“Americans demand diplomacy over war
With most voters unwilling to enter into another war, the United States had to find a peaceful path
By Guy Maynard , in The Register-Guard,
Sunday, Feb 23
New possibilities for diplomacy — real alternatives to war — are rising. Those possibilities must be pursued urgently, seriously, and immediately”
— Phyllis Bennis and Jesse Jackson
A remarkable thing happened last fall as the United States marched toward military intervention in Syria — and yet another war in the Middle East. The American public sent an overwhelmingly clear message to decision-makers in Washington, D.C.: No!
It seemed as though the Obama administration almost stumbled into an alternative to military action, daring the Russians and their Syrian government allies to find another way to deal with the world’s concerns about the use of chemical weapons in Syria’s civil war.
But the administration’s awkward machinations came in the face of polling that showed that 62 percent of Americans opposed U.S. intervention, and only 18 percent supported it.
“The media credit Russian President Vladimir Putin with extending a lifeline to President Barack Obama, allowing him a diplomatic way to delay his planned attack,” wrote Amy Goodman in The Guardian. “But without the mass domestic outcry against a military strike, Obama would not have needed, nor would he likely have heeded, an alternative to war.”
Within weeks of the U.S. pulling back from the brink in Syria, the announcement came that secret negotiations between the U.S. and Iran had led to an interim agreement to address anxieties about Iran’s development of nuclear weapons capabilities.
“Suddenly the stand-down on the threat of U.S. missiles in Syria has been joined by a deal on Iran that means moves toward war against Iran are off the table at least for six months, the Geneva II talks on Syria may actually start in the next few weeks, and the war in Afghanistan may actually be coming to an end,” wrote Phyllis Bennis, director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC. “Could we be seeing the rising tide of diplomacy instead of military force as the basis of U.S. foreign policy?”
Bennis will appear in a live video presentation sponsored by the Community Alliance of Lane County and the Lane Peace Center, “War vs. Diplomacy: Uncovering the Real Debate in Washington,” at 7 p.m. on March 6 at Lane Community College’s Downtown Center.
As with the situation in Syria, the administration’s move away from war with Iran was prompted by strong public opinion. In a CNN/ORC International poll in September 2013, 76 percent of respondents supported direct U.S. negotiations with Iran and 21 percent opposed them. After the interim deal was announced, a Reuters poll revealed that 44 percent of Americans supported the diplomatic initiative while 22 percent opposed it.
Analysts attribute public support for diplomacy rather than military actions to war fatigue brought on by the long and costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That’s a healthy thing, as a little history lesson shows.
A Gallup poll in March of 2003 showed that, despite massive and vociferous demonstrations in Eugene and throughout the United States and the world, 64 percent of Americans supported “invading Iraq with ground troops in an attempt to remove Saddam Hussein from power,” and only 33 percent were opposed. In a Pew Research poll released last month, 52 percent of Americans said the U.S. had mostly failed in achieving its goals in Iraq. Only 37 percent said the United States mostly had succeeded.
That failure cost us the lives of 4,500 American soldiers, at least 32,000 injured Americans, almost 200,000 Iraqi dead, and, according to a study by Brown University’s Watson Institute, $2 trillion.
Seventy-four Oregonians were killed in Iraq. Our tragic Iraq misadventure cost each American $6,298, or $2.23 billion for all the citizens of Lane County.
Think about the immensity of that number as we grovel for dollars for education and struggle to address homelessness, hunger and underemployment in our community. This does not even include the human and economic costs of the continuing war in Afghanistan, which are equally immense and distressing.
In early 2003, the anti-war movement was urging a continuation of diplomatic efforts to address concerns about potential weapons of mass destruction and other abuses of Saddam Hussein’s regime. Think how different these last 11 years might have been — for Iraq, for the United States, for Lane County — if we had devoted one-tenth the resources to diplomatic efforts that went into the failed military effort.
Unfortunately, the American public has been overly susceptible to the U.S. government’s deceptions and fear-mongering that led us into wars from Vietnam to Iraq. Let’s hope that the stunning and overwhelming opposition to U.S. military actions in Syria and Iran is an indication that that susceptibility is a thing of the past.
We should be eternally war fatigued and war leery. When was the last “successful” war for the U.S.?
The annual budget of the Defense Department has reached over $700 billion when the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are included, while the total budget for the State Department’s state and foreign operations is just over $50 billion.
A 2011 report by the American Academy of Diplomacy said, “Since at least 2001, America’s ‘smart power’ equation has been out of balance… . Resources have flowed abundantly and often uncritically to the Defense Department… . There is little question that under-investment in diplomacy over the last decade or so has left our Foreign Service overstretched and underprepared.”
Diplomacy doesn’t mean doing nothing. Diplomacy, like war, is complicated and difficult and requires big risks and big investments — and courage: courage to compromise, courage to find common ground in seemingly irreconcilable situations. But it is worth the effort because diplomacy, unlike war, saves lives and money and builds relationships instead of creating enemies.
Unfortunately, our government is still geared toward war. It is we the people who must insist that diplomacy is always our first choice—instead of the next war. “We need to keep the diplomacy-not-war pressure on,” Bennis says.
Guy Maynard, retired editor of Oregon Quarterly magazine, is a member of the Progressive Responses Group of Community Alliance of Lane County and author of “The Risk of Being Ridiculous,” a historical novel.