“A Foreign Policy for All” at First Unitarian Society of Newton

Cole Harrison presented this sermon July 19 at the First Unitarian Society of Newton, on the topic of “A Foreign Policy for All”.  The service also included readings and hymns on the topic of peace and justice, and post-service discussion.

I’m Cole Harrison, executive director of Massachusetts Peace Action, a statewide peace group, part of national Peace Action, the nation’s largest grassroots peace organization – we were formed as SANE, the committee for a sane nuclear policy in 1957. My thanks to Nancy Wrenn and Curt Lamb for inviting me to share some thoughts with you about the Foreign Policy for All.

How did I get into this?  Well, a lot of my childhood was spent overseas, in Asia. I was born in Delhi, India of American parents.  One day when I was about 12, while being driven to work by my family’s chauffeur, I looked out the window and saw people who had nothing – almost no clothes, no place to live, clearly very little food because they were extremely skinny.  And I realized that this was not out of the ordinary in India, that the gap between my family’s privilege and that of many Indians was part of the pattern – part of the system.  I asked my parents what should be done about this and they had no answer. I started looking for answers.

A few years later my family had moved to Japan and it was the time of the Vietnam war, which I knew was unjust.  I saw Japanese students trying to stop shipment of US military supplies to Vietnam.  They were organized. They marched in groups, contingents. Their demonstrations featured “snake dances” – long lines of people each holding the waist of the person in front of them.  One day I saw thousands of demonstrators tear up train tracks in downtown Tokyo to stop shipment of war materials.  And I realized that to obtain justice, you struggle for it.  You organize, you mobilize, you demand.

When Barack Obama ran for president, he said he would pull the troops out of Iraq — and send them to Afghanistan, and I went “What?”  Talk about hubris. Even if you’re trying to run the world, trying to remake Afghanistan, which is in no way important to what are conventionally called “American interests”, with an American army that knows nothing of that country, is a fool’s errand.

And now, after years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, with their terrible toll of death and destruction, we are fighting again in the Middle East.  But growing numbers of Americans have had enough.  They are debating the values and goals of U.S. foreign policy, with its heavy reliance on military intervention.  Why has it been so unsuccessful? What is the appropriate role for our nation in today’s world?  How does our investment in a gigantic, costly military establishment affect our foreign policy decisions?

The nuclear deal with Iran, announced Tuesday by 6 great powers and Iran, is a step in the right direction, as it ends the draconian sanctions which the U.S. began imposing on Iran immediately after the Islamic Revolution in 1979.  We welcome the deal, though we don’t agree with the premises on which it is usually explained by members of the Washington establishment.

Last year Mass. Peace Action formed a Foreign Policy for All study group to think together about these questions and to outline a more positive vision of U.S. global engagement, one that addresses the actual security needs of people around the world and that is consistent with the principles of peace and justice for all.   We also explored the actions needed to make the changes we seek, to shift the discussion — the political changes needed to realize our vision.

U.S. foreign policy is mired in a paradigm of hegemony — of worldwide military dominance.  We are the world’s policeman, with force as an option of first resort. The organizing principle of U.S. foreign policy since the end of the Cold War has been to ensure that all nations fall under a security structure managed and controlled by Washington. Nations that refuse to follow U.S. wishes find themselves demonized and pressured to conform.

Defenders of U.S. hegemony often darkly warn of the disorder that might result if the United States did not shoulder this task, that they claim is the U.S. responsibility. They offer the 9/11 attacks as the ultimate darkness to spring from an un-policed world. But actually, this is not true. Hegemony often causes more insecurity and resentment toward the United States.  It is certainly causing chaos in the Middle East, where our invasion of Iraq and our long term support for the reactionary Saudi monarchy gave rise to ISIS.  Surely peace and security would be better served by support for diplomacy, economic development, and universal human rights — not by giving more power and money to repressive and violent governments who curtail civil rights and subjugate their citizens. A more restrained and less militarized U.S. global approach to the world would be more democratic, allowing other nations and peoples to bring their views to global problems.  It would generate less anti-Americanism, and it would cost less, freeing up resources to improve the welfare of U.S. society.

But to turn around US foreign policy we need a far broader movement.  The traditional peace movement cannot do it alone.  But as it turns out, many parts of our society are profoundly affected by our foreign policy.  

Two sectors pay the direct costs of war. Veterans and military families pay the price when a million young Americans are sent to a senseless war overseas — the number of suicides among veterans has for several years outstripped the number killed in combat.  The 6 million Muslim Americans are affected — their ability to integrate into American society is profoundly set back by Islamophobia and by US military interventions in their home countries.

But our foreign policy is a problem for many parts of our society over and above the wars that it causes. Neoliberal globalization, reflected in treaties like the Trans Pacific Partnership, is a problem for the labor movement – it’s a key driver of economic inequality.  US resistance to binding global climate negotiations is a problem for the climate justice movement.  The current economic order’s destruction of Third World living standards causes mass immigration.  Our government’s resistance to human rights treaties and failure to support the UN is a big problem for the women’s movement and for people committed to human rights.   The medical community needs a foreign policy if it is going to deal with problems like the Ebola outbreak.  The national security state we constructed to police the world is now resorting to torture, militarization of the domestic police, mass incarceration, and surveillance of American citizens.  And our huge military budgets, at over $1 trillion a year, are sucking the resources all of these movements need to address the needs of our people.

So we propose a foreign policy for all – a policy that reflects the aspirations of all these parts of our society.   The foreign policy for all is based on seven basic values.

Democracy: We don’t want a foreign policy made by elites. We need democratic control of our policy.

Peace & International Cooperation: we need to respect other nations and build collective security with them.

Justice: we have to overturn unjust power structures and we must respect international law.

Human Rights: we uphold the full range of human rights and apply them to our own society as well as join in promoting human rights worldwide

Sustainability: we need to live in harmony with the earth.  We must promote climate justice and build a sustainable economy.

Security: We have to prevent aggression, dehumanization and deprivation.

Community: It’s one world.  We are responsible for each other, and we need each other.  There is no “them” — there is only “us”.

We propose the following specific changes in our foreign policy (these are on your handout)

Nuclear Disarmament: Immediately start multilateral negotiations leading to an early conclusion of a nuclear weapons convention

Limit the Military: Reduce military spending by 50% or more; close overseas bases; refocus mission of military on defense of national territory and participation in UN missions

Arms Trade: Ratify Arms Trade Treaty and shut down the international arms trade

Peacebuilding Abroad and at Home:  Support international grassroots efforts

Climate Justice: Urgent national effort to reverse climate change; support green economic development in less developed countries

Protect the global commons: Protect and demilitarize oceans, atmosphere, outer space, polar zones

Development: Contribute generously to world green economic and social development

Trade Justice: Base trade policy on cooperation, solidarity, sustainable development, democratic scrutiny

Just Transition: Companies, not workers now employed in the military and fossil fuel sectors, must pay for transition

Strengthen international law and international organizations: Reform UN, sign on to international courts, ratify treaties

Nonalignment:  Sovereignty, non-aggression, non-interference, equality and mutual benefit, peaceful coexistence

Non-intervention: Renounce pre-emption; humanitarian interventions must be led by a reformed UN

Polycentrism: Embrace the transition from US hegemony to a polycentric world. It’s happening whether we like it or not.  And leadership by different societies, cultures and social systems is more democratic and offers richer potential for development

Priority Regional Issues: New approaches to China, Korea, Middle East and Persian Gulf, Israel/Palestine, Africa, Cuba, Venezuela, Marshall Islands, NATO and more

To implement the foreign policy for all we will have to confront two big obstacles — corporate control and the national security state. 

This phone (raise) contains parts that were made in 50 different countries, and this product is sold in 150 countries.  So today’s multinational corporations have integrated worldwide production chains and they seek a single worldwide market.  Corporate control of foreign policy means that nations that do not fall into line face economic ostracism (we’re seeing that in Greece), sanctions (like with Iran, Russia, North Korea, and now, Venezuela), and where necessary, military threats or military attacks. 

The corporations that make weapons are the worst of the worst — like Raytheon headquartered in Waltham, like General Electric that makes jet fighter engines in Lynn, like Draper Labs in Cambridge that is now working to modernize the guidance system of the submarine launched Trident II nuclear missile, that would destroy hundreds of thousands of lives in a moment if it were ever used.  These military corporations are literally dealers in death. They sell military hardware around the world, sometimes to both sides of a conflict, and they profit the most when wars destroy their products so that they can sell more.  GE sold power plants to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, they sold fighters to the Pentagon that destroyed the power plants, and they then sold a replacement power plant to the new US installed Iraqi government after the war. 

And of course corporations are now free to buy American elections – you may have heard that the Koch Brothers, who make their money destroying the climate, plan to spend $900 million in the 2016 election cycle.

In addition to corporate control, the other big problem is the national security state. The Pentagon, National Security Council, State Department, CIA, NSA, and Congressional leadership, as well as the military industrial complex, key think tanks, and academic allies, make policy in secret and are hardly at all accountable to the democratic institutions that supposedly control our government.   The media plays a key role in shaping the narrative and selling the policy to the public.

We will have to overturn the grip of these entrenched institutions on foreign policy if we are to implement a foreign policy for all.   And to do that, we will need a united people’s movement.

The foreign policy for all is only one part of a people’s agenda that is bringing together labor, people of color, immigrants, women, LGBT people, ex-prisoners, environmentalists, community activists, people of faith, civil libertarians, youth, and more in a broad progressive coalition. Popular struggles against corporate abuses, extreme inequality, student debt, cutbacks, social injustice, and money in politics are joining with campaigns against unpopular wars, killer drones, nuclear pollution, destruction of the climate, surveillance, wiretapping, militarization of police, police murders of young black men, mass incarceration, and racial profiling.

These combined movements will rise or fall together because all are ultimately struggling against the same corporate interests that control our economy and politics for the benefit of the 1%. To win a Foreign Policy for All will take the united power of these progressive social movements.  We stand or fall together and it is crucial that we support each other.  So we regard the Foreign Policy for All as one plank of a people’s movement platform that will have contributions from all these constituents.

Peace Action is a membership organization.  I invite you to join us.  I’d be happy to talk to you about it after the service, and I invite your comments.