Friday, July 4, 2008

Iraq Flip Flop?

It must be true that “the press corps” loves John McCain. Why else would they mention his many spectacular flip flops so rarely? Perhaps it’s because they’re rooting for him as he tries, in vain, to win over his party’s several extreme right wings. In the Democratic primaries, they notoriously favored Barack Obama too – not just over Hillary Clinton but, even more blatantly, over the more progressive candidates. Now, however, they have no hesitancy about pointing out his flip flops. Since becoming the presumptive nominee, Obama has given McCain’s media “base” a lot to work with. He has flip flopped on, among other things, public financing, FISA, tax policy and “free” trade. The extreme nature of Obama’s flip flops is remarkable, as is the rapidity with which he is moving rightward (having already begun with a good head start), but there is nothing surprising about the phenomenon itself. Just as McCain has extreme right wingers to placate, Obama has a ruling class to win over. Sometimes the media flip flop detectors are wrong, however. Thus, contrary to what they would have us believe, Obama hasn’t flip flopped on Iraq; not yet. He did suggest that his plan to get the troops (the combat troops, that is) out in sixteen months isn’t written in stone. But this isn’t a flip flop. It’s worse than that.

It’s worse because his position really hasn’t changed – a point that George Packer makes perfectly clear, perhaps unintentionally, in his “Obama’s Iraq Problem” in the July 7/14 New Yorker.

Obama did oppose the invasion of Iraq in 2002, back when opposition from more prominent Democrats might have made a difference. This is to his credit; just as the support so many Democrats, including the still unapologetic Hillary Clinton, gave to Cheney and Bush marks them as Cheney/Bush collaborators. Like most of his advisors (in the halcyon days before his campaign and Clinton’s melded together), Obama understood that an effort to make Iraq a de facto U.S. colony – which is all the Iraq War was ever really about – was bound to fail. Thus he was a “dove” when most Democrats were still “hawks.”

But, as a dove, he never opposed the war for anti-imperialist reasons. If anything, the opposite was the case: he thought, correctly, that America’s imperial interests would be better served by not undertaking that war of choice. Note that, to this day, Obama has never objected to other recent American wars – the one in Afghanistan, for example. In fact, part of Obama’s plan from the beginning was to transfer troops from Iraq to that other theater in the so-called War on Terror. Neither has there ever been a peep of criticism from his quarter about Bill Clinton’s military adventures: in the former Yugoslavia, most conspicuously, but also in east Africa and central Asia.

The fact is that, for as long as he has been in public life, Obama has never been an anti-imperialist. He is against imperialist wars that harm imperial interests. But so are Cheney and Bush and the Clintons. The difference is just that Obama’s judgment is better than theirs-- and that, until recently, he surrounded himself with more competent advisors.

This is why Obama, like most Democrats, has never taken a truly anti-war position on Iraq. Democratic majorities in the House and Senate could have ended the war on a dime -- by defunding it, as is their Constitutional right and duty. But they can’t (or won’t) do anything of the sort. The reason why is not that they think electoral success depends on “supporting the troops” (by keeping them in harm’s way), though they’ve been talking up that howler for years. The reason is that even more than they want that disastrous war to be over, they don’t want the U.S. to suffer an abject defeat. Or rather, since the U.S. was defeated abjectly in Iraq long ago, they don’t want the outcome to seem like what it is. That would make it harder for the empire to continue on its longstanding course; something the candidate of “change we can believe in” wants desperately to avoid. For Obama, as much as for Hillary Clinton and the others, the first priority is not to revive the so-called Vietnam Syndrome; in other words, to keep the public more or less on board as the empire does what it’s gotta do.

Democrats like Obama, along with Republicans, do not want the fiasco in Iraq to result in an “Iraq Syndrome.” But this is just what the United States needs if it is to achieve anything like a soft landing as American economic dominance declines. Neo-conservatives and their Clintonite cousins are oblivious. Obama is oblivious. But the fact remains that either the United States eases itself out of its imperial role in a way that leaves intact what is still good about the country – especially, the civil liberties it still (mostly) honors – or life here will get worse fast, as the national security state ratchets up its project of perpetual war.

Democrats under Obama will obfuscate as they must to keep an Iraq Syndrome at bay. But there’s a better chance of their not getting their way if they, not McCain and his minions, control the government. Thus it is crucial to work against McCain. But it is equally crucial not to fall into line behind Barack Obama. In 2006, the POP, the Party of Pusillanimity (or of Pelosiites!), deceived Democratic voters. For that they deserve not just shame, but condemnation. If voters let themselves be duped again, then, as the saying goes, shame (and also condemnation!) on them too.

Democratic voters would have made the tasks ahead much easier had they chosen a more progressive candidate in the primaries. They had the opportunity. Instead they fell for an “inspiring” Rorschach Man, who seemed to be whatever they wanted him to be. Now reality is intruding into that illusion; Obama can’t remain a Rorschach Man forever. When will it dawn, though, on the Obamaniacs that if they want anything good to come of an Obama presidency, he will have to be fought every step of the way!

Partly because the press corps favored Obama so much during the primaries, a rare opportunity for real change, not plus ça change…, was missed. But it is not entirely gone. To salvage what we still can, it is crucial that we not obscure differences between doves and anti-imperialists. The difference affects policy, as Obama’s latest (non) flip flop should force even his anti-war supporters to acknowledge. But there is more than “just” the duration of this most disastrous and self-defeating of Bush’s wars riding on it. It is the wars to come that we must now fight to prevent.

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