Monday, February 11, 2008

War Democrats

The Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire. Did the oxymoronically named Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) endorse Barack Obama to show that they were cut from the same cloth? If so, they still have a ways to go. Their endorsement does establish that they are neither progressive nor (small-d) democratic. However, they are most assuredly Democrats and “of America.” They are not democratic because their “membership,” the people whose preferences they sought in mid-December through an email mailing that even I received, were not consulted. The membership voted overwhelmingly for Dennis Kucinich and John Edwards. Yet, within hours of Edwards’ withdrawal from the race, PDA endorsed Obama. Surely, there was time for another “consultation.” No doubt, with Hillary Clinton for an alternative, PDA members would have voted overwhelmingly for Obama had they been asked. But an endorsement? There should have been a way not only to make the decision (small-d) democratically, but also to structure the question properly. Does no one at PDA remember “critical support”? Even those of us who find Obama’s “inspirational” oratory vacuous and who believe that his proposals for change are of the plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose [the more things change, the more they stay the same] variety, even we could get behind that. But progressive (small-d) democrats have no business endorsing Barack Obama.

In an email to rank and file “members” sent out this morning (Feb. 11), Tom Hayden, a PDA National Board member who was presumably involved in the endorsement decision, inadvertently explained why. His express purpose was to encourage PDA members to pressure Obama, along with Clinton, to improve their positions on the Iraq War. It’s not clear how this is supposed to happen with Obama already “endorsed,” but leave that aside. In defense of his contention that “it is clear that …Obama’s position …is better than Clinton’s,” Hayden effectively demonstrated not only how close Obama and Clinton are on the war, but also how unworthy of support both candidates’ positions are. Intentionally or not, he showed Obama to be just as much (or nearly as much) a War Democrat as Clinton still is.

Here’s is what distinguishes the one from the other in Hayden’s view:

1) Obama wants combat troops withdrawn in 16-18 months; Clinton wants no timetable, but she will have “her” Joint Chiefs draft a plan for “beginning” troop withdrawals;

2) Obama favors “carrots-and-sticks diplomacy” with Iran that include “assurances” that the U.S. won’t seek regime change. In the Senate, he opposed Bush’s proposal to identify the Revolutionary Guard as a “terrorist organization.” Clinton did not. [For some reason, Hayden does not expressly refer to the Kyl-Lieberman Amendment that Clinton, unlike Obama voted for. Cheney and Bush could construe that shameful piece of legislation as Congressional authorization for military action against Iran.]

3) Obama opposed the Iraq War in a 2002 speech (when he was still a state Senator in Illinois) while, around the same time, Clinton, already in the U.S. Senate, voted to authorize Bush to go to war in Iraq (though she claims that wasn’t her intent). Moreover, she has never admitted her vote was wrong. However, upon becoming a U.S. Senator, Obama has voted to fund the war just as Clinton has. According to Hayden, she is “inaccurate” when she “describes her position since that time as the same as Obama’s.” He does not explain why. What needs no explanation is the truism that “to fund the war is to support it.” No amount of blather about “supporting the troops” can hide this plain and simple fact. This is why it is fair to say that, from the time Obama entered the Senate (and could put the peoples’ money where his mouth is), his position on the Iraq War has been the same as Clinton’s – they both “oppose” it while funding (and therefore supporting) it.

Beyond that, even Hayden concedes that there are no differences. He notes that neither Obama nor Clinton have ruled out a US-Baghdad military pact, though they have both demanded that Bush submit plans for any pact he decides to enter into to the Senate for approval. He observes that “both candidates …propose leaving thousands of American troops behind for purposes of training, advising, counter-terrorism, embassy protection” and so on; and that neither has clarified how large a residual force that should be. According to Hayden, “a residual force of even 15,000 Americans would require force protection… in the range of 45,000 more.” Then, without quite explaining where his numbers come from, he goes on to suggest that, in conjunction with mercenary forces (he mentions only Blackwater, but of course there are other “private contractors”), the US could end up with a counter-insurgency force in Iraq numbering 100,000 – after the “withdrawals” envisioned by Obama and Clinton.

In other words, apart from his advocacy and her rejection of a toothless timetable for withdrawal, some meaningless posturing on Iran that makes Clinton look more bellicose than Obama, and what the two of them did six years ago, there is no difference. More important, not only is there a disconnect between what both Obama and Clinton say about the war and what they have done about it – a disconnect afflicting nearly all Congressional Democrats as well – but even between what they say about the war and what they say they will do about it once in office. The positions of both of them are, to put it mildly, comforting for proponents of perpetual war.

Thus we are in the midst of a contest between two War Democrats, one of whom (Obama) is preferable to the other (Clinton) – but not for his position on the Iraq War or, indeed, any other “issue.” Obama is preferable because he is less likely than Clinton to reempower as many old Clinton hands – the folks who made the Iraq War possible by weakening the “enemy” (killing as many as a million Iraqis and degrading Iraq’s infrastructure through sanctions) and testing the waters (in Yugoslavia and elsewhere) for wars of choice. But Obama is certainly no “progressive,” and certainly not anyone progressives should officially (and therefore uncritically) endorse.

That’s why tomorrow when, because I live in Maryland I finally get a chance to vote, I’m going to vote for Mike Gravel, not Barack Obama. If I were convinced that Obama needed every vote he could get in order to diminish the likelihood of a full-fledged Clinton Restoration, I’d throw integrity to the wind and vote for him. After all, the first order of business is to send the Clintons packing. But Obama has the Big Mo now (“as Maine goes, so goes the nation”), and he’s all but certain to lick Hillary again tomorrow. So why not “send a message?” Admittedly, the media will ignore it and the Party’s Wise Men (and Women) will not heed it. Admittedly, not to vote for Obama when there is still a possibility, albeit a slim one, that Clinton will win in Maryland is self-indulgent. Better that, though, than adding yet another voice in legitimation of yet another War Democrat.

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