ACTION ALERT: Petition the US Institute of Peace to Oppose War
October 15, 2015
David Swanson / World Beyond War
Commentary: I was part of a debate on Tuesday that involved a larger disagreement than any exhibited at the Democratic presidential candidates debate that evening. A group of peace activists met with officers of the US Institute of Peace, government institution that spends tens of millions of public dollars every year on things tangentially related to peace (including promoting wars) but has yet to oppose a single US war in its 30-year history.
When Peace Activists Met With the US Institute of Peace
David Swanson / World Beyond War
WASHINGTON, D.C. (October 13, 2015) -- I was part of a debate on Tuesday that involved a larger disagreement than any exhibited at the Democratic presidential candidates debate that evening. A group of peace activists met with the president, a board member, some vice presidents, and a senior fellow of the so-called US Institute of Peace, a US government institution that spends tens of millions of public dollars every year on things tangentially related to peace (including promoting wars) but has yet to oppose a single US war in its 30-year history.
Without CNN's Anderson Cooper there to steer us away from the issues into name-calling and triviality, we dove right into the substance. The gap between the culture of peace activists and that of the US Institute of "Peace" (USIP) is immense.
We had created and took the occasion to deliver a petition which you should sign if you haven't, urging USIP to remove from its board prominent warmongers and members of the boards of weapons companies.
The petition also recommends numerous ideas for useful projects USIP could work on. I blogged about this earlier here and here.
We showed up Tuesday at USIP's fancy new building next to the Lincoln Memorial. Carved in the marble are the names of USIP's sponsors -- from Lockheed Martin on down through many of the major weapons and oil corporations.
At the meeting from the peace movement were:
Representing USIP were:
President Nancy Lindborg,
Acting Vice President Middle East and Africa Center Manal Omar,
Director of Peace Funders Collaborative Steve Riskin,
Board Member Joseph Eldridge, and
Senior Policy Fellow Maria Stephan.
They took 90 minutes or so to talk with us but seemed to have no interest in meeting any of our requests.
They claimed the Board was no impediment to anything they wanted to do, so there was no point in changing board members. They claimed to have already done some of the projects we proposed (and we look forward to seeing those details), yet they were uninterested in pursuing any of them.
When we proposed that they advocate against US militarism in any number of possible ways, they replied with a couple of main justifications for not doing so.
First, they claimed that if they did anything that displeased Congress, their funding would dry up. That's likely true.
Second, they claimed they could not advocate for or against anything at all. But that isn't true. They've advocated for a no-fly zone in Syria, regime change in Syria, arming and training killers in Iraq and Syria, and (more peacefully) for upholding the nuclear agreement with Iran.
They testify before Congress and in the media all the time, advocating for things left and right. I don't care if they call such activities something other than advocacy, I'd just like to see them do more of what they've done on Iran and less of what they've done on Syria. And, by law, they are perfectly free to advocate even on legislation as long as a member of Congress asks them to.
When I had first communicated about our petition with USIP they had expressed interest in possibly working on one or more of the projects we proposed, possibly including reports we suggest in the petition that they write. When I asked about those report ideas on Tuesday, the reply was that they just didn't have the staff. They have hundreds of staff, they said, but they're all busy. They've made thousands of grants, they said, but couldn't make one for anything like that.
What may help explain the array of excuses we were offered is another factor I haven't yet touched on. USIP seems to actually believe in war. The president of USIP, Nancy Lindborg had an odd response when I suggested that inviting Senator Tom Cotton to come speak at USIP on the need for a longer war on Afghanistan was a problem.
She said USIP had to please Congress. OK, fine. Then she added that she believed there was room to disagree about exactly how we were going to make peace in Afghanistan, that there was more than one possible path to peace. Of course, I didn't think "we" were going to make peace in Afghanistan, I wanted "us" to get out of there and allow Afghans to start working on that problem.
But I asked Lindborg if one of her possible paths to peace was through war. She asked me to define war. I said that war was the use of the US military to kill people. She said that "non-combat troops" could be the answer. (I note that for all their non-combating, people still just burned to death in a hospital.)
Syria brought out a similar perspective. While Lindborg claimed that USIP's promotion of war on Syria had all been the unofficial work of one staffer, she described the war in Syria in a completely one-sided manner and asked what could be done about a brutal dictator like Assad killing people with "barrel bombs," lamenting the lack of "action."
She believed the hospital bombing in Afghanistan would make President Obama even more reluctant to use force. (If this is reluctance, I'd hate to see eagerness!)
So what does USIP do if it doesn't do war opposition? If it won't oppose military spending? If it won't encourage transition to peaceful industries? If there's nothing it will risk its funding for, what is the good work it is protecting?
Lindborg said that USIP spent its first decade creating the field of peace studies by developing the curriculum for it. I'm pretty sure that's a bit anachronistic and exaggerated, but it would help explain the lack of war opposition in peace studies programs.
Since then, USIP has worked on the sorts of things taught in peace studies programs by funding groups on the ground in troubled countries. Somehow the troubled countries that get the greatest attention tend to be those like Syria that the US government wants to overthrow, rather than those like Bahrain that the US government wants to prop up.
Still, there is plenty of good work funded. It's just work that doesn't too directly oppose US militarism. And because the US is the top arms supplier to the world and the top investor in and user of war in the world, and because it's impossible to build peace under US bombs, this work is severely limited.
The constraints that USIP is under -- or believes it is under or doesn't mind being under (and enthusiasts for creating a "Department of Peace" should pay attention) -- are those created by a corrupt and militaristic Congress and White House.
USIP openly said in our meeting that the root problem is corrupt elections. But when some section of the government does something less militaristic than some other section, such as negotiating the agreement with Iran, USIP can play a role.
So our role, perhaps, is to nudge them toward playing that role as much as possible, as well as away from such outrages as promoting war in Syria (which it sounds like they may leave largely to their board members now).
When we discussed USIP's board members and got nowhere, we suggested an advisory board that could include peace activists. That went nowhere. So we suggested that they create a liaison to the peace movement. USIP liked that idea. So, be prepared to liaise with the Institute.
Please start by signing the petition.
ACTION ALERT: Ask the US Institute of Peace to Work for Peace
Campaign created by David Swanson
To: The US Institute of Peace
We urge you to oppose US militarism and begin working for an end to US war-making by providing to Congress and the public information on the disastrous results of recent US wars and the superior results of nonviolence and diplomacy.
We ask that you recommend to the President of the United States the removal from your board of Stephen Hadley, Eric Edelman, and Frederick M. Padilla, and their replacement by three seasoned peace activists, along with a recommendation to maintain at least three seasoned peace activists on your board at all times -- right now there are none.
Appropriate events that USIP could host:
* How to Finally End the Korean War,
* Abolition of Armed Drones,
* A Plan to Close Overseas Bases,
* Why Does NATO Still Exist?,
* How Can the Kellogg-Briand Pact Be Complied With?,
* What Could $2 Trillion a Year Buy Instead of War?,
* Military Abolition and the Costa Rican Model,
* Pondering Polling: How Did the US Become Seen as the Greatest Threat to World Peace?,
* Pinkerism and the Myth that War Is Vanishing,
* WMD Tales From Iraq to Iran,
* Vietnam Syndrome: Illness or Health?,
* Benefits of Joining the International Criminal Court,
* If War Makes Us Less Safe Why Can't We Stop?,
* The Economic and Moral Benefits of Transition to Peaceful Industries,
* The ICCPR Ban on War Propaganda,
* Diplomacy in Iran: Why Not in Eight Other Places?,
* Why Arm Dictatorships?,
* Whose Land Is Guantanamo?,
* The Convention on the Rights of the Child - Why Not?,
* What Is Preventing Spacefaring Powers from Banning Weapons in Space?,
* Why Not Reinstate the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty?,
* Should Palestinians Have Human Rights?,
* Remembering the Maine, the Lusitania, Tonkin Gulf . . . What Would Accurate History Change?,
* What Would Compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Look Like?
Reports USIP could write:
* US arms sales to each foreign nation, as compared to the sales of other nations -- a report the Congressional Research Service has ceased producing.
* US military spending, as compared to non-military government spending -- a report the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency has ceased producing.
Why Is This Important?
The US Institute of Peace (USIP) is a federal government institute created by a bill signed into law in 1984 by President Ronald Reagan and funded annually by Congress as well as sometimes receiving funding from the Department of State, the US Agency for International Development (USAID), and the military. 
The law states that the "Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, the Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, and the Director of Central Intelligence each may assign officers and employees of his respective department or agency, on a rotating basis to be determined by the Board, to the Institute."
The Institute has never opposed a US war and claims that it can only support things, not oppose them. But in fact, the law only forbids it from seeking "to influence the passage or defeat of legislation ... except that the personnel of the Institute may testify or make other appropriate communication when formally requested to do so by a legislative body, a committee, or a member thereof."
Most US wars, including the war on Libya, the newly revived war on Iraq (and Syria), and the drone wars on Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen, have been launched without legislation. And, even if there were legislation involved, it would not be at all difficult for USIP to ask a single member of Congress to request its opinion, thereby freeing it to provide its views and its research. USIP makes no claim that it cannot provide the public with information on the negative results of US wars; it simply fails to do so.
The Institute in fact makes recommendations to Congress, including in formally presented testimony, it just recommends things like supporting the Syrian opposition, training and arming troops to fight both ISIS and the Syrian government, and creating a "no fly zone" in Syria, rather than working toward an arms embargo or aid or diplomacy. 
The Institute has recommended diplomacy with Iran, and could do so in a dozen other cases, although its notion that weapons sales is part of diplomacy may be less than helpful. 
The law requires that the USIP Board include 15 voting members, including the Secretaries of State and "Defense," the President of the National "Defense" University, and 12 members appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate, and each having "practical or academic experience in peace and conflict resolution."
The law also states that "No member of the Board may participate in any decision, action, or recommendation with respect to any matter which directly and financially benefits the member or pertains specifically to any public body or any private or nonprofit firm or organization with which the member is then formally associated or has been formally associated within a period of two years."
There are a number of mechanisms for removing a board member, including 8 or more board members making that recommendation to the President.
The USIP does do some work aimed at peace, including hosting speakers and producing publications aimed at peace, sending skilled mediators into conflict zones, making research grants, holding essay contests, and conducting conflict-resolution trainings, but such efforts are deeply compromised by the following concerns:
* USIP board member and chairman, Stephen Hadley, urges the bombing of Syria and the militarization of Ukraine, while encouraging European nations to double their military spending, and himself profiting from war as a board member of Raytheon. 
* USIP board member Eric Edelman, a former undersecretary at the Pentagon, promotes higher military spending, an attack on Iran, and deployment of nuclear weapons to nations on Russia's border. 
* USIP board member Major General Frederick M. Padilla, USMC, is career military.
* USIP promotes the overthrow of the Syrian government. 
* USIP is not known to have ever opposed a US war, US weapons exports, US foreign bases, or US military spending. 
* USIP promotes trade embargoes, economic austerity programs, and electoral interventions as tools of aggression, not peace building. 
* USIP funds many more supporters than opponents of militarism. 
* USIP hosts pro-war talks by leading war advocates. 
Appropriate board members for USIP exist in large numbers, and many of them would no doubt be happy to serve. Here are a few examples of the many possible names:
Kathy Kelly, Michael McPhearson, Ann Wright, Paul Chappell, Noura Erekat, Dennis Kucinich, David Vine, Matt Daloisio, John Dear, Bruce Gagnon, Phil Donahue, Mel Duncan, David Hartsough, Mubarak Awad, Leslie Cagan, Roy Bourgeois, Cornell West, Lennox Yearwood, Osagyefo Sekou, Phyllis Bennis, Andy Shallal, Helena Cobban, Noam Chomsky, Elliott Adams.
How It Will Be Delivered
We are scheduling a meeting with USIP in late September.
<Sign the Declaration of Peace.