If war is not the answer, what is?

Chico Peace and Justice Center has a suggestion

Jim Anderson teaches religious studies at Chico State University, is active in the local Quaker Meeting and serves on the Chico Peace and Justice Center advisory board.

You’ve seen the bumper sticker or sign: “War is not the answer.” Well, if war is not the answer, what is—in particular, in relation to Afghanistan? The call for more troops, the justifications for rocket attacks, the apologies for the rows of civilian casualties: We’ve seen this before, and are frustrated and saddened to see it again. Didn’t we vote for change?

Fact is, our president and Congress can move in new directions only with the persistent pressure of those of us who desire it—the election was not the achievement of change but only the opportunity to bring it about. Democracy is not so much what you do in the voting booth as what you do the rest of the time. And with democracy in mind, the Chico Peace and Justice Center has just published a position paper on Afghanistan that outlines some new directions we should press for.

The $83 billion supplemental spending request now pending in Congress—almost all of it military expenses—is the old direction; here is what the CPJC paper calls for instead:

Demilitarization—no additional troops to Afghanistan, a halt to missile strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and gradual withdrawal of existing troops, private contractors, and mercenaries.

Development—instead of militarization, substantial funds devoted to development and reconstruction, and to the support of local organizations working for peace and justice in their own country, to develop security through civilian rule of law and community peace-building. (This aid should have Afghan or U.S. civilian oversight.) In support of this, the CPJC calls for a “surge” not in troops but in humanitarian and educational support. (The work of Greg Mortenson, recently celebrated in our community, represents one expression of this alternative vision.)

Diplomacy—a more serious effort to participate in regional diplomacy rather than leading with military force. We need to engage more actively with Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, the central Asian republics, and others to promote stability and peace in the region, recognizing the legitimate interests of all parties. We need to once again act on our commitment to international law, human rights, and the respect of other nations.

Debate—a vigorous public discussion in which U.S. citizens participate actively in shaping a humane, democratic, and compassionate approach to our policy toward Afghanistan.

The position paper is not the last word, and doesn’t mean to be—note the fourth point. But I share the center’s view that in Afghanistan, as in so many other recent places, war is not the answer. The CPJC alternative is not simple, not risk-free, not cost-free—but it’s better, smarter, more promising.