25 Minnesotans for Peace (including myself) recently traveled to Washington DC to give a message to our elected representatives before the President's "State of the Union". We were able to read the names of the 77 young people from Minnesota who have been killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars in front of the White House. We then "threw our shoes at the occupation" after reading the messages and questions about the endless wars that we had inscribed on our "peace shoes" for later mailing to the White House. Finally some in our group committed an act of conscience by simply laying down on the sidewalk symbolizing the ongoing, enormous tragedy of the millions of civilian and soldier deaths. The mostly elderly participants were subsequently arrested and forced to spend 28 hours in the harsh conditions of the "DC lockup".
The next evening we heard the President give another good speech emphasizing his wonderful vision for the future of our country through new job creation, improving educational opportunity, investment in America's infrastructure, balancing the budget and a return to economic prosperity. The President only spoke of the costly wars and military build-up that he has chosen to escalate (against the advice of his own Ambassador Eikenberry to Afghanistan) towards the end of his "State of the Union" report.
But does not the tail wag the dog?
Obama's speech left us baffled as it does not appear to us that the lives lost and trillions of dollars that have been poured into these counterproductive wars over the last eight years (and counting) have won any hearts or minds in the Mid-east nor have they succeeded in reducing the threat of international terrorism. So we asked a lot of questions.
Our peace delegation was able to meet with many of our Minnesota Congresspersons and/or their staffs (including Klobuchar, Franken, Kline, Oberstar and Ellison). However nobody on Capitol Hill was able to explain how it is possible to "win" or even what future benchmarks Congress could use to evaluate whether progress is being made toward that goal. The last time our government published any information quantifying international terrorism was in 2004 (less than 3 years into the wars) and, at that time, the level had increased exponentially. The State Department's annual terrorism report was immediately discontinued. Over eight years after instituting the "war on terror", the government must still want to keep the bad news a secret, even from Congress. If there is no way to even find out this basic information, how can Congress assess if the Af-Pak escalation is "working"? We were met with blank stares.
We then asked whether changes in the level of American casualties could be used to measure the progress. We mentioned General (ret'd) Barry McCaffrey's dire prediction: "What I want to do is signal that this thing (Af-Pak escalation) is going to be $5 billion to $10 billion a month and 300 to 500 killed and wounded a month by next summer. That's what we probably should expect. And that's light casualties." One young congressional staffer who has studied foreign policy and military affairs (but without any military experience of his own) told us that increased American deaths would not be relevant or helpful in determining the war's effectiveness. I asked to know the number of funerals my Congressman Kline had been to for the soldiers in our district who had so far been killed in the wars or who had committed suicide as a result of the wars.
The last difficult question we posed to our elected Minnesota representatives was how can the reckless spending be brought under control and the national debt be reduced when an unprecedented $741 billion is to be spent on the military and wars this next year. (That's the projected minimum. Many experts expect supplemental spending will push the 2010 total amount to $1 trillion.) A staffer told us that Congress raised the debt ceiling last month to an unfathomable $12 trillion! That debt figure is more than double the $5.6 trillion the Bush Administration had when it started the wars. The national debt reportedly comes to $100,000 for each American family! How can fiscal conservatives not question the trillions being wasted this way? How can President Obama's hopes for economic prosperity be realized with a debt burden this high? Why are US military contractors allowed to gain huge war profits at the same time as saddling our children and grandchildren with crushing interest payments on this debt?
Our last terrible question was when will the other shoe fall? Our visit to DC happened to coincide with C-SPAN's airing of former Senator Pete Domenici's presentation to the members of a new bi-partisan, private sector debt commission being assigned to deal with the catastrophic rising debt. The elderly Domenici was practically in tears and hyperventilating as he pointed the press to a chart showing the United States' steeply climbing debt burden as he announced in a trembling voice that all government programs and "entitlements" (except for the military) but obviously including social security, Medicare and Medicaid would be on the cutting block.
One has to wonder if the line on Domenici's chart showing US debt going steeply up would mirror the one we are not allowed to know about the increase in international terrorism, as a consequence of U.S. pre-emptive wars, kidnapings, torture, etc.
In the end, our group had to leave Washington DC without the answers. But we do not intend to wait in silence for the politicians to respond. Since our current President and Congress do not appear capable of pulling the country out of the "war on terror" begun by the Bush Administration, it will, of necessity, fall to the common American people like ourselves to exercise our constitutional rights as well as our consciences to push for a peace process to end the bloody and costly quagmire.