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OpEdNews Op Eds    H1'ed 1/22/23

MLK and Foreign Policy

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Message Jason Sibert

Martin Luther King press conference 01269u edit.
Martin Luther King press conference 01269u edit.
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Last week our country celebrated Martin Luther King's birthday.

The media concentrated on MLK's civil rights legacy and the passing of the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act. However, his legacy is much deeper than just those two laws that changed our country. William Hartung's story "MLK's Anti-War Views are More Important than Ever" brings attention to a portion of MLK's life that's very relevant to today's foreign policy issues. Early in the story, he states: "it is particularly important to do so (consider MLK) this year, with unapologetic racism on the rise and a Cold War atmosphere permeating Washington." Dr. King had a deep understanding of the links between America's domestic and foreign predicaments, expressed most clearly in his speech against the Vietnam War, delivered at New York's Riverside Church on April 4 1967, one year before he was assassinated.

"The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and if we ignore this sobering reality," said King. "We will find ourselves organizing 'clergy and laymen concerned' committees [like the one against the war in Vietnam] for the next generation. They will be concerned about Guatemala " Guatemala and Peru. They will be concerned about Thailand and Cambodia. They will be concerned about Mozambique and South Africa. We will be marching for these and a dozen other names and attending rallies without end, unless there is a significant and profound change in American life and policy."

King's predictions about where the United States would intervene were not accurate, but the process he described has played out, from Afghanistan to Iraq to Libya to Somalia to Syria and beyond. These direct interventions don't consider America's role as the world's leading arms trading nation, supplying equipment to countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that used it in a brutal war in Yemen that led to direct and indirect deaths approaching 400,000 people. Hartung brought up an interesting fact on American arms trade in his story: "according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the United States supplied weapons to 103 nations between 2017 and 2021 " more than half the countries in the world. For many citizens of the various countries of the world, their first association with America is a U.S. soldier or a U.S.-supplied weapon in the hands of their government or one of their adversaries."

The runaway arms sales is a far cry from the "diplomacy first" foreign policy promised by President Joe Biden when he ran for the office in 2020. To its credit, the administration stuck to its commitment to remove the country from its disastrous 20-year engagement in Afghanistan. In the case of Ukraine, U.S. arms have been supplied for defensive purposes, to help Kyiv fend off a brutal and illegal Russian invasion. But on balance, the United States still adheres to the kind of militarized foreign policy that Dr. King warned us about well over 50 years ago.

Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft non-resident fellow and Tufts University professor Monica Toft brought up the broader impacts of America's addiction to military force in a recent piece in "Foreign Affairs": "this is an unfortunate trend. For evidence, look no further than the disastrous U.S. military interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. The overly frequent resort to use of force also undermines U.S. legitimacy in the world. As the U.S. diplomatic corps and American influence abroad shrink, the country's military footprint only grows."

The domestic costs of militarism are painfully present today. The budget signed by President Biden last month provides $858 billion for the Pentagon and related work on nuclear weapons at the Department of Energy. That's well over half of the federal government's entire discretionary budget " the portion that includes virtually everything the government does except for mandatory entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare, environmental protection, public health, administration of justice, job training, education, and more. At the same time, Congress terminated the Child Tax Credit, an effective method of fighting childhood poverty. Rev. King understood that the roots of the warfare state run deep, driven by the "giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism."

There is some hope for change. Rev. William Barber and Rev. Liz Theoharis' Poor People's Campaign have tried to address the economic ideas behind the warfare state. However, concerned citizens need to promote a genuine "diplomacy first" foreign policy with its great benefits.

Jason Sibert is the Lead Writer for the Peace Economy

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Jason Sibert worked for the Suburban Journals in the St. Louis area as a staff writer for a decade. His work has been published in a variety of publications since then and he is currently the executive director of the Peace Economy Project.
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