by Abigail A. Fuller
Peace activists know that in addition to declaring what we are against, we need to tell people what we are for. Peace groups in the United States have agitated for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan virtually since those troops arrived there. What, then, is the alternative to U.S. military intervention in Afghanistan?
Mindful of the needs of the Afghan people, a number of peace groups have called for the international community to help create the conditions for security and prosperity in Afghanistan, rather than battling the consequences of poverty and insecurity. Some common themes in the recommendations of such groups as September 11 Families for a Peaceful Tomorrow, Veterans for Peace, United for Peace and Justice, the Friends Committee on National Legislation, and Peace Action are as follows:
- An immediate withdrawal of all U.S. and other foreign military forces. Some peace groups additionally call for these to be replaced, in the short run, by UN or regional peacekeeping forces. Several groups point out that far from protecting aid workers in Afghanistan, the foreign military presence has put them, and Afghan villagers, in increased danger as it blurs the distinction between the military and non-military agencies.
- Support for diplomacy and negotiations between all parties to the conflict, including Afghanistan’s neighbours.
- Increased non-military aid to Afghanistan. Peace groups see the clear need for both humanitarian aid and development assistance, channelled through Afghan or multiregional organizations (not through U.S. contractors) that are accountable to the Afghan people. Current development aid has served mainly to enriched foreign contractors rather than help Afghanis.
- Reparations and compensation for Afghan communities and individuals harmed by U.S. and NATO military forces.
A number of organizations have issued more detailed recommendations for non-military aid in Afghanistan. One innovative solution, promoted by Jobs for Afghans, is to implement a cash-for-work program that could pull fighters away from the insurgency—the majority of whom joined primarily for monetary reasons. Around 40 percent of Afghanis are unemployed; the organization argues that after the U.S. military intervention weakened the Taliban, Afghanis were eager for new jobs that were to be brought by reconstruction efforts, but those jobs never materialized. Jobs for Afghans has also lobbied for more U.S. funds for the National Solidarity Program, which gives block grants directly to Afghan villages to build schools, for example. The accounting is public to prevent corruption, the entire village feels ownership of the project, and interestingly, Taliban forces tend to leave these projects alone to avoid angering local populations.
How do we get there from here?
One strategy is to dry up the funding for the U.S. military effort. Whatever the Obama Administration’s policy, it cannot be carried out without funds. Many peace groups that agitate for an end to funding the war in Afghanistan link the cost of the war with cuts to domestic spending. Among these are Code Pink’s Bring Our War $$ Home campaign; the New Priorities Network; the DefundWar.org campaign; and The True Cost of War campaign of Military Families Speak Out.
Another strategy is to dry up the supply of troops. Counter-recruitment, often in high schools, is a long-term strategy of some peace groups, such as the War Resisters League; Not Your Soldier; the American Friends Service Committee’s Youth and Militarism Program; and the National Network Opposing the Militarization of Youth. They typically tell young people the truth about military service and often provide them with alternatives to joining the military, like community service opportunities.
Particularly notable in this current antiwar movement is the involvement of military personnel themselves, their families, and veterans. Iraq Veterans Against the War joins together veterans and those on active duty to mobilize against the war. IVAW supports war resisters as well. The Civilian-Soldier Alliance works to build a resistance movement of GI’s within the military. Military Families Speak Out aims to both bring the troops home and support them once they get here. The GI Rights Hotline helps soldiers get out of the military, as does like Courage to Resist. Veterans for Peace has been agitating for an end to war, and for the rights of veterans, for 25 years. The tradition of GI coffeehouses that developed during the Vietnam War is being revived at places like Under the Hood Cafe, outside Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas; Coffee Strong in Lakewood, Washington; the Different Drummer Internet Café at Ft. Drum, New York; the Quaker House outside Ft. Bragg, North Carolina; and Norfolk Offbase, in Virginia.
A number of traditional peace groups actively support returning veterans, in addition to opposing the war in Afghanistan. On Earth Peace, affiliated with the Church of the Brethren, has a Congregations are encouraged to learn about the issues facing returning veterans; help veterans find resources; and build relationships with the families of troops currently deployed.
Abigail A. Fuller is Associate Professor of Sociology at Manchester University. She teaches in the peace studies program and was director of the program in 2005-2007.