A Hundred Cities against Escalation As the President Announces It

Recent press speculation suggests at least even odds that, sometime in November, President Obama will give a speech announcing that he intends to send tens of thousands of more U.S. troops to Afghanistan in 2010.  Not a temporary “surge,” but a permanent escalation.  While certainly it’s good news — at least temporarily — that AP is reporting that President Obama “won’t accept any of the Afghanistan war options before him without changes,” and that the Washington Post is reporting that U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry is lobbying strongly against sending more troops, note that AP goes on to say:

Obama is still expected to send in more troops to bolster a deteriorating war effort.

He remains close to announcing his revamped war strategy — troops are just one component — and probably will do so shortly after he returns from a trip to Asia that ends Nov. 19.

I wouldn’t for a moment suggest that anyone concede the inevitability of AP‘s prediction.  Clearly, there is considerable friction and chaos in the system right now; each day that passes without Obama announcing more troops is an opportunity for new developments, such as the leak of Ambassador Eikenberry’s dissent.  Each day that passes is an opportunity for Members of Congress like Eric Massa and Alan Grayson and anti-war Afghanistan vets like Rick Reyes and Brock McIntosh to speak out against the war, for Americans across the country to call Members of Congress and urge them to speak out now, before the President announces his decision.

But, in addition to continuing to call on Americans to pressure Washington now, we also need to plan for the contingency that these current efforts will fail, which means starting to mobilize people against the war supplemental to pay for the planned escalation; and if making and publicizing future plans could affect the present debate, we should do it.

If people in a hundred cities and towns across America announced in advance that on the day of the President’s speech, they will organize a local demonstration at their Representative’s office or some other convenient location, and that they will reach out to local news media to communicate that, in order to try to get reports of their local demonstration into local media into the same news cycle as the President’s speech, might that make a difference to the President’s decision?

I think it might.  I think it’s doable, and that the President’s decision will likely have such lasting consequences that I think it’s worth trying.

Note that the strategy of asking 100 cities to announce demonstrations now on the same day as the President’s speech isn’t about trying to reach the big national media, which will continue to ignore or ridicule anti-war protests, as is their wont.  It’s about trying to move Members of Congress by getting into local media reports of the President’s speech, and it’s about undermining the ability of the White House to try to sell escalation to the American people — already an extremely difficult task, as the White House acknowledges.  A large part of the American population watches local TV news, reads a local newspaper, or listens to local radio news, and especially in smaller cities, local TV and newspapers and radio are often very willing to cover local protests that are tied to a major national political event.  Imagine that many Americans are watching their local TV news, and the top story is the President’s speech, and the next story is “but local protesters say that escalation is not the answer.”  Might that deter the White House?  I think it might.

Unfortunately, the peace movement in the United States as it exists at this exact historical moment does not have the infrastructure and ability to call demonstrations in 100 cities.  But, to paraphrase a notorious American, “you oppose war with the peace movement you have, not the peace movement you wish you had or might like to have in the future.”  If we’re going to have 100 demonstrations and vigils in 100 cities on the day of the President’s speech, there will have to be a significant contribution from what a German philosopher once called “the spontaneous self-activity of the masses.”  Local groups and local individuals will have to step into the breach.  People who have never organized a demonstration may have to organize a demonstration.  But organizing a demonstration is easy.  All it takes is a few phone calls and emails, a few signs, and a press release.  The circumstances demand it.  If we don’t want another 10 years of war, we have to act now.

Robert Naiman is National Coordinator of Just Foreign Policy.  Naiman also edits the daily Just Foreign Policy news summary and blogs at the Web site of Just Foreign Policy.  This article was first published in the Just Foreign Policy blog on 12 November 2009.

| Print