Monday, July 14, 2008

With an Anti-War Candidate Like This...

Barack Obama’s opinion piece in today’s (July 14) New York Times, “My Plan for Iraq,” intended to calm his anti-war “base,” concludes with this remark: “…for far too long, those responsible for the greatest strategic blunder in the recent history of American foreign policy have ignored useful debate in favor of making false charges about flip-flops and surrender.” True enough. Obama has not flip-flopped, and neither is he prepared to accept defeat (“surrender”). To his everlasting discredit, he has consistently advocated the kinder, gentler imperialist program he advocates now.

For as long as Obama has had a plan, it has been to draw down combat troops in Iraq over sixteen months after he assumes office, conditions permitting. That would extend the war and occupation at least into the summer of 2010! Obama’s plan has also been to build up troop strength in Afghanistan. To that end, he has long called for adding two combat brigades (about 10000 soldiers) and other support troops, comprised largely of men and women redeployed from Iraq. The “anti-war” part of his message is just that, before the Iraq War began, he opposed it; and that he still thinks it a “blunder.” But Obama will not cut and run. That might encourage the emergence of an Iraq Syndrome to rival or even surpass the Vietnam Syndrome that Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton worked so diligently to wear down.

Needless to say, an Iraq Syndrome, making further military interventions and preemptive wars more difficult to wage, is just what the US needs. Without that break on imperialist predations, a soft-landing for the American people will be harder to accomplish, as the American empire inevitably and inexorably crumbles in the years ahead. But Obama, like most Democrats, will have none of it. Democrats can say, unabashedly though belatedly, that the Iraq War was a mistake. But since “we” are there, we must leave with dignity, the better to fight another day. Shades of Richard Nixon’s and Henry Kissinger’s “peace with honor.” No doubt, Obama does want the war he’ll inherit to wind down; the quicker the better. But the main thing for him, as for Nixon and Kissinger and John McCain too, is to keep the imperialist project going. It’s with that thought in mind that Obama’s opinion piece concludes disingenuously: “it’s time to end this war.”

It’s worth bearing in mind that Obama’s is the mainstream Democratic position. In 2006, Americans thought they were voting to end the Iraq War. What they got were Democratic majorities in the House and Senate led by Pelosiites hell bent on funding Bush’s wars, while mouthing off as if they thought differently. Before the primary season degenerated into a seemingly endless contest between two Clintonites, Obama and Hillary Clinton, only one “electable” contender, Bill Richardson, even came close to voicing a genuinely anti-war position. [I leave aside Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel, who were marginalized from the get go, and even excluded from joint public appearances (“debates”) at the party’s first opportunity.] The others, even John Edwards, whose domestic positions were light years ahead of Obama’s or Clinton’s, were on board. Like the hapless Howard Dean in 2004 (and still), the Democratic contenders were doves (on this war at least) – but hardly anti-imperialists or principled opponents of the militarism that makes American imperialism possible.

The Democratic leadership and rank and file have much to answer for, but the fault is not theirs alone. The POP, the Party of Pusillanimity, is only doing what comes naturally to it. Serving their paymasters is the default position for Democrats. They have become stuck there because they have not had to contend with a militant anti-war movement threatening to tear apart the regime they help maintain. There is probably some truth in the claim that the anti-Vietnam War movement helped end the Vietnam War. Back then, when the anti-war movement was militant enough for our rulers to fear the consequences of keeping the war going, there were probably fewer “doves” in the general population than there now are. But dovishness counts for very little; not with political institutions as unresponsive to public opinion as ours are. What counts is militancy.

There has not been much of that in the Home of the Brave in recent years. With the candidacy of the Rorschach man, Barack Obama, what little militancy there was dissipated further. Some of it even morphed into Obamamania. But, in the past few weeks, with Obama and the party he leads careening even farther to the right, it has become harder for liberals to maintain their illusions. That’s not good for Obama, and neither is it good for the regime he wants to administer. Thus, Obama and his handlers have embarked on an illusion-restoration offensive – to “shore up” their liberal base. They will probably succeed. After all, we are dealing with people who, as Robert Frost famously pointed out, are notoriously disinclined to take their own side in an argument.

Jesse Jackson is a case in point. Having said that, for talking down to African Americans, Obama should have his nuts cut off, he has spent the past few days apologizing profusely. Apparently, he does not want to jeopardize the prospects of the Great (Non-) White Hope. [Ironically, his remark seems actually to have bolstered Obama’s cred with white racist voters.] But Jackson’s original instinct was more salutary than his efforts to make amends. Opponents of the Iraq War should learn from this sorry episode. For playing anti-war Americans for fools, Obama deserves worse than the fate Jackson would dish out. In a better world, he, along with all the other “anti-war” Democrats, would be told so in no uncertain terms, and unapologetically.

That’s not going to happen, of course. But not all is lost as long as Obama still feels a need to shore up his base – in other words, to fool more of the people more of the time. Were he to jettison his Rorschach qualities entirely, it would be much harder for the Democrats to mobilize the support they need to defeat that even greater evil, John McCain – the doddering neo-con whom our vaunted democracy offers up as the only real alternative to the “anti-war” Democrat on whom so many well-meaning but deluded voters still pin their hopes.

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