The Elusive Declaration of Peace   

Ken Butigan     Friday 9 December 2011    Nation of Change

“Except for the occasional newsflash about sporadic violence—and the recent spate of stories about the sheer tonnage of materiel that the US is shipping stateside as it readies its departure—we don’t hear much about Iraq these days.”

Article imageThe re­main­ing US troops in Iraq are sched­uled to leave by the end of this month. While there had been some talk about ex­tend­ing the De­cem­ber 31, 2011 dead­line Pres­i­dent Obama set early in his term, this was scut­tled in Oc­to­ber when the Iraqi gov­ern­ment re­buffed the ad­min­is­tra­tion on two de­mands: that US troops be guar­an­teed im­mu­nity from pros­e­cu­tion and that the Pen­ta­gon be al­lowed to main­tain bases in the coun­try going for­ward.

While the US will re­tain a large em­bassy and two con­sulates in the coun­try, with 4,000 to 5,000 con­trac­tors (down from a high of 180,000), this is a dif­fer­ent out­come from the US gov­ern­ment’s orig­i­nal ex­pec­ta­tion of per­ma­nently main­tain­ing scores of mil­i­tary bases, in­clud­ing su­per­bases, in the coun­try de­signed to in­def­i­nitely an­chor the US geo-po­lit­i­cal pres­ence in the Mid­dle East. While we may learn later that this long-term strat­egy, against all po­lit­i­cal ob­sta­cles, re­mains on track (in­clud­ing a plan for all that oil), the nearly nine-year-old oc­cu­pa­tion of Iraq is ap­par­ently com­ing to an end.

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Ex­cept for the oc­ca­sional news­flash about spo­radic vi­o­lence—and the re­cent spate of sto­ries about the sheer ton­nage of ma­teriel that the US is ship­ping state­side as it read­ies its de­par­ture—we don’t hear much about Iraq these days. The ac­tion has moved on to Afghanistan, Pak­istan and Yemen. But five years ago, things were very dif­fer­ent. The mil­i­tary, po­lit­i­cal, and eco­nomic shock­waves from the US in­va­sion in 2003 were roil­ing the coun­try, the sec­tar­ian vi­o­lence was mount­ing, and Iraq was awash in blood and in­con­solable sor­row. The human wreck­age—as well as the huge eco­nomic toll—de­fied com­pre­hen­sion (and the blood­less num­ber-crunch­ing that sur­faced now and then).

In the orig­i­nal run up to the US in­va­sion, mil­lions had mo­bi­lized, but after Pres­i­dent Bush un­leashed his “Shock and Awe” blitzkrieg, this mo­men­tum fal­tered. By 2006, how­ever, US pub­lic op­po­si­tion to the war was again deep­en­ing, fu­eled by the three years of work that the anti-war move­ment had put in. United for Peace and Jus­tice—a coali­tion of 1,400 groups—as well as many na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions (in­clud­ing Peace Ac­tionVet­er­ans for PeaceAmer­i­can Friends Ser­vice Com­mit­tee, and the Na­tional Cam­paign for Non­vi­o­lent Re­sis­tance) had worked tire­lessly to strengthen and broaden this long­ing to end the war.

In the midst of this, a hand­ful of us began to de­velop a new pro­ject: The De­c­la­ra­tion of Peace.

This ini­tia­tive was prompted by an email I re­ceived on Christ­mas Day 2005 fromMichael Na­gler, the non­vi­o­lence scholar who now writes for this site. In his note, Michael pro­posed that, in­stead of con­tin­u­ing to or­ga­nize lim­ited or spo­radic ac­tions, the anti-war move­ment should set a dead­line for a US with­drawal from Iraq. If this sched­ule were not met, the gov­ern­ment would face wide­spread civil dis­obe­di­ence.

A civil dis­obe­di­ence pledge would be cre­ated and cir­cu­lated (here he was ex­plic­itly ref­er­enc­ing The Pledge of Re­sis­tance, which was or­ga­nized in the 1980s to protest US war in Cen­tral Amer­ica), and sign­ers would par­tic­i­pate in non­vi­o­lent ac­tion train­ings to get ready. More­over, Michael sug­gested that this ac­tion strat­egy in­sist on a con­crete peace­keep­ing al­ter­na­tive and peace­build­ing plan.

I vividly re­call read­ing Michael’s email. Moved by its vi­sion, I im­me­di­ately sketched a strat­egy paper that I sent off to Michael and a cou­ple of other col­leagues. Even­tu­ally, we de­cided to test this idea in the larger move­ment. A lot of on­line and face-to-face con­ver­sa­tion fol­lowed with many ex­ist­ing groups and in­di­vid­u­als. We were sup­ported in this process by our own or­ga­ni­za­tions, in­clud­ing Pace e Bene Non­vi­o­lence Ser­vice, which gave sev­eral of us on staff the green light to see where this might go. The cam­paign emerged as nu­mer­ous key or­ga­niz­ers joined the na­tional or­ga­niz­ing com­mit­tee.

With­out pre­sent­ing a de­tailed his­tory here, suf­fice it to say the pro­ject gained trac­tion and helped focus the anti-war work that year. We de­vel­oped a de­c­la­ra­tion that called for a com­pre­hen­sive, con­crete and rapid plan to end the war in Iraq—and a grass­roots non­vi­o­lent ac­tion strat­egy if this plan was not es­tab­lished by Sep­tem­ber 21, 2006, the In­ter­na­tional Day of Peace. The plan in­cluded a prompt timetable for with­drawal of troops; no per­ma­nent bases in Iraq; an Iraqi-led peace process for se­cu­rity, repa­ra­tions, re­con­struc­tion and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion; restora­tion of Iraqi sov­er­eignty over its eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal af­fairs; in­creased sup­port for US vet­er­ans of the Iraq war; and the shift­ing of war fund­ing to meet ed­u­ca­tion, health­care and em­ploy­ment needs at home. Signing the De­c­la­ra­tion of Peace was a way of back­ing this plan. But even more im­por­tantly, it was a com­mit­ment to take pub­lic ac­tion to help move it for­ward.

In ad­di­tion to or­ga­niz­ing local cam­paigns and host­ing non­vi­o­lent ac­tion train­ings, sign­ers in­un­dated Con­gres­sional of­fices that sum­mer urg­ing their sen­a­tors or rep­re­sen­ta­tives to sign the de­c­la­ra­tion. Most de­murred, say­ing they did not sign other peo­ple’s pledges. (In more re­cent years such sen­ti­ments haven’t pre­vented con­ser­v­a­tive Con­gress-mem­bers from sign­ing Grover Norquist’s pledge to op­pose tax in­creases.) In the end, only 12 mem­bers of Con­gress signed the De­c­la­ra­tion of Peace.

But this lob­by­ing seemed to have made an im­pact in other ways. It alerted Con­gress to the anti-war move­ment’s grow­ing mo­men­tum and may have played a role in shift­ing the focus of the im­pend­ing fall Con­gres­sional elec­tions from shy­ing away from dis­cussing Iraq at all to mak­ing the elec­tions a plebiscite on the war.

In the end, The De­c­la­ra­tion of Peace was signed by 20,000 peo­ple. It was en­dorsed by 800 na­tional and local or­ga­ni­za­tions that or­ga­nized 375 events across the United States, which in­cluded hun­dreds of peo­ple en­gag­ing in non­vi­o­lent civil dis­obe­di­ence, from Sep­tem­ber 21 through Sep­tem­ber 30.

While it was orig­i­nally con­ceived of as a one-time ef­fort, it went on to or­ga­nize four more cam­paigns. Some of us as­so­ci­ated with The De­c­la­ra­tion of Peace also helped cre­ate Chris­t­ian Peace Wit­ness for Iraq, which an­nu­ally gath­ered for faith-based non­vi­o­lent ac­tion in Wash­ing­ton, DC for sev­eral years, in­clud­ing a ser­vice held in March 2007 at the Na­tional Cathe­dral fol­lowed by 222 mem­bers of the re­li­gious com­mu­nity being ar­rested as we en­gaged in non­vi­o­lent civil dis­obe­di­ence at the White House.

The au­da­cious time­line that The De­c­la­ra­tion of Peace set out was not met. It is sober­ing that US with­drawal from Iraq did not ma­te­ri­al­ize for an­other five long years filled with more death, de­struc­tion, and in­sta­bil­ity. More somber still is the fact that the vi­sion we strug­gled for—a plan that would in­clude a peace process that would ad­dress se­cu­rity, re­con­struc­tion and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and a “peace div­i­dend” here at home—re­mained, un­for­tu­nately, only a vi­sion. While there were “surges” and “draw­downs” over the last half-decade, no com­pre­hen­sive plan for gen­uine peace, re­con­struc­tion, and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion was im­ple­mented.

At the same time, it is worth not­ing that, had the anti-war move­ment not mo­bi­lized as it did since 2003, it is likely that the US would have had boots on the ground in Iraq in­def­i­nitely (as Sen. John Mc­Cain and oth­ers have seemed to call for re­cently). Quite likely US bases would be firmly en­trenched there (as they have been in other places fol­low­ing US wars, in­clud­ing Japan, Ger­many, and Korea). And there would likely have been the con­tin­u­ing provo­ca­tion and in­sta­bil­ity that an oc­cu­py­ing power in­cites. So­cial move­ments alert, ed­u­cate, and mo­bi­lize the pop­u­lace to shift its think­ing to cre­ate the con­di­tions for change. The role of the anti-war move­ment can­not be over­looked in ac­count­ing for this new course.

Nev­er­the­less, much re­mains un­fin­ished. A key task is ac­count­ing for what the US did. Be­fore mov­ing our pub­lic aware­ness to the next bat­tle­field, we are in need of stark truth-telling about what went down: tear­ing a na­tion asun­der, pros­e­cut­ing a hor­ren­dous counter-in­sur­gency cam­paign, and con­duct­ing sys­tem­atic tor­ture, all under of­fi­cial pre­texts that turned out to be scan­dalously false.

To en­gage in the re­quire­ments of restora­tive jus­tice (which, though often ig­nored by power-hold­ers, are in­cum­bent on us as a so­ci­ety) first re­quires an en­gage­ment with the truth. With­out this, we will not only con­tinue this pat­tern of wag­ing long and costly wars, we will have missed an op­por­tu­nity for trans­for­ma­tion that is sorely needed.

What we know is that we can­not wait for the power-hold­ers to en­gage in the truth and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion process. It is up to us. And when we have done this, then we—the cit­i­zens of Iraq, the US and all the “coali­tion forces”—can rightly an­nounce a true “de­c­la­ra­tion of peace.”


Ken Butigan is director of Pace e Bene, a nonprofit organization fostering nonviolent change through education, community and action. He also teaches peace studies at DePaul University and Loyola University in Chicago.



  1. stopthemaddness12 January 17, 2012 at 6:31 AM

    Reblogged this on stopthemaddness2012.

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