Prospects for Peace: Obama’s Second Term

asymmetrical warfareThe political landscape created by the 2012 election contains a few clues about prospects for a peace agenda in Obama’s second term. While the economy played the leading role in the electoral debate, issues of war and peace played an important supporting role. The candidates themselves had to spend a fair amount of time jockeying for position on Afghanistan, Iran, and military spending alongside the finger pointing about Benghazi. As a peace activist, I enjoyed seeing the public’s war fatigue force both candidates to inch themselves toward more pro-peace positions as the election wore on.

The shape-shifting Mitt Romney used the word “peace” 12 times in the presidential foreign policy debate. On the Afghanistan war, both candidates ended up embracing a public position of “all-troops-out” — even as the fine print for both Obama and Romney indicated a more open-ended position on actual long-term troop levels. Early on, I feared the Iran issue would bring out lectern pounding election-time tougher-than-thou demagoguery. But no. In the Vice Presidential debate Joe Biden called out the Romney/Ryan ticket on their Iran war bluster, saying to Paul Ryan “well, you’re talking about doing more, what are you — are you — you’re going to go to war? Is that you want to do now?” Ryan responded with “we’re trying to prevent war”. Biden then shared with the audience of millions what many peace advocates had been trying to tell the public for years: Iran is nowhere near the capacity to build a nuclear weapon, let alone the ability to deliver one.

I’m not sharing this trip down recent memory lane to argue that the nation’s leaders have all of a sudden become doves. President Obama’s drone policy, for example, is disastrous. And 68,000 US troops are still in Afghanistan fighting the longest war in U.S. history. But war-mongering and tough-on-defense posturing has lost some of its usual mojo thanks to a war weary public. That’s a huge opportunity for peace advocates in the coming years.

So what are the prospects for peace in Obama’s second term? First and foremost we need to bring our troops home from Afghanistan. The battle lines are drawn within the administration over when and how many to bring home. The Pentagon is pushing for a slower drawdown and a larger “residual force” well beyond 2014. Peace advocates need to build a counterweight to the Pentagon with a strong cadre of purse-string holding Congressional advocates. This campaign has already begun with a surprisingly robust post-election 62-33 Senate vote for an accelerated withdrawal. With Republican leadership in the House pushing for a larger troop presence and Pentagon brass dragging their feet, the next couple of years will be a contest for whether the U.S. remains at war or whether we can bring over a decade of fighting oversees to an end.

But we won’t draw the curtain on this long dark period of wartime if the country keeps sliding down the slippery slope of escalation with Iran. The Obama administration’s diplomacy will certainly pack more gusto than diplomacy in a Romney administration would have.  But the clock is ticking and it’s critical that we push the administration and Congress to support bolder diplomatic overtures. With stakes this high, the intensity and creativity of negotiations need to be at least as great as what we bring to negotiating garbage collector and teacher strikes.  So far the U.S. has relied too heavily on coercive diplomatic tactics like sanctions at the expense of sustained, intensive talks. The U.S. and Iran should sit down in direct one-on-one negotiations. All parties need to be willing to compromise on issues such as lifting sanctions, inspections, and what sort of Iranian civilian nuclear energy program we are willing to live with. The peace community is working to build congressional support for sustained and flexible diplomacy and get Congress to speak out on an issue where hysterics and scoring political points too often dominate.

Another major issue in Obama’s second term will be the fate of Pentagon spending. The budget pressures that created the fiscal cliff are likely to extend well beyond any deal in the 2012 lame duck session. These pressures create a unique opportunity to take an axe to the bloated Pentagon budget.

Many groups are coming together to build a historic coalition that unites peace activists with human needs advocates to take on the defense industry. One target in particular deserves the deep cuts treatment: the Cold-War era budget for the nuclear weapons stockpile and the sprawling nuclear weapons complex.

The next few years offer the potential to transform American foreign policy — if a war weary and economically hurting American public gets active

Jon Rainwater 
{eace Action West 

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Published by the LA Progressive on December 9, 2012
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About Jon Rainwater

Jon Rainwater is Executive Director of Peace Action West, and the Peace Education Fund