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Kalamazoo Peace Week Features Phyllis Bennis

October 23, 2009

Phyllis Bennis, with the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies, spoke at Western Michigan University last night. The occasion for her talk was the 28th annual Peace Week Celebration that has been taking place on campus in Kalamazoo. The focus of the night was on the US Occupation of Afghanistan.


Bennis began her talk by saying, “9/11 was a crime against humanity, but it was not an act of war. No nation attacked the US.” She continued by acknowledging that this war that began 8 years ago is called the “Good War,” even though it was never that. “After 8 years, it has now become Obama’s war,” Bennis said, “What he has called a war of necessity.” Then Bennis pointed out that those of us in the peace movement can’t claim he didn’t tell us, because he said during his campaign that this would be the war he would focus on.

Bennis criticizes the fact that 21,000 troops were sent by the Obama administration earlier this year before they determined a strategy. “Now they are discussing a strategy, but it is narrowly focused.” The author/speaker said that within the current strategic discussions there are two main options are: 40 – 80,000 additional troops or maintain the current 68,000-troop level and use more un-manned drones. Gen. McChrystal, Obama’s top military advisor on Afghanistan, is advocating a troop increase to engage in a major counter-insurgency campaign. McChrystal is saying that while we need to “win hearts and minds,” we also have to hunt down and kill the terrorists.

For Bennis, having an exit strategy is not enough, because there needs to be a plan for massive reparations – for all the destruction the US occupation has done. And this cannot be done while the US is occupying the country. She says that early on there was a major bombing campaign, in 2001 and early 2002. One of the weapons used were cluster bombs, which are bombs, which when explode send out thousands of smaller bomblets. Many will not explode and remain on the ground as mines, which civilians and particularly children are at risk of picking up. The US has still not signed on the international ban on cluster bombs.


Thousands of people were instantly turned into refugees because of the US bombing in 2001-02. The only response by the US government to this humanitarian crisis was the airdrop food, which was essentially a photo op, according to Bennis. The food packages were only in English, Spanish & French and they were also yellow, which made them look a lot like the cluster bombs. The speaker said that the military would not change the color of the packages because “too many of them were made and had to be used.”

Bennis went on to says that 54-57% of the US population is now opposed to the US occupation of Afghanistan, according to recent polling. There has been a 10% drop of public support in the last month alone. “Yes, he promised escalation, but we need to tell the administration that the occupation will not work and the human cost is too great.”

Bennis also said that part of the counter-insurgency strategy is to get the people to support the local government. The problem is that the US has been backing Karzai, who is a “thug” and “corrupt.” Karzai is often referred to as the “Mayor of Kabul,” because he doesn’t really control much else of the country.


Another justification for the US occupation Bennis said, was that the US needs to be there to save the women of Afghanistan. But this is a myth, since the very misogynist sectors in Afghanistan are remnants of the Mujahideen, that the US trained and funded in the 1980s. The worst could be Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who as a student through acid on a woman’s face to voice his opposition to women in the university. These are facts that women’s groups like RAWA and the Afghan Women’s Mission continue to point out.

Bennis continued by saying that US troops deaths have increased and Afghani deaths have in the tens of thousands. “In addition, the monetary cost of the war has been tremendous.” Phyllis gives the breakdown of how much money has come from Kalamazoo to fund the war in Afghanistan, based on the data provided by the National Priorities Project. “Money could have been spent on health care and education, but instead it is to fund this brutal war,” Bennis said.

Then there is the amount of money that has been committed to Pakistan as part of this war. The Obama administration bragged about sending $7 billion in humanitarian aide, but failed to mention the $100 billion sent for military purposes.

Bennis said, “We need an exit strategy, which means a couple of things. There needs to be real diplomacy, which involves the surrounding countries, like Iran and China.” Those governments have to have something to say about what happens in Afghanistan, so there really needs to be a regional strategy. Bennis also said that the impact of the US policies in Iraq and its support for Israel also impact how these regional countries view the US. “Ask people who saw US made and US supplied weapons bombing Gaza earlier this year. The planes, the helicopters, the bombs, the white phosphorous, are all from the US. So how do you think those people view the US?”

Bennis points out that both the outgoing Bush administration and incoming Obama administration have promised $30 Billion to Israel. Obama has asked for a freeze to Israeli settlements, several times, but Israel has consistently said no and has said they don’t feel pressured by the Obama administration. “These are the things that we have to think about when dealing with the war in Afghanistan, because the rest of the world thinks about this.”

“There are some legislative bills pending, which are calling for an exit strategy before doing anything else, but those members of Congress who are calling for this have not been included in the discussion with the administration on the Afghanistan strategy,” said Bennis. “We need to get the US out of Afghanistan and to pay massive reparations for the damages done. We need to speed up the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, we need to stop US support for Israel. This is the task of the US Peace Movement.”

4 Comments leave one →
  1. karen permalink
    October 23, 2009 6:41 pm

    She always informs! Sorry I missed it but glad to read what she said.

  2. Karen Chadwick permalink
    October 24, 2009 3:50 pm

    What a brilliant thinker! Ms. Bennis gave a superb analysis of a complex topic, and she gave us detailed facts without looking at notes, she knows her stuff. She’s also warm, generous with her smiles, and not a hint of intellectual snobbery. She’s a classy person, and a warrior for peace. I’m very glad I was there for her most excellent talk Thurs. at WMU.

  3. Girbe Eefsting permalink
    October 25, 2009 12:12 am

    Sorry that I couldn’t be there, but thanks for the great article Jeff.



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