Judith LeBlanc is the national organizing co-ordinator of United for Peace and Justice, the largest US national peace coalition, and a national vice-president of the Communist Party, USA. She is in Australia at the invitation of the Communist Party of Australia and the Australian Anti-Bases Campaign Coalition to take part in the protests against the Talisman Sabre joint US-Australian military exercises which are taking place at Shoalwater Bay near Rockhampton from July 6-26. While in Sydney on her way to Rockhampton Judith spoke to Anna Pha for The Guardian about the peace movement and the significance of Obama’s election.
Original source: CPA’s The Guardian
Guardian: Judith, could you please tell us about United for Peace and Justice?
Judith LeBlanc: United for Peace and Justice grew out of the struggle to prevent the war in Iraq and it was the coming together of the traditional peace and disarmament groups nationally and a range of local peace and justice centres and coalitions and new grass roots groups that emerged in this struggle to prevent the war. It began with 300 organisations and has grown to 1,400 member groups.
Now we are in the midst of retooling the peace movement, so to speak, and finding new ways to involve people in ending the war in Afghanistan and to build a bridge to that longer-term movement that is needed to end US militarisation and the militarisation of our domestic budget.
G: What is the attitude to those wars in the US?
JB: I think the peace movement scored an incredible victory with the election of Barack Obama and him keeping his pledge that he would set a deadline, a timetable for US withdrawal from Iraq. Of course the timetable that has been set by the new administration is not all that we would like. But you never win a total victory, you always win part and you continue to struggle.
We feel that in many ways our work to end the war and the occupation in Afghanistan is starting from a sound basis. Majority opinion opposed the [Iraq] war and that was mobilised and galvanised into support for the defeat of McCain.
Now we are trying to take that movement that rose in support of the Obama election and the majority opposition to the war in Iraq into a new national dialogue of the history and the impact of the war and the occupation of Afghanistan.
The war in Afghanistan started in 2001. It was initiated under the rubric of the global war on terror that Bush instituted at the time for maintaining US military dominance by his pre-emptive strike policy and his endless war policy.
At that time, after September 11, there were people who felt that perhaps it was an act of war. We in the peace movement of course raised our voices and said that September 11 was not a call to war but was in fact a time for our country to discuss in a broad national dialogue what gave cause and what gives rise to acts of terror and to attacks on civilians.
New political space
So now we are operating in a new environment, in a new political space in which perhaps we will have great success in helping people understand that you cannot solve issues around national security with war. That the mere presence of the US military in countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan gives rise to insurgency. So we want to help the American people to begin pressing Congress and the Obama administration to step back and to tell us what is the exit plan.
We also want to put a lot of pressure on the Obama administration to make good on a campaign promise that the leading edge of policy would be diplomacy first.
We believe, as nearly 80 percent of the Afghan people, that the only way that the situation in Afghanistan will be stabilised is through negotiations and a pull-back of the US troops. We want to mobilise people to understand what the impact is on the region to have a US military offensive underway. That it has greatly destabilised Pakistan and that Pakistan is a nuclear-armed country. So there’s a lot at stake, and there’s the economic costs and of course with the economic crisis, the spiral that has yet to be stopped.
So, the movement for peace, the social movements in our country, are they ready to fill the political space that the election of Obama has created? Not quite, but I think the peace movement has enough experience in the six years of the struggle to end the Iraq war to know that it is going to take a strong, well organised, vocal peace movement to make the changes that are needed.
G: So far, how do you assess Obama’s foreign policy?
JB: After six months of the administration, some of the left and of the peace movement say that perhaps Obama is imperialist-lite when in fact after six months it isn’t clear what the Obama administration’s rubric is for its foreign policy. But we do know one thing that is clear: that the power of public pressure can move this administration, that they are very sensitive to public opinion.
The Obama administration was really challenged because of what the Bush administration did around the world. It is really challenged to recast the role and the relationship that the US has with other countries. Without recasting that relationship to one that is premised on diplomacy, respect for international law and national sovereignty, without changing and moving in that direction, there will be no end in the spending for the military. The only ones who will profit will be the military industrial complex.
I think the Obama administration has made headway changing foreign policy. It has spoken about the differences it wants to make in its relationship to Cuba, in its role in pressing for a just Middle East peace between Palestine and Israel, in its relationship to the Muslim world. But the truth is that in order for those words to become a reality we need a stronger peace movement and we need one that can advocate forcefully and in a meaningful way the direct interconnectedness between peace and justice, between domestic policy and foreign policy.
War on terror
I think the Obama administration has done a good job in thinking through the fact that the Bush administration fomented a considerable amount of not only anxiety but death, dying and anger by launching what was called the “global war on terror” and they dropped that terminology. Unfortunately they did not end the military practice of waging war in the name of national security in Afghanistan.
I think that the goals of dismantling, disarming and destroying Al Qaeda are quite frankly just plain wrong. That’s the Obama administration’s approach. There are many former Pentagon people, many former State Department people who say that the threat of terror will not be able to be solved through military action.
The broad goal of dealing with terrorism is the basis for the escalation that the Obama administration has made by sending 20,000 more troops into Afghanistan and using drones, unmanned bombing aircraft. People are dying, civilians are dying in great numbers. The instability in Afghanistan has accelerated and the destabilising of Pakistan is under way where we have millions of people, of refugees, displaced as a result of the US drone attacks and US violations of the national sovereignty of Pakistan.
Obama’s voting record in the Senate was, and he has maintained this position after becoming president, that there is a need to reduce nuclear arms, that there was a need for ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. He is making good on that promise by initiating talks with Russia to cut nuclear armaments. We are hoping, as he said in a speech in Prague recently, that it is not only the moral responsibility of the US to cut nuclear arms but it is a necessity to move towards the abolition of nuclear weapons.
The struggle for nuclear disarmament and the abolition of nuclear weapons is a critical issue for the peace movement to regroup and to retool and for building a mass movement around. We had a very strong and vibrant movement around nuclear disarmament in the ’80s.
We hope to take Obama’s words [on nuclear disarmament] and build a movement that calls for abolition in our lifetimes. We are busy at work planning with our international partners a year-long national petition drive to call on Obama to abolish nuclear weapons.
We are launching it on the anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and concluding this petition drive at the time of the May 2010 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Conference at the United Nations. We hope to apply such mass pressure on the Obama administration that they will take rapid steps to not only sign the joint agreement with Russia to reduce nuclear warheads but also to end the testing of new nuclear weapons and to begin to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in Congress and take giant steps forward before that 2010 Non-Proliferation Treaty conference.
We are very hopeful that we can build that mass movement because people understand the nature of war in a different way because of Iraq and because of what’s going on in Afghanistan. They also know that the Obama administration is not the agent of change but can be the vehicle for change. We think that nuclear weapons is a good starting point.