The antiwar rally at the University of Iowa was sparsely attended. The below 30 degree weather might have had something to do with it, but Paul Street, a local writer and one of the speakers, had another theory, as the Daily Iowan reported:
Before the crowd of fewer than 20, Street questioned why the ‘left’ locals and university officials aren’t doing more to help in the protests against the war. ‘The big truth right now, whether this town’s missing-in-action progressives get it or not, is that we need to fight the rich, not their wars,’ he said, citing big corporations for wasting their technology and funding on war.
The big truth is that the antiwar movement has largely collapsed in the face of Barack Obama’s victory: the massive antiwar marches that were a feature of the Bush years are a thing of the past. Those ostensibly antiwar organizations that did so much to agitate against the Iraq War have now fallen into line behind their commander in chief and are simply awaiting orders.
Take, for example, Moveon.org, the online activist group that ran antiwar ads during the election—but only against Republicans—in coalition with a group of labor unions and Americans Against Escalation in Iraq. Behind AAEI stood three of Obama’s top political operatives, Steve Hildebrand, Paul Tewes, and Brad Woodhouse. Woodhouse is now the Democratic National Committee’s director of communications and research. He controls the massive e-mail list culled by the Obama campaign during the primaries and subsequently, as well as a list of all those who gave money to the presumed peace candidate. These donors are no doubt wondering what Obama is doing escalating the war in Afghanistan and venturing into Pakistan.
As Greg Sargent noted over at WhoRunsGov.com, a Washington Post-sponsored site, “Don’t look now, but President Obama’s announcement today of an escalation in the American presence in Afghanistan is being met with mostly silence—and even some support—from the most influential liberal groups who opposed the Iraq War.”
In response to inquiries, Moveon.org refused to make any public statement about Obama’s rollout of the Af-Pak escalation, although someone described as “an official close to the group” is cited by WhoRunsGov as confirming that “MoveOn wouldn’t be saying anything in the near term.” A vague promise to poll their members was mentioned—“though it’s unclear when.” Don’t hold your breath.
Another Democratic Party front masquerading as a peace group, Americans United for Change, declined to comment on the war plans of the new administration. This astroturf organization ran $600,000 worth of television ads in the summer of 2007, focusing like a laser on congressional districts with Republican incumbents. Change? Not so fast.
The boldest of the peacenik sellouts, however, is Jon Soltz of VoteVets, described by WhoRunsGov as “among the most pugnacious anti-Iraq war groups.” They came out fists flying, endorsing the escalation of the Long War.
According to Soltz, there is “much to like in the plan,” but his faves boil down to three factors, which supposedly represent “a stark departure” from the bad old days of the Bush administration. He applauds the administration’s recognition that “The military can’t do it all.” Yet we’re increasing the troop levels by some 17,000, plus 4,000 trainers to babysit the barely existent Afghan “army.” We’re going to send thousands more civilians—aid workers, medical personnel, and military contractors—to build the infrastructure lacking in Afghan society and promote fealty to the central government in Kabul. Schools, clinics, roads, and shopping malls will be built with American tax dollars in order to foster trust between the Afghans, their occupiers, and their government.
This nation-building strategy is at the core of the new counterinsurgency doctrine championed by Gen. David Petraeus and hailed by the policy wonks at the Center for a New American Security—the source of many Obama administration appointees at State and the civilian upper echelons of the Pentagon—as the key to victory on the Af-Pak front. Yet this scheme seems no less grandiose, in terms of its scope, than the “democracy building” campaign of the neocons, who set out to effect lasting change in the political landscape in the region. The Obamaites are much more ambitious: they seek to transform the economic and social landscape.
Another factor in the Obama Af-Pak war plan that appeals to Soltz and his fellow VoteVets is that “though it’s the ‘war in Afghanistan,’ we need to treat it like a region.” Translation: Don’t be surprised when Obama’s war spreads beyond Afghanistan’s borders. “This is a regional problem,” Soltz solemnly avers, “that requires a regional solution.” Imagine if George W. Bush had gone “regional” and announced that he was going to include Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, and Iran in his plan to “liberate” Iraq? Soltz and his sometime peacenik buddies would have gone ballistic, denouncing this “escalation” of the conflict and demanding that we pull back. Yet the rules for the Af-Pak region are apparently quite different because, after all, this is Barack Obama doing the escalating.
Soltz doesn’t confront the obvious arguments against the Af-Pak plan: How is this different from the occupation of Iraq? Aren’t we creating more enemies by bombing hapless Pakistani villagers with drones? What about Afghanistan and Pakistan’s neighbors, notably Russia—do we really want to add them to our enemies list, as they respond with distrust to our feeding of this fire on their frontiers?
Soltz never answers these questions because he never bothers to ask them. He merely assumes the perfect justice and practicality of Obama’s Afghan cause. He is a soldier following orders. Like the neoconized Republican cadre that hooted down Ron Paul as he rose to challenge the Bush foreign policy during the GOP presidential primary debates, a similarly brainwashed Democratic base is now cheerleading their leader and shouting down dissenters even as this White House repeats—and enlarges—the mistakes of the previous occupant.
The Center for American Progress, a liberal-Left think tank that sheltered many foreign-policy analysts who opposed the Iraq War and was beginning to develop a comprehensive critique of global interventionism, has recently issued a report on Afghanistan that includes a number of short-term, medium-term, and long-term (ten-year) goals, including among the latter:
* Assist in creating an Afghan state that is able to defend itself internally and externally, and that can provide for the basic needs of its own people.
* Prepare for the full military withdrawal from Afghanistan alongside continued diplomatic and economic measures to promote the sustainable security of Afghanistan.
Simply substitute Iraq for Afghanistan, and what we get is the war policy of the Bush era. That the center is run by John Podesta, who served as Obama’s transition chief, is perhaps explanation enough for the complete turnaround. One wonders, however, if the center’s more anti-interventionist scholars, such as Matthew Yglesias, whose popular blog has attracted a substantial audience, will be forced to toe the new line—or be forced out.
One also wonders when this administration will decide to let the American people in on the news that the Af-Pak war is slated to last at least a decade, if not more. During the campaign, and well before that, Joe Biden was self-righteously denouncing the Bush administration and its journalistic amen corner for not “leveling with the American people” and admitting the magnitude of our commitment in Iraq. Yet the administration of which he is now part is just as evasive on the question of an exit strategy and timeframe in Afghanistan and now Pakistan.
Biden’s counsel of restraint apparently lost out in the internal debate, and the Hillary-Gates escalators triumphed. It is inconceivable that the vice president would go public with his criticisms—he’s no Cheney. And opposition among the Democrats in Congress is low-key, minimal, and effectively marginalized.
A recent headline in The Hill tells the whole sad story: “Anti-war Democrats remain silent about Obama’s policies.” A pow-wow between Barbara Lee, famous for her lone opposition in Congress to the Afghan war early on, Lynn Woolsey, and Maxine Waters, California Democrats and vocal opponents of “Bush’s war,” failed to produce a joint statement on Obama’s Afghan surge.
Divided and distracted by the economic crisis, the antiwar caucus in Congress is effectively dissolved, although a few voices are raised in warning and protest: we are headed for “a war without end,” said Congressman James McGovern (D-Mass.), who seems to have learned the real lesson of the Iraq War—that occupation produces more enemies than it subdues.
Russ Feingold says that Obama’s war plan “could make the situation worse, not better.” More ominous for the administration is the criticism coming from Sen. Carl Levin over the $1.5 billion nonmilitary aid package for Pakistan, which Levin fears could be seen as a bribe—and an insult. He also wonders why the Pakistanis allow the Taliban to operate openly in the city of Quetta and questions their interest in policing the Afghan border.
There is also a rising tide of criticism coming from the Democratic base: visitors to the liberal website Dailykos.com are likely to encounter antiwar screeds nearly as impassioned as those that were posted during the Bush years, albeit written in sadness and bewilderment rather than anger.
Within the organized antiwar movement itself, the Democratic Party fronts like Moveon.org and VoteVets are increasingly isolated as more representative groups shift to the forefront: “It’s a shame President Obama believes he can pursue the same militaristic strategy as his predecessors and produce a different result,” says Kevin Martin, executive director of Peace Action. Tom Andrews, executive director of Win Without War, takes a similar stance:
I regret that President Obama, in his desire to protect our nation from a genuine threat, has outlined a policy that will undermine our security, not enhance it. In short, the president’s policy is playing into the hands of Al Qaeda and the Taliban by providing them with a cause that unites and strengthens them.
This is precisely correct, and it echoes what Michael Scheuer, the former CIA officer and chief of the Agency’s bin Laden unit, says in Imperial Hubris:
U.S., British, and other coalition forces are trying to govern apparently ungovernable postwar states in Afghanistan and Iraq, while simultaneously fighting growing Islamist insurgencies in each—a state of affairs our leaders call victory. In conducting these activities, and the conventional military campaigns preceding them, U.S. forces and policies are completing the radicalization of the Islamic world, something Osama bin Laden has been trying to do with substantial but incomplete success since the early 1990s. As a result, I think it fair to conclude that the United States of America remains bin Laden’s only indispensable ally.
Those words were written in 2004, and since then nothing has changed: we are still acting as bin Laden’s greatest recruiter and ally. Scheuer’s is the classical realist view, which makes American interests, narrowly conceived, the central organizing principle and starting point of a rational foreign policy.
During the Bush era, there was a growing convergence of Republican realists and antiwar liberals. Yet in the age of Obama, it seems, many of the latter are getting in touch with their inner hawk.
President Obama is often compared to FDR or John F. Kennedy, but I agree with Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation, who worries that he’s more likely to turn out to be another Lyndon Baines Johnson—a president who triumphed against a perceived warmonger at the polls and embodied liberal hopes on the domestic scene but was then driven from office by a war-weary electorate and an insurgency within his own party. Add a rapidly expiring economy at home to an increasingly unpopular war—or series of wars—abroad, and you have a recipe for disaster: Obama’s Vietnam and the Democratic Party’s Waterloo.
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