This week has also been a grim one for civilian casualties as a result of NATO's Operation Mushtarak in the Marjah district of Helmand and an airstrike in Oruzgan province that killed 27 innocent people. Despite strong denunciations by President Karzai and a steady stream of "I'm sorry's" from US General Stanley McChrystal, the civilian casualties keep mounting alongside President Obama's surge in Afghanistan.
The good news is the surge in anti-war sentiment abroad, particularly in NATO countries. The most spectacular case is that of the Netherlands, where the Dutch coalition government collapsed over the issue. A marathon cabinet meeting this weekend ended with the walkout of the second largest party in the government, the Labor Party, which accused the main Christian Democratic Alliance of reversing a 2007 agreement to bring the troops home this year. The Dutch Prime Minister now says that the Dutch will be completely out of Afghanstian by the end of next year.
Public opinion against the war is forcing other governments to consider withdrawal, despite strong pressure from the Obama administration. Canada has announced it will withdraw its 2,800 troops by the end of the year. European countries are struggling to find their share of the 10,000 extra troops requested by General McChrystal to join the 30,000 extra U.S. troops. France has declined to send more forces and the German government is facing fierce opposition at home.
Here in the United States, the debate on the war has been overshadowed by the debate on healthcare and the domestic economy. While progressives have consistently tried to link the two, these ties are increasingly coming from the conservative end of the political spectrum as well. Republican Congressman Ron Paul won the presidential straw poll at the Conservative Progressive Action Committee this weekend on a strong anti-war platform. "The constitution does not give us the authority to be the policemen of the world," he said to roars of approval from young conservatives. "We spend a trillion dollars a year maintaining an empire, but we're broke." His solution? Conserve our taxdollars by practicing diplomacy.
Anti-war sentiments are brewing within the Tea Party as well. Former Arizona Sheriff and Tea Party spokesperson Richard Mack expressed his view on MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews last week. "Both parties have us involved in the war in Iraq and other wars that we shouldn"t be involved in," he said. "There"s no end in sight in this ridiculous war. ... It"s ridiculous." And conservative commentator Pat Buchanan, talking on with Chris Matthews on Monday, said we had three options for dealing with our gigantic deficit: cut entitlement programs, raise taxes or cut the trillion dollars we spend on maintaining an empire abroad. "That cow is going to be on the chopping block," he said of the bloated Pentagon budget, and insisted that the anti-war conservatives are growing in strength.
Unfortunately, the anti-war sentiment lacks visibility. Gone are the days when the peace movement could turn out hundreds of thousands of people. The Obama administration not only led to a surge in Afghanistan, but it sucked the air out of the anti-war movement. United for Peace and Justice, once a vibrant coalition of over 1,300 groups with large offices in New York and a dozen staff, has become a network based on volunteers, and grassroots peace groups across the country have folded.
But March promises to be a revival of sorts. The ANSWER coalition is gearing up for the first significant anti-war marches since Obama took office, planned for the March 20 anniversary of the Iraq war. Progressive Democrats of America, along with groups like CODEPINK, have been encouraging people to gather for a brown bag lunch at congressional offices in districts across the country. With the message of Healthcare not Warfare, there are now over a hundred monthly lunches outside congressional offices. And a group called Peace of the Action is organizing a campout on the DC mall starting March 13.
As the fighting surges, the spending on war surges and the deaths surge, it's time for the U.S. peace movement to regather its energy and push the anti-war agenda back onto the national scene.
Medea Benjamin is the cofounder of:
CODEPINK: Women for Peace (http://www.codepinkalert.org)
Global Exchange http:www.globalexchange.org