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A Pentagon for Peace

Taos Horse Fly
Published May 2010

Why doesn’t the U.S. government have a building as big as the Pentagon to work on peace? For "big," of course, the Pentagon makes the Guinness Book of Records: it covers the largest ground area of any office building in the world—34 acres including a five-acre central courtyard. The Pentagon’s five stories give it a floor space of 3,705,793 square feet with its corridors running an astonishing 17.5 miles. Taking up four blocks or so in downtown Washington, D.C., couldn’t the U.S. Department of State offer some counter-balance to the bulk of the Pentagon? After all, shouldn’t the State Department be in the business of peace? My fantasy would be for the State Department to train diplomats in the world’s languages and cultures in order to send them out as ambassadors all over the planet to make friends

But the State Department’s statement of mission—at least on the internet—vaguely generalizes about "advancing freedom (not peace) for the benefit of the American people and the international community" and helping build a better world as it reduces poverty and acts responsibly. It claims the latter goal as the poor in America gain more and more members and the U.S. military occupies Iraq and Afghanistan. Maybe "freedom" is a code word for "free market"?

The national peace organizations that I am familiar with are not federally but privately funded—groups like the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, the War Resisters League, Peace Action, Code Pink and the religious-based groups such as the American Friends Service Committee or the Fellowship of Reconciliation—all of whom are against war and nuclear weapons. I had heard of the name of the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), but I assumed it was another privately funded group. To my surprise I learned that the U.S. Institute of Peace, billed as an independent, nonpartisan organization, is indeed federally funded by Congress, today at $33 million annually. Where had I been?

USIP is governed by a bipartisan board of directors made up of 12 private citizen members appointed by the President of the United States and confirmed by the Senate, as well as four ex-officio members: the Secretary of State (who may designate another Senate-confirmed State Department official), the Secretary of Defense (who may designate another Senate-confirmed Defense Department official), the president of the National Defense University (who may designate the vice president of the National Defense University), and the president of the Institute (nonvoting). The board is prohibited by law from having more than eight voting members of the same political party.

Even though the existence of the U.S. Institute of Peace was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1984, the USIP likes to describe its history as originating in the debates by the drafters of the Constitution. In 1792 one signer of the Declaration of Independence—Dr. Benjamin Rush—proposed an "Office of Peace" as an opposing force to the Department of War. In the ensuing years there have been many bills proposed to create some kind of Department of Peace, the latest being a proposal for a Cabinet-level Department of Peace and Non Violence (Bill H.R. 808) first introduced by Ohio Representative Dennis Kucinich, a Democrat, on July 11, 2001.

On February 3, 2009, Kucinich reintroduced H.R. 808, which currently has the support of 70 legislators. Its provisions include: preventing violence by teaching conflict resolution to children from elementary through high school; rehabilitating prison inmates; appointing a Secretary of Peace as a member of the National Security Council; offering drug rehabilitation programs; monitoring human rights; monitoring all arms production, from non-military guns to weapons of mass destruction. Kucinich emphasizes nonviolent conflict resolution, and he pays as much attention to issues of domestic conflict as he does to international conflict, thus recognizing the connection between domestic violence and war.

Nowhere in the statement of USIP’s mission and goals does the word "nonviolence" appear. Its focus is to "prevent and resolve violent international conflicts, promote post-conflict the stability and development and increase conflict management capacity, tools and intellectual capital worldwide," an awkwardly worded goal. Encouraging research on peace, the Institute has published over 400 publications to date and sponsors an annual essay contest on peace for American high school students. It offers training on conflict management, takes in peace scholars and educates high school and college students on conflict and peace-building. Included in its programs and activities is "operating on-the-ground in zones of conflict."

One project, for example, was launched in Diyala province, once the breadbasket of Iraq, but since, the scene of many battles of U.S. and Iraqi forces against Al Qaida, and eruptions between Sunni, Shiite and Kurds. The USIP reports that the State Department’s Provincial Reconstruction Team at Forward Operating Base Warhorse (now for a friendlier connotation renamed in Arabic as "Camp Freedom") invited USIP to facilitate a dialogue in Diyala that brought together the Provincial Council members, the Directors General, the governor and his representatives—a meeting set up by the occupiers for the occupied, as if the U.S. didn’t have anything to do with their problems. The "Diyala Declaration" that was a result of the May 3-4, 2009 pow-wow outlined such things as the need for "a provincial government that provides security, the rule of law, essential services, and economic development"—what most Iraqis enjoyed before Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and before coalition bombs and sanctions were imposed on Iraq.

The meeting determined the need for "a provincial government that ensures such things as "the well-being of the population, particularly the vulnerable, widows, children, orphans, the handicapped and others with special needs." Never mind that before the U.S. invasion in 2003, the Iraqi government used to have a social services department to handle such cases. Besides, wasn’t it the U.S. invasion that created the new widows and orphans? In Iraq, children whose fathers have died or were killed are considered orphans because they no longer have a father to provide for their family. By this definition, there are 4.5 million orphans in Iraq. USIP people facilitated the further discussion of "essential services" that everyone needs like drinking water and electricity and well-functioning sewage and garbage collection systems—the very things the U.S. bombed and that sanctions, kept in place years after the "cease fire" of the 1991 Gulf War, made impossible to repair.

Meanwhile, the 142 employees of the United States Institute of Peace, who have had their offices in the National Restaurant Building on 17th Street, N.W., in Washington, D.C., for the past 12 years, will soon have their own magnificent 150,000 square-foot headquarters which they hope to move into by spring 2011. Congress donated to USIP a three-acre lot in the northwest corner of the National Mall across from the Lincoln Memorial and gave the Institute a one-time contribution to its new headquarters of $100 million (the price of 200 Tomahawk cruise missiles) to get the ball rolling.

At the groundbreaking ceremony of the headquarters on June 5, 2008, President George W. Bush spoke about Iraq. After presiding over "Shock and Awe" and dismantling Iraq’s government, an act which threw most of the Iraqi population out of work, Bush said of the USIP, "In Iraq, you’re helping the nation overcome the legacy of decades of tyranny by strengthening government institutions and promoting peaceful engagement."

The headquarters will have two levels of underground parking, working offices, a Great Hall, a "state of the art" conference center, a professional education and training academy, and a Public Education Center, designed by the architect Moshe Sadie and Associates. The USIP boasts that its headquarters "will occupy one of the most prominent plots of land in the United States and will serve as the primary symbol of the country’s commitment to peace." Twenty-four million tourists visit the National Mall each year and walking from the Vietnam Memorial to the Lincoln Memorial will see the beautiful, new U.S. Institute of Peace. O.K., maybe I’m cynical, but what a public relations bargain!

Like the Smithsonian Museum, which had to raise money for the annex to its Air and Space Museum, the USIP has to raise from public and private sources the remaining $86 million needed to complete its headquarters. I was reminded of the bumper sticker: "It’ll be a great day when our schools get all the money they need and the air force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber."

"(In order to remain independent of the agendas of private contributors), " Charles Nelson, vice president of USIP explains, "we are prohibited from receiving funding from private sources for our programs; but we do receive contributions to our building and hospitality fund—for bricks, mortar and equipment." BP America Foundation, for example, contributed $1.5 million in honor of former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright after whom the central wing of the new peace building will be named, the Secretary of State who said the death of half a million Iraqi children was "worth it."

Chevron has contributed $10 million in honor of another former Secretary of State George P. Shultz after whom the Great Hall will be named--the Secretary of State who espouses preventive or preemptive force. (At least Schultz and Albright would like to see the world free of nuclear weapons.) The theater planned for the Institute’s Public Education Center will be named the Chevron Theater. Lockheed Martin, the largest military contractor and the largest weapons producer in the world, donated $1 million as the premier sponsor of USIP’s annual Dean Acheson Lecture for five years. The Institute plans to formally unveil the members of the Corporate Founders Program in the fall, an interesting list to anticipate. How do you equate a museum like the Smithsonian which has been called the "nation’s attic" with the U.S. Institute of Peace whose purpose should be to help prevent this new century from seeing another 150 million people killed in wars, revolutions and civil violence as they were in the previous century?

In its assessment of how much of our tax dollars go to the military, the War Resisters League includes not just the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, but veterans’ benefits, interest on national debt created by military spending, as well as costs for nuclear weapons and cleanup of nuclear waste hidden in the budget of the Department of Energy. The League concludes that almost half (48 percent) of our tax dollars go the military—a total for fiscal year 2011 of $1,398 billion. It makes the $100 million Congress gave to the USIP towards building its peace headquarters look like the change you might find between the cushions where your Dad sat to read the newspaper.

I don’t know why the U.S. government doesn’t have a building as big as the Pentagon to work on peace. You’d think it would if peace were its true intention. In the words of the prophet Jeremiah, "They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ’Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace.’"

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