This story originally appeared at TomDispatch.com.
To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.
Last week, Pentagon budget "cuts" were in the headlines, often almost luridly so -- "Pentagon Faces the Knife," "Pentagon to Cut Spending by $78 Billion, Reduce Troop Strength," "U.S. Aims to Cut Defense Budget and Slash Troops." Responding to the mood of the moment in Washington ("the fiscal pressures the country is facing"), Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mike Mullen made those headlines by calling a news conference to explain prospective "cuts" they were proposing. Summing the situation up, Mullen seconded Gates this way: "The secretary's right, we can't hold ourselves exempt from the belt-tightening."
Gates then appeared on the PBS NewsHour to explain the nature of Pentagon "belt-tightening," while reminding anchor Jim Lehrer that last year the Pentagon announced plans to cap or cut "programs that, had they been built to conclusion, would have cost the taxpayers about $330 billion." The newest $78 billion in cuts over five years was to be considered but an add-on to already supposedly staggering savings, which he described as "changes in the expected dollars that we thought we were going to have when we prepared last year's budget." According to the Secretary of Defense, this massive set of cuts would, in fact, guarantee "modest growth" in the already monstrous Pentagon budget for at least the next three years.
Keeping Mullen's "belt-tightening" image in mind, what you have here, imagistically speaking, is an especially obese man cutting down on his own future expectations for how much he's planning to overeat, even as he continues to increase what he's actually eating. In other words, this is actually a belt-loosening operation. (And by the way, the Secretary of Defense knows perfectly well that some of his "cuts," announced with such flare, will never make it through a Congress where powerful Republicans, among others, prefer to exempt the national security budget from serious cuts, or any cuts at all.)
Consider this indicative of the new thinking we can expect from Washington in a crisis. As new, in fact, as the announcement less than a week into 2011 -- the year President Obama once targeted for a major drawdown of U.S. forces in Afghanistan -- that 1,400 more Marines were being sent into that country. It was a small but striking reminder that, as in 2009 and 2010, when it comes to the widening war in the region, the path of "more" (and more of the same) would invariably trump the idea of "less." This is the war-zone version of "belt-tightening."
Similarly, when the President decided to "shake up" his administration for a new era of split-screen government in Washington, he called on a top JPMorgan Chase exec (also deeply enmeshed in the military-industrial complex and Big Pharma) and a former Goldman Sachs advisor, both Clintonistas of the 1990s, to do the shaking. This passes for "new blood" in our nation's capital. Think of it this way: if you fill the room with the same old same old, you'll always end up with some version of the same old same old.
Today, just to shake things up a tad, TomDispatch offers some actual new thinking of a sort you won't find in Washington. It's from Ann Jones, a hands-on aid worker, TomDispatch regular, and remarkable writer. Her eloquent new book, War Is Not Over When It's Over: Women Speak Out from the Ruins of War, will undoubtedly go largely unreviewed, because when wars "end" even as the destruction of women (and children) continues, it's no longer really news.
Worse yet, she favors the "less" path in Afghanistan, where any path heading vaguely in the direction of "peace" (a word now synonymous with "utopian dolt" or "bleeding heart idiot") will automatically be waved aside as hopeless. Since putting any money behind thinking about or testing out new pathways towards peace in our world is inconceivable, we'll never know what might work. You can put $130 million taxpayer dollars into a new aircraft-fueling system at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan or billions of taxpayer dollars into the Pakistani military (defending a country in which the rich go notoriously untaxed), but not one cent for peace. As for women, well, too bad. (To catch Timothy MacBain's latest TomCast audio interview in which Jones discusses why wars never end for women and girls, click here or, to download it to your iPod, here.) Tom
Why Peace Is the Business of Men (But Shouldn't Be)
A Modest Proposal for the Immodest Brotherhood of Big Men
By Ann Jones
Looking for a way out of Afghanistan? Maybe it's time to try something entirely new and totally different. So how about putting into action, for the first time in recorded history, the most enlightened edict ever passed by the United Nations Security Council: Resolution 1325?
Passed on October 31, 2000, more than a decade ago, that "landmark" resolution was hailed worldwide as a great "victory" for women and international peace and security. In a nutshell, SCR 1325 calls for women to participate equally and fully at decision-making levels in all processes of conflict resolution, peacemaking, and reconstruction. Without the active participation of women in peacemaking every step of the way, the Security Council concluded, no just and durable peace could be achieved anywhere.
"Durable" was the key word. Keep it in mind.
Most hot wars of recent memory, little and big, have been resolved or nudged into remission through what is called a power-sharing agreement. The big men from most or all of the warring parties -- and war is basically a guy thing, in case you hadn't noticed -- shoulder in to the negotiating table and carve up a country's or region's military, political, and financial pie. Then they proclaim the resulting deal "peace."
But as I learned firsthand as an aid worker in one so-called post-conflict country after another, when the men in power stop shooting at each other, they often escalate the war against civilians -- especially women and girls. It seems to be hard for men to switch off violence, once they've gotten the hang of it. From Liberia to Myanmar, rape, torture, mutilation, and murder continue unabated or even increase in frequency. In other words, from the standpoint of civilians, war is often not over when it's "over," and the "peace" is no real peace at all. Think of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the notorious "rape capital of the world," where thousands upon thousands of women are gang-raped again and again although the country has officially been at "peace" since 2003.
In addition, power-sharing agreements among combatants tend to fray, and half of them unravel into open warfare again within a few years. Consider Liberia throughout the 1990s, Angola in 1992 and 1998, Cambodia in 1997, and Iraq in 2006-2007. At this moment, we are witnessing the breakdown of one power-sharing agreement in the Ivory Coast, and certainly the femicidal consequences of another, made in 2001, in Afghanistan.