of opportunities, awaken the consciences, and speak to people's reasonable self-interest. At the same time, we need to embrace a broad spectrum of activities, from vigils, petitions, letter writing, community forums, resolutions by religious and community organizations, and sending delegations to meet with Congressional representatives, to projecting images of innocent war victims on town hall and sky scraper walls, mass mobilizations, creative local actions and militant nonviolent civil disobedience.

Let me suggest five inter-related priorities: First, mobilize for April 20. Getting ourselves to the demonstration in Washington, D.C. or, failing that, participating in coalition actions at home, is very important. Even if the press opts to marginalize our actions, we need to do all that we can to make our movement visible to the powers that be, to people across the country, and to ourselves. The importance of breaking our sometimes self-imposed sense of isolation cannot to be underestimated.

Second, touching peoples' hearts can be more important than winning their minds. It was a series of photographs that moved Martin Luther King and galvanized him to openly oppose the Indochina War. It was the faces and stories of Central American refugees that fueled the sanctuary movement and resistance to Reagan's Contra war. Those of who participated our December conference remember well the powerful moments when Amber and Ryan Amundson, the wife and brother of Craig Amundson who was killed in the 9-11 attacks, shared their loss and appealed that that their grief not be used to legitimate Bush's war. The Amundsons and other 9-11 families have since created an organization called September 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows. Some of them have since traveled to Afghanistan to meet and provide support for families of civilians killed by U.S. bombs.

We should be doing all that we can to give these courageous women and men forums and platforms to speak, to share their stories and their inspiring commitments. We should also be finding ways to bring forward the faces and stories of innocent immigrants who are being jailed, held incommunicado, and possibly subjected to secret trials; of the estimated half million Iraqi children who have already been killed as a result of the sanctions, of Palestinians under siege, and of those of us who are being racially profiled or who will be going without food, housing, medical care, and education because of the costs of Bush's militarism.

Third is focusing on the "we. We should be bearing in mind that, here in the U.S., the costs of the war are being borne disproportionately. People of color, immigrants, Moslems, and economically insecure people are paying a greater and far more painful price than most white folks, and people with greater privilege. Sensitivity these ugly realities and alliance building, which means honoring human solidarity and building on the basis of humility and mutual respect, will be essential to building a powerful and somewhat unified movement.

Fourth, Escalation of the war against Iraq must be prevented. Ten years ago, the U.S. bombed that once-advanced nation "into the pre-industrial age," and the suffering inflicted by the sanctions-regime since then is indescribable. The Bush Administration has been unable to link Iraq to the 9-11 attacks in any way and, as in 1991, Washington can gain the very limited support of its ostensible allies only through appearing to be committed to ending the oppression suffered by Palestinians, through intimidation and bribery which have their own enduring costs. A second major war against Iraq will be catastrophic for millions of innocent Iraqis, will increase Arab and Islamic rage against the United States -- thus increasing the likelihood of future terrorist attacks, and it will do nothing to promote nuclear non-proliferation.

Fifth, it is essential that we increase our efforts to make it safe for , or to force, members of Congress to oppose the Bush-Cheney global war. Members of Congress tend to be skittish and are often deeply insecure people. More than anything else, most of them don't want to their ostensible power and very real status and privileges. Before 9-11, we saw how Democrats, afraid that Republicans would charge them with being unconcerned about protecting the U.S. people, voted billions for so-called and very dangerous "missile defenses," even as many hoped they would never be deployed. More than a few members of Congress share our analysis but are afraid to speak out Our responsibility is to do the organizing in our communities and the laboring with them that will make it safe for them to come out, to force them to change their positions, and if necessary to vote them out of office. That's how representative democracy is supposed to work. Remember, the number of votes you can deliver are ultimately more important than the money they receive from fat cats and corporations.

The failures of the war in Afghanistan and the Bush Administration's Kissingerian. embrace of some of the world's most repressive dictators provide us openings. But, let me close with this. Will is fundamentally important. To give them their due, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Ashcroft bring considerable will and vast resources to their efforts to impose a "Full Spectrum Dominance" empire on the world and on U.S. society for the 21st century.

But, there are no human forces greater than compassion and the will to freedom, human dignity and truth. In much the same way that Randy Kheler's small but determined act of draft resistance inspired Daniel Ellsberg to release the Pentagon Papers contributiong to the end of the Vietnam War and to Richard Nixon's Watergate downfall, and as Frances Crowe has demonstrated with her life, we need to find and honor our own individual and collective reserves of love and will. Over the years, I have been privileged ways to meet and work with people who risked their lives in non-violent and not-so nonviolent European resistance to the Nazis, with Japanese and other A- & H- bomb survivors, and with dedicated people in the U.S., Japanese and other peace and freedom movements. If these people and the existentialist I studied in my youth have taught me nothing else, it is that each of us will eventually die, and that the fundamental question is the meaning we make of our lives.

Joseph Gerson
Published by ZNET © Joseph Gerson

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