April 1, 2004: Headlines: The United States Institute of Peace: Peacework: Department Of Peace: Right Church, Wrong Pew

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Department Of Peace: Right Church, Wrong Pew

Department Of Peace: Right Church, Wrong Pew

Department Of Peace: Right Church, Wrong Pew

Department Of Peace: Right Church, Wrong Pew

Apr 1, 2004

by Bill Scheurer

Establishing a cabinet-level Department of Peace sounds like a good idea, right? On April 8, 2003, Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D- Ohio) led four-dozen anti-war Democrats in reintroducing a bill (HR 1673) to establish a Department of Peace. The proposal calls for a new cabinet-level department in the executive branch, dedicated to making peace and studying conditions diat can lead to peace.

This comprehensive piece of legislation, with a reach that is both broad and deep, envisions a secretary of Peace, a Peace Academy modeled after the military academies, and the transfer of the Peace Corps, the Institute of Peace, and the Undersecretary for Arms Control, among others, to this new department.

Laudable? Certainly. Necessary? Yes. Peace is die most important issue of this century, as slavery was for die 19th century and civil rights were for die 20lh. If we do not solve the problem of war and peace, we may not see another century.

Practical? Unfortunately, not. Inserting a secretary of Peace into the cabinet of a hostile administration would be like a sending a hen delegate to the fox convention.

Imagine what the Bush administration would have done with a secretary of Peace? Actually, they nearly sidelined their secretary of State over die Iraq war until he came around and finally got witli the program. A hostile administration would shunt this cabinet member to the back of the locker room, if it fills the position at all.

In fact, we do not have to imagine what would happen. We have already seen it. The US government now has something called the Institute of Peace with goals very similar to the proposed Department of Peace. Its website, www.usip.org, sports a spifiy dove- and-olive-branch logo in free-form style that would warm die heart of any ardent peace activist. The Institute Board of Directors is appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate.

The fact that the public barely knows this institution exists - in the face of two invasions and the new doctrines of preemptive aggression and war without end - is reason enough to prove the point. Were it not for the controversial recent appointment of Daniel Pipes, noted for his support of racial profiling against Muslims in counter-terrorist activities (see www.danielpipes.org/ article/ 1009 and http://inthesetimes.com/ comments.php?id=353_0_3_0_M), the existence of this largely pro forma body would be even less known.

However, the fundamental problem is not the obscurity of the USIP, but its governance structure, which makes it beholden to the sitting President. During the short buildup to the invasion of Afghanistan, for example, Barbara Wien, then a program officer at the Institute of Peace, told her colleagues that she was against the war. The reaction was swift and clear. After a few days of harsh isolation and cold ostracism, she was drummed out of her job. It seems there was no room for an advocate of pacifism in an organization co-opted by war. Peace campaigners in the early 1980s warned the National Peace Academy Campaign of precisely these dangers during the struggle to pass legislation to create the USIP.

What is the point of this criticism? Do we simply give up on this laudable goal? Not at all. Instead, we go forward, with some improvements on die basic idea. A cabinet will always be subject to the administration. They are a team. That is how it works. We must not delude ourselves otherwise.

However, to watch over something as important as peace, we can turn to odier models. For example, legislators believed that regulating the US money supply was so important that they created a quasi-independent body, the Federal Reserve, to watch over it. Members of the Federal Reserve Board serve for 14 years, and can only serve one full term. Similarly, what we need is an independent US Commission of Peace, with a Chair and Commissioners outside the control of short-term politics and the current administration. This body needs a real budget, real freedom to operate, and real powers.

The proposed legislation for the Department of Peace specifies the peace budget will be at least 1% of the appropriation for the Department of Defense. This is a sound approach. To satisfy the fiscal conservatives among us in these times of massive budget deficits, we can have die first year's funding be a 100% transfer of funds from existing programs involving peace and foreign aid. After tliat, foreign aid requests become a matter of negotiation between the interests of State, Defense, and Peace. It would be appropriate to transfer larger amounts of foreign aid from State and Defense to Peace, always subject to these negotiations.

But, the primary mission of Peace would be communication, mediation and education to foster peaceful alternatives in our government and society, and the Commission must be careful to preserve sufficient independent funds to serve this purpose.

Peace Commissioners and their staff must be free of all restrictions on travel, speech, communication, trade, finance and other such prohibitions that are imposed by our government on its citizens from time to time in the name of national security. They must have full diplomatic immunity to act in the cause of peace as they see it, notwithstanding public opinion or the attitudes of the administration that may prevail at any time.

Finally, the Commission of Peace must have real powers appropriate to its mission, which would include subpoena and other investigative powers comparable to those held by the sec. Of course, since the Commission of Peace would not be part of the administration, its powers would not include the ability to represent or bind the government in any way. It would be a free ombudsperson, not an agent of diplomacy.

However, the enabling statute should provide the Peace Commission an official seat at the table in meetings of the Cabinet, National security Council, and other such meetings that deliberate and advise the administration on matters of war and peace.

We need to forge realistic institutions of peace in our society. The proposed Department of Peace, while a good starting point, is not the answer. We in the peace community need to realize that this is a clear case of the saying, "right church, wrong pew," and get up as a body and move to the right pew. Peace is not a weak sentiment. It is the supreme moral and practical issue of our time. It needs an institution with real teeth.

Bill Scheurer is with PeaceReferendum.org; 847-370-3411; wcscheurer@att.net. He has initiated a petition drive to place the idea of a Department of Peace on the Illinois ballot in November.

Copyright American Friends Service Committee, Inc. Apr 2004

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Story Source: Peacework

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