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10 Steps to Wean US Foreign Policy Off Militarism

President Obama, after spending most of his time in office pursuing foreign policies similar to those of George Bush, has now discovered diplomacy. While he hasn’t stopped US military intervention overseas, including his signature drone strikes, he has brokered two historic deals: one with Cuba to begin the process of normalizing relations and the nuclear deal with Iran that he is now struggling to pass through Congress.

US progressives who are delighted to see some progress on the diplomatic front should now clearly define what a progressive foreign policy looks like, and push presidential candidates and other officials to move US policy towards one that is based on respect, cooperation, and diplomacy, including the following:

1. Reduce Military Spending, Build a Peace Economy

None of the presidential candidates has been calling for a significant reduction in the bloated military budget that eats up half the discretionary funds in the US budget. They should. How else can we find the funds needed to invest in key areas such as sustainable energy projects, infrastructure, care for veterans, education, or affordable housing? The US must move away from a war economy to a peace economy, including a major transition program for workers to move from military- to peace-based jobs.

2. Expand the Use of Diplomacy

The US should extend the policies started under the Obama Administration of making peace with Cuba and Iran to other conflict areas of the world, including the unresolved conflict on the Korean peninsula where an Armistice Agreement from 1953 needs to be replaced with a Peace Treaty. The US should stop dumping more weapons into the Middle East, and instead focus on political resolutions to the wars in Syria and Iraq. The same is true for the Israel-Palestine conflict, where the US should stop arming Israel and stop protecting Israel from being held accountable for its actions at UN bodies.

3. Abide by International Law – No Unauthorized Wars

The US should cease the practice of launching wars not authorized by Congress or the United Nations. It should stop extrajudicial killings, including the use of weaponized drones, and support a global treaty banning these weapons systems.

4. Work Toward A Nuclear-Free, Peaceful World

While the US is pushing Iran to abide by its obligations under the NonProliferation Treaty (NPT), it has not carried out its own obligations with respect to cutting its US nuclear arsenal. The US should hold Israel accountable for its illegal nuclear weapons and promote a nuclear-free world. It should stop intimidating Russia, including putting an end to NATO expansion on its borders and removing the missile defense systems from Europe.

5. Promote Women in Peacemaking

After many years of struggling to pass UN Security Council Resolution 1325 that calls for the full involvement of women in preventing, resolving, and recovering from conflict, the US should put more focus on implementing this resolution. If women had been represented at the Syria peace talks, for example, they might have made progress; instead, the only ones at the table were men with guns—not a great recipe for peace.

6. Close Overseas Military Bases

The United States spends at least $100 billion a year on over 800 bases in 70 nations, not counting permanent ongoing trainings and exercises. Many of these bases are in countries where they are not welcomed and have caused friction with the local communities. The US military should close all foreign military bases and use our soldiers to protect us here at home.

7. Observe US Law Prohibiting the Sale of Weapons to Human Rights Violators

Weapons manufacturing and sales are big business in the US, and those who profit from these sales are always trying to stop the US from implementing its own laws prohibiting weapons sales to human rights abusers. The largest US weapons deal in human history is with the repressive regime of Saudi Arabia; US taxpayers foot the over 1 billion-dollar-bill to arm the barbaric Egyptian regime that came to power in a coup. And the list goes on. The US should stop the practice of giving or selling weapons to countries that are human rights violators. Period.

8. End the Militarization of Police Departments and Borders

The militarization we see overseas, with the US engaged in endless war, is reflected in the arming of police in US communities and border regions. Military weapons such as tanks and grenade launchers should have no place in domestic law enforcement. The US should end the policy of transferring military-grade weaponry and surveillance equipment from the military to local police department and stop the massive militarization of our borders.

9. Stop Illegal Detention of Prisoners in Guantanamo and Elsewhere, Hold Torturers Accountable

The US post-9/11 history of torture and indefinite detention is reprehensible. Even today, over half of the remaining prisoners in the Guantanamo prison have been cleared for release by various US agencies but they are still being held after 13 years! The cleared prisoners should be released immediately and the others should be given trials in federal courts. And the US personnel and advisors responsible for the torture should be charged and tried in a court of law. The Guantanamo prison should be shut down and the base returned to the Cuban people.

10. Respect Whistleblowers–and Our Privacy

The Obama administration has prosecuted more whistleblowers than any other president. The US government should recognize the value of whistleblowers in serving the best interests of the public. Whistleblowers Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning should be pardoned. And the US should put an end to the myriad programs of mass surveillance, including the bulk collection of personal data.

While some sectors of our society benefit from excessive militarism, the majority of Americans don’t. Election season is a good time to let people running for office know that America would be safer and more prosperous if it stopped seeking enemies overseas and instead focused on building a peaceful foreign policy and a peace-based domestic economy.

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Medea Benjamin is the co-founder of the peace group CODEPINK and the human right organization Global Exchange. Follow her on twitter at @MedeaBenjamin.

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