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On Saturday, thousands of American citizens gathered in Washington, DC to challenge the open-ended war the United States is now waging. They are right to do so, and the broader American public would do well to listen.
Congress authorized a police action to apprehend the conspirators behind the September 11 attack. Congress did not declare war because the President did not ask Congress to declare war. Yet, the Administration is conducting itself as if it were engaged in a declared war, sending military special operations forces to many new countries and ramping up defense spending. The Administration’s budget contains real, inflation-adjusted spending increases only for military spending. Non-military spending is projected to remain flat, and funding for many important programs is decreased, in spite of growing unmet needs. The list of national priorities from which the Administration has taken away federal funds includes education, housing for the elderly, health care, and transportation.
This war footing will ultimately make the world a more dangerous place. Already, the Administration has derailed efforts to negotiate the termination of North Korea’s missile program and undermined efforts by President Khatami and other pro-reform Iranians to moderate the policies of Islamic fundamentalists in Iran. The Administration’s unilateral intention to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, its abandonment of efforts to pass a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and its refusal to negotiate enforcement mechanisms for the Biological Weapons Convention will only compound this instability.
The protestors are also concerned about having civil liberties and basic rights undermined at home. The USA Patriot Act, which 65 of my colleagues and I opposed, allows widespread wiretapping and internet surveillance without judicial supervision. It also allows secret searches without a warrant and gives the Attorney General the power to determine what is and isn’t a domestic terrorist group. The law allows the U.S. government to imprison suspected terrorists for an indefinite period of time without due process or access to family members or lawyers. Last November, the President announced his intention to establish military tribunals as well. The Administration remains confused about extending internationally recognized treatment under the Geneva Convention.
The protestors’ central observation is that these actions will likely have the opposite effect of what is intended — U.S. efforts intended to quell international terrorism will provoke more of it. History is replete with the unintended and counterproductive consequences of U.S. action: the <U.S.-led> embargo of Iraq, which has led to the deaths of thousands of Iraqi civilians, has solidified Saddam Hussein’s hold on power. Our government secretly sponsored anti-Soviet fundamentalists in Afghanistan and this led to the rise of the Taliban and their harboring of Osama bin Laden.
The path to ending terrorism, whether by individuals, organizations or nation states, is a foreign or domestic policy based on social and economic justice – not corporate concerns. This is the hopeful premise of HR 2459, a bill to create a Department of Peace. This Cabinet-level Department would serve to promote nonviolence as an organizing principle in our society. We should treat others as we would want them to treat us. We should follow international law, if we want others to do so. We should practice non-violence and encourage non-violent conflict resolution whenever possible. We should stop supporting repressive regimes, if we want democracy to flourish.
But that is not the path the Administration has chosen. Those gathering in Washington, DC believe we cannot stop terrorism with an open-ended, permanent war. They believe the time has come for new thinking in meeting the challenges of terrorism. I believe they are right.
Dennis Kucinich represents the 10th congressional district of Ohio. He can be reached through his website.