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'Real men wear pink'

The founder of Code Pink says it's time to start planning to stop the next war, and to build a sustainable economy without oil

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While President Bush was using Fort Bragg as a prop Tuesday, Medea Benjamin was in the Triangle plugging the new book she co-edited, Stop the Next War Now: Effective Responses to Violence and Terrorism (Inner Ocean Publishing). An economist by training, Benjamin's been a leader in the fair-trade arena for more than two decades, working in Latin America and Africa for various international organizations and then as founding director of the San Francisco-based group Global Exchange. She led the charge against Nike's sweatshops. As the Iraq invasion loomed, Benjamin helped start Code Pink (www.codepink4peace.org), a women's peace initiative with a penchant for disruption and a name designed to poke fun at Bush's color-coded alarmism while also "taking back the color pink, from sort of a prissy, good-girl color to something that's the color of people standing strong."

Thus it was that pink-clad women, including Benjamin herself, barged into the House Armed Services Committee while Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld was pontificating. And infiltrated the Republican National Convention in primetime. And the Democratic Convention. And Bush's inauguration.

Think hot pink, she says.

Locally, a small Code Pink contingent in the Triangle has concentrated on lobbying our representatives in Congress to support any of the various end-the-war initiatives--with some success (Brad Miller, David Price). Public sentiment about the war, Benjamin wrote the other day (for www.commondreams.org), is at a turning point, with trust in Bush plummeting and a majority now favoring full or partial withdrawal from Iraq. In the history books, she predicted, June 2005 will be seen as the time when the peace movement "got its second wind."

We talked to her in Durham over a bowl of soup. Here's an edited summary.

Independent: You wrote that we've hit a turning point. But what makes you think Bush can't continue to bamboozle the American public, at least enough of them to keep this thing going for awhile?

Benjamin: He can. I think after his speech tonight he'll get a bit of an upturn. And I don't see a quick end--I'd say if we start getting our troops out in two years, we'd be doing well. That's as opposed to having this level of troops there for the next 10 or 12 years. I mean, they don't have an exit strategy for a reason--they don't plan to exit.

Even people opposed to the war wonder whether we can "cut and run" after the mess we've made. You've been to Iraq five times--what's the best outcome you can imagine?

For the Iraqis? The best outcome would be for us to exit without leaving behind a violent civil war. That, I think, could happen if we left in two years, or in 10 years, or if we left tomorrow. I think it will be less likely to happen the sooner we leave, because we continue to exacerbate the differences [among rival groups].

It's very interesting that Secretary Rumsfeld had to admit that we're meeting with the insurgents. ... [It] reflects an understanding on the part of the people [in the administration] who understand what war is like, especially guerrilla war, that this is an unwinable war. And that all wars end with some kind of negotiations.

I was in Jordan in January, meeting with United Nations [officials]. One said there are 43 different insurgent groups, and the U.N. was in behind-the-scenes talks with the ones they considered "legitimate" insurgents--the ones who were Iraqis and really wanted the best for Iraq. [He] said their demands were really very reasonable: no long-term U.S. bases there; a phased withdrawal, because they knew it wasn't going to happen tomorrow; and the economy in the hands of Iraqis. Pretty nationalistic goals.

Not the ones blowing up other Iraqis.

Iraqis who support the insurgency have a very different view of it than we do over here. They think that people like Zarqawi may even be on the CIA payroll, [because] these guys are so whacked out and so bad for the cause of Iraqi nationalism that they must be in cahoots with the Americans. I'm not saying that's the way it is. I'm saying that's how it's perceived by many.

You called your book Stop the Next War, not Stop This War. Do you think Americans have learned their lesson somehow about starting wars?

I think that, in protesting this war, we're also learning the foundations of how to stop the next one. When we say, we need a media that tells the truth to the people, that's because we were bamboozled ... we can't allow Bush to bamboozle us into the next war, like Iran. When we say we need a government that is accountable to the people, it's because, if we have a majority of the people who are truly against this war, why don't we have a Congress that's against it?

Karl Rove caricatured the peace movement's response to 9/11, saying it was for "counseling" and "understanding the enemy" instead of force. How should Americans understand the "peaceful" response to terrorism?

We have the most rational view of it, which is let's really understand what happened on 9/11 and go after the people who caused that tragedy. Do we want to go to counseling or therapy? Well, we certainly should try to know what the enemy is about--anybody who has conducted any sort of military action throughout history knows [that]. And, in this case, George Bush & Co. are creating enemies.

Your background is in trade. Is this all about resources? I think people are afraid that if we don't have this huge military machine and we can't control the world's supply of oil and other resources, our economy will collapse.

This economic system as we know it now is going to collapse, whether the American military tries to control other people's resources or not. The resources are finite, and they're being used up. Everybody knows "peak oil" is coming, whether it's coming in 2007 or 2020 or whenever. Historically, it's right around the corner. When you look around and all you see is roads and roads and cars and cars, based on a finite supply of oil, some of us understand that that system has to be replaced by another one.

And can you explain in simple terms what will replace it? I know it's complicated, but ...

No, it really isn't. It's a very locally based economy. It's based on food being grown closer to home, not being shipped in from thousands of miles away; it's based on businesses that don't use resources as just another input but instead in a sustainable way.

Is Code Pink's future in sustainable development?

I don't know. I've been meeting with women and men as I move around the country, and it seems that, so far, they want to continue, because it gives them an outlet not only for their anti-war work, but also for their work about the kind of society they want to see ... It could be that Code Pink will evolve to be about using our resources not for war but for life-sustaining activities.

You want men to join? You'll have to change the name.

The most enlightened men are joining Code Pink. You're a real man if you're willing to be in a group led by women, and if you're willing to wear pink. Real men wear pink, Bob.

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