As we demonstrated at the White House last Monday calling for an end to the U.S. war in Afghanistan, we could hardly have imagined President Barack Obama would be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize four days later.
While the award came as a surprise, it is somewhat understandable. We have met and conversed with peace activists from around the world over the last year, and we've observed a palpable, nearly desperate, universal hunger (obviously shared by the Nobel Committee) for a more peaceful, less militaristic U.S. foreign policy.
Reaction to the announcement has been predictably mixed. A better question than "Does Obama deserve the Nobel Peace Prize?" might be "will the American people insist he pursue peaceful policies so he really earns the Peace Prize?" Or even better, "Are we prepared to be a truly peaceful country?" Because despite the welcome change in tone, and in some policies, from Bush to Obama, the United States remains, by far, the most militaristic country on the planet.
The U.S. annually spends over $700 billion on war and weaponry, nearly as much on the military as the rest of the world's countries combined. The U.S. maintains over 800 foreign military bases. The purpose of most of these bases is to project our power in order to maintain our unsustainable addiction to fossil fuels. Our top industrial export to the rest of the world is weaponry.
Despite President Obama's inspiring rhetoric about seeking a nuclear weapons-free world, the U.S. still maintains over 10,000 nuclear weapons, many still inexplicably poised on hair-trigger alert to launch on a few minutes' notice. Our seemingly endless occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, blank-check support for Israel even as it continues to oppress the Palestinian people, and support for despotic, autocratic, human rights-abusing regimes in the Middle East (such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait) are the chief recruiting arguments for violent extremist groups. These policies, among others, are undemocratic, short-sighted and inimical to the security interests of Americans.
We agree with President Obama that the Peace Prize is a "call to action." Here's a to-do list, for him and for all of us:
Afghanistan: Declare any further escalation of U.S. troops, currently under consideration by the Administration, off the table; convene and vigorously support peace talks aimed at political reconciliation, enhanced security, support for women's rights, and economic development. Provide Congress and the American public an exit plan to remove U.S. and NATO troops and private military contractors from Afghanistan.
Iraq: Bring private military contractors and all U.S. troops, not just combat troops, home by August 2010. Commit to a serious investment in rebuilding Iraq's economy, and take care of our returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. Close all U.S. military bases.
Iran: Continue the current promising negotiations with Iran and foreswear any possibility of an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities.
Israel-Palestine: Insist that Israel end the economic strangulation of Gaza, stop all settlement construction and house demolitions in the West Bank, end the evictions of Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem, and work tirelessly for a just resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Don't cave in to Israeli intransigence-we could, after all, refuse to pay for this anymore.
Nuclear disarmament: Back up the strong rhetoric by initiating negotiations for the global elimination of nuclear weapons at or before next May's Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference. The incremental nuclear weapons reductions and strengthened non-proliferation measures President Obama has announced are good, but they do not go far enough; the scourge of nuclear weapons must be wiped from the face of the Earth, and Obama should have the courage of his convictions and go all-out on this issue.
Military spending: drastically reduce Pentagon spending in order to invest in weapons industry worker re-training and human and environmental needs, both here and around the world.
This is a list worthy of a Nobel Peace Prize winner, and also of a country seeking peace, prosperity and harmony with the rest of the world.