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Selling War as Smart Power

By       Message Coleen Rowley     Permalink
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In recent years, it has become evident that use of deadly force by a U.S.-dominated NATO is not only outside the parameters of international and constitutional law, but also in some cases outside basic legal principles that have stood the test of time for decades and even centuries. One explanation for why American civil society has not pushed back is the "better rhetoric" now being used to sell war.

What is this better rhetoric for the same U.S.-NATO war agenda, what was once blurted out by a U.S. officer in Vietnam as "it became necessary to destroy the town to save it"? Today's proponents of "Smart Power" make their compelling case for more (endless) war by successfully urging us to "recast the fight against terror and nuclear proliferation " from a dark, draining struggle into a hopeful, progressive cause  aimed at securing an international system of liberal societies and defeating challenges to it."

This message comes from seemingly reasonable men and women as they rotate through the revolving doors of official appointments, jobs at foreign-policy think tanks, and directorships of "human rights" organizations.

David Swanson, author of War Is a Lie, speaking at the 10th annual Peacestock gathering, sponsored by Veterans for Peace in Hager City, Wisconsin, this summer, commented on this new "progressive-led" war propaganda: "That wars must be marketed as humanitarian is a sign of progress. That we fall for it is a sign of embarrassing weakness. The war propagandist is the world's second oldest profession, and the humanitarian lie is not entirely new. But it works in concert with other common war lies."

Lies about war, in humanitarian disguise, were clearly evident in Chicago last March. Peace activist Ann Wright (a former Foreign Service State Department official and retired U.S. Army colonel); Ann Galloway, a member of Women Against Military Madness, and myself were among the thousands of antiwar activists who were in Chicago for the protest of NATO wars. There we noticed, in billboards and announcements, the new campaign of Amnesty International-USA: "Human Rights for Women and Girls in Afghanistan----NATO: Keep the Progress Going."

Unwilling to let this go unchallenged, we packed into a taxi along with a few other antiwar activists, to head to the Chicago hotel where AI-USA's "Shadow Summit" was being held -- a conference billed as a feminist cause regarding the supposed improved status of women and children under US-NATO occupation. The summit featured former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and other U.S. State Department officials and Council on Foreign Relations figures.

We weren't allowed to carry in our "NATO bombs are not humanitarian," "NATO Kills Girls," and anti-drone bombing posters that we had with us for the protest march later that day, but we did witness enough of the event to prompt Ann Wright and me to issue a warning about the exploitation of women's rights as a cover for war: "Amnesty's Shilling for US Wars."

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The United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC) later issued a Statement on NATO Claim of "Progress" for Women and Girls in Afghanistan, as well as a  Statement Condemning Amnesty International USA's Campaigns in Support of U.S./NATO Wars UNAC condemned Amnesty's pro-war stance and propaganda efforts supporting continued occupation in Afghanistan and intervention in Syria, and asked for Amnesty to reaffirm its commitment to human rights, not war, and remove those responsible for their current pro-war policies and campaigns.

A "Tool" of U.S. "Smart Power

Suzanne Nossel, the current executive director of Amnesty-USA, previously worked at different times as a State Department official for Richard Holbrooke and Hillary Clinton and is personally credited with having coined the term "Smart Power," which Clinton announced as the defining feature of current U.S. foreign policy. "Smart" indeed -- certainly better-sounding -- to project a contrast with the formerly unabashed Bush-Cheney reliance on "Hard Power."

"Smart power" employs "Soft Power:" diplomatic, economic, and cultural pressures, which can be combined with military force, to "work our will" upon foreign nations, as described by Nossel:

"To advance from a nuanced dissent to a compelling vision, progressive policymakers should turn to the great mainstay of twentieth-century U.S. foreign policy: liberal internationalism, which posits that a global system of stable liberal democracies would be less prone to war"

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"Washington, the theory goes, should thus offer assertive leadership -- diplomatic, economic, and not least, military [writer's emphasis] -- to advance a broad array of goals: self-determination, human rights, free trade, the rule of law, economic development, and the quarantine and elimination of dictators and weapons of mass destruction (WMD)."

Even more relevant to the issue of human rights and peace and justice organizations being co-opted, however, Nossel also described Smart Power, in Foreign Affairs magazine, March/April 2004, as "knowing that the United States' own hand is not always its best tool: U.S. interests are furthered by enlisting others on behalf of U.S. goals."

The question that emerges is, how could otherwise highly effective human rights organizations, respected for their good work largely because of their independence from powerful, self-interested governments, so easily fall into being used as tools of what Nossel once referred to as U.S. "Superpowerdom"? When Amnesty-USA invited Madeleine Albright and other State Department officials to speak at its NATO women's forum, it was not the first time it had reached out to the architect of harsh economic sanctions, such as the Clinton administration's sanctions against Iraq that were blamed for killing a half million Iraqi children.

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www.coleenrowley.com
Retired FBI Agent and former Minneapolis Division Legal Counsel.

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