Friday, July 4, 2008

No Retreat: If You Want to Win, Stop The War!

Photo: 'Out Now! Antiwar Crowd in Chicago

at Risk

By Tom Hayden
Progressives for Obama

Call him slippery or nuanced, Barack Obama's core position on Iraq has always been more ambiguous than audacious. Now it is catching up with him as his latest remarks are questioned by the Republicans, the mainstream media, and the antiwar movement. He could put his candidacy at risk if his audacity continues to shrivel.

I first endorsed Obama because of the nature of the movement supporting him, not his particular stands on issues. The excitement among African-Americans and young people, the audacity of their hope, still holds the promise of a new era of social activism. The force of their rising expectations, i believe, could pressure a President Obama in a progressive direction and also energize a new wave of social movements.

And of course, there is the need to end the Republican reign that began with a stolen election followed by eight years of war and torture, corporate gouging, environmental decay, domestic spying and right-wing court appointments, just in case we forget who Obama is running against.

Besides the transforming nature of an African-American presidency, the issue that matters most to me is achieving a peaceful settlement of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan - and preventing American escalations in Iran and Latin America. From the beginning, Obama's symbolic 2002 position on Iraq has been very promising, reinforced again and again by his campaign pledge to "end the war" in 2009.

But that pledge also has been laced with loopholes all along, caveats that the mainstream media and his opponents [excepting Bill Richardson] have ignored or avoided until now. As I pointed out in Ending the War in Iraq [2007], Obama's 2002 speech opposed the coming war with Iraq as "dumb", while avoiding what position he would take once the war was underway. Then he wrote of almost changing his position from anti- to pro-war after a trip to Iraq. He never took as forthright a position as Senator Russ Feingold, among others. Then he adopted the safe, nonpartisan formula of the Baker-Hamilton Study Group, which advocated the withdrawal of combat troops while leaving thousands of American counter-terrorism units, advisers and trainers behind.

That would mean at least 50,000 Americans, including back up forces, engaged in counter-insurgency after the withdrawal of combat troops, a contradiction the media and Hillary Clinton failed to explore in the primary debates. To his credit, Obama said that these American units would not become caught up in a lengthy sectarian civil war, leaving the question of their role unanswered.

The most shocking aspect of Samantha Powers' forced resignation earlier this year was not that she called Hillary Clinton a "monster" off-camera, but that she flatly stated that Obama would review his whole position on Iraq once becoming president. Again, no one in the media or rival campaigns questioned whether this assertion by Powers was true. Since Obama credited Powers with helping for months in writing his book, The Audacity of Hope, her comments on his inner thinking should have been pounced upon by the pundits.

Finally, it has taken the pressure of the general election to raise questions about whether his parsed and lawyerly language is empty of credible meaning. Consider carefully his July 4 statements:

The first one, promising a "thorough reassessment" of his Iraq position later this summer:

"I've always said that the pace of our withdrawal would be dictated by the safety and security of our troops and the need to maintain stability" - two conditions that could justify leaving American troops in combat indefinitely. "And when I go to Iraq and have a chance to talk to some of the commanders on the ground, I'm sure I'll have more information and will continue to refine my policies" - another loophole which could allow the war to drag on.

Then there came the later "clarification":

"Let me be as clear as I can be" [not, "let me be absolutely clear"].

"I intend to end this war." [intention only].

"My first day in office I will bring the Joint Chiefs of Staff in, and I will give them a new mission, and that is to end this war - responsibly, deliberately, but decisively." [ Sounds positive, but "decisively" can mean by military threat in the worst case. And it's pure theatre, borrowed from Clinton, since the plans most likely will be drafted and finalized immediately after the November election.]

"And I have seen no information that contradicts the notion that we can bring our troops out safely at a pace of one or two brigades a month..." [but what if the military commanders on the ground assert that it is too dangerous to pull out those troops?]

Obama's position, which always left a trail of unasked questions, now plants a seed of doubt, justifiably, among the peace bloc of American voters who harbor a legacy of betrayals beginning with Lyndon Johnson's 1064 pledge of "no wider war" through Richard Nixon's "secret plan for peace" to Ronald Reagan's Iran-Contra scandal and the deep complicity of Democrats in the evolution of the Iraq War.

It is difficult to understand Obama's motivation. Perhaps it is his lifetime success at straddling positions and disarming potential opponents. Perhaps it is a lawyer's training. Perhaps being surrounded by national security advisers who oppose what they call "precipitous withdrawal", and pragmatic Democrats distinctly uncomfortable with their antiwar roots.

What is clear is that Obama is responsive to pressures from the grass-roots base of a party that is overwhelmingly in favor of a shorter timetable for withdrawal than his, and favoring diplomatic rather than military solutions in Afghanistan and Pakistan. At a time that public interest in the war is receeding before economic concerns, it is time for the strongest possible reassertion of voter demands for peace.

The challenge for the peace and justice movement is to avoid falling into Republican divide-and-conquer traps while maintaining a powerful and independent presence in key electoral states, including Congressional battlegrounds, between now and November. There should be at the least:

- A demand that Obama talk to legitimate representatives of the peace movement, not simply hawkish national security advisers.

- A Democratic platform debate and plank that is unequivocal in pledging to end the war and avoid military escalation elsewhere.

- An energized antiwar voter education campaign that builds towards a clear November peace mandate to end the military occupation and shifr to political and diplomatic approraches.

- An organizational strategy to widen the base of the antiwar movement through the presidential campaign in preparation for a massive peace mobilization in early 2009.

Grass-roots people power is the only force that can keep alive the astute sense of pragmatism that led Obama to criticize the coming war in 2002. The stakes are higher now, and the enemies far more shrewd, wishing to rip asunder the Obama coalition. The peace movement assumption should be that there is no one in Obama's inner circle of advisers to be counted on, no mainstream columnist to catch his eye with a persuasive column favoring withdrawal. They never have. Only the voice of the peace voters - and the countless activists who have volunteered on his behalf - can command his attention now.


Bill Baar said...

It is difficult to understand Obama's motivation.

My word.. regardless where one stands on Iraq, Afganistan, the war on terror... do we have any doubts about Senator Obama's motivation?

Hayden is not naive. Why treat readers this why?

Carl Davidson said...

I have doubts as to what they are. To ward off GOP swiftboaters? To satisfy some DLCers who think there's a new way to win in Iraq? To win over some small group of undecideds at the expense of demobilizing others? All of the above?

If you have some mind-reading ability, please give us the reading.

In the meantime, let's deliver a little heat.

Bill Baar said...

He wants to win Carl. And whether he'll use the power for good or ill is the question.

But he's out for Obama first.

I voted for Obama once. I thought him the neoliberal and you can find that Obama out there.

But when I found out Rezko was his mentor and then Obama endorsing the Stroger machine, I realized who the real Obama was...

Carl Davidson said...

That's not much of a reply, since it's always true, from day one.

The more interesting question is whether some of his re-spinning and shifting costs him more votes, by de-mobilizing his base, than he gains, by appeasing the center-right undecideds.

That is, if it's just about winning.

I'll leave generalized notions of 'good' or 'ill' to the side. I just want him to stop the damned war.

Anonymous said...

It is good to see Hayden joining in the growing criticism of Obama's drift rightward. Of course, it is not only the Iraq occupation where the drift is occurring. It is wide array of issues.

But, focusing on Hayden's column, he makes some pretty mild demands (meet with peace movement leaders and include a withdrawal plank in the platform). It is hard to imagine much meaker demands.

What happens if those mild demands are not met? Is there any threat that Hayden and others associated with Progressives for Obama will withdraw their support, give money to McKinney/Nader? And, if there is no threat isn't that signal to Obama -- ignore us, we'll support you no matter what? Is there a breaking point where Hayden and/or P4O will withdraw their support?

Anonymous said...

Progressives who endorsed and supported Obama were absolute FOOLS! Obama's shift to the right was predictable from DAY ONE.
I've lost faith in the so called antiwar movement activists who sold out!

Anonymous said...

Obama IS the nominee largely because he energized the young with his CHANGE talk which translated into ANTI-WAR because of his constant reminder that he had OPPOSED the WAR while Hillary had not. It was a KEY FACTOR in gaining the support that eeked him across the finish line. The continual rightward creep in his policies from war to the immunity for telecoms (which he promised MoveOn he would filibuster against)is NOT helping get progressives out there and working their hearts out. Unfortunately, he doesn't seem to think it's necessary.

NEVER NEVER NEVER think that Democrats can't lose slam-dunk elections. Remember 2000. And 2004. While it is well known that both were manipulated, had there been a massive majority, we'd have never had Bush War #1, #2, and now #3 (Iran..see H.Con.Res.362 and S.Res 580 article posted to---

Anonymous said...

As usual, a very good comment Tom. The most important part of your suggestion is regarding the warning that a strong peace movement may cause voters to go elsewhere if they don't get what they want.

Anonymous said...

Tom Hayden: "I first endorsed Obama because of the nature of the movement supporting him, not his particular stands on issues."

That says it all.

Carl Davidson said...

Getting out of Iraq completely, lickety-split, is hardly mild or meek, KZ.

It's very serious. Far more serious than raising an array of demands aimed at turning a faction of imperialists into anti-imperialists. If you want to consider illusions, consider that one.

Besides, how did the man put it? 'Blessed are the meek, for they shall own the earth...'

We tell him what will happen if he ignores our message. He will demobilize his hardest,most committed workers, exactly the ones he needs to expand the electorate and win.

We don't have to make any threats, just fairly accurate and well-grounded predictions. He will shoot himself in the foot if he takes this path, doing far more damage than we could.

Carl Davidson said...

Goodness, Anon, take a deep breath or two here.

We predicted it from day one, too, which is why we set up this project. Go read the original call.

But here's a rule of thumb. All analyses of the situation that says there's nothing that progressives can do about this election except avoid it, are straight out of Karl Rove's playbook and wrong.

Leo Sarabia said...

I still believe that Senator Obama can lead our country in spite of the talking heads who get paid to "stir" the pot and sell their books, tv ratings and starting rumors without proven facts. He can END our involvement in the Iraq war, he can drive the lobbyists out of our Congress and he can improve our economy. Under his leadership, we can once again be a world leader as a country.

Anonymous said...

I happened to stumble across this. I usually don't blog, since I think it is jibberish and does not cause any real change, but here goes.

The one thing that surprises me is that most things I hear and read already has Obama as our next president. Isn't there still an election coming in November?

My biggest concern is; are the people of this country ready, willing and able to take this country back from a government that is so deeply in the pockets of the world corporations??? We allow the media, current government and our lack of true, unbiased, non-partisan information to sway us. How can we really be sure of exactly where any of the candidates stand if our largest source of information comes at the hands of media sources who count on corporate supported, advertising dollars to tell us where these people stand and to dictate what we hear and read?

Get real people!!! You can blog all day long. There are millions out there TALKING!!! What are you actually doing about these situations? Are our voices being heard out here in cyberspace? If you only allow your vote to count as your action, then we are doomed now as we sit here blogging. Bush Jr. proved to us that even our most sacred right as a democracy, our ability to vote and choose our leaders, can be manipulated and stolen right out from under us.

We have to go much deeper than simply talking or blogging now. We need to get active in the actual process. Aren't they supposed to do what we tell them to do? Isn't this a country for the people, by the people? We read time and time again our countless emails stating what this person did or how they voted and it goes round and round. That's the way our world leaders want it. Keep us confused and uninformed so they can manipulate us the way they want.

Anonymous said...

Tom Hayden is one of a kind. For close to fifty years now, he has been inspiring us with his writing and speaking, as well helping to guide us with his perceptive analyses and calls to action.

He hasn't always been right - but then who has?

"Barack at Risk" is vintage Hayden in that he weaves a wide variety of factors into a coherent analysis and then concludes with a compelling, multi-faceted strategy.

Nonetheless, I do think that Tom, along with too many other progressives, has oversimplified a few key issues.

Calling for a "peaceful solution" to the war in Afghanistan is hardly objectionable. But given that we are fighting against both the Taliban and Al Qaida, it is very difficult to see how such a settlement can be achieved. I may have missed Tom's thinking about this in a previous article, but it seems to me that he needs to offer some details here, rather than just a vague call for peace.

I have seen his - and other - quite detailed plans on how a peaceful settlement of the war in Iraq might be reached. For the most part, I find them to be well thought out and very reasonable - with one important caveat. I think that Tom, as well as most other peace activists, approach the war in Iraq in somewhat of an enthno-centric manner. Pledges "to end the war" by withdrawing all US forces (even with a more concerted diplomatic effort to bring all the warring factions together),almost never allow for the very real possibility that extremists in the Sunni and/or Shia communities may well continue the war anyway. Theirs is an ancient feud that has intensified in recent years, and what the US does or doesn't do may not prove to be as pivotal to peace as the peace mvt typically predicts it will be.

I think it behooves all of us in the peace movement to at least allow for the possibility that no matter what the US may do, the war may continue anyway.

My third reservation about Tom's article is that - also like all too many others on the left and in the peace mvt, he simply calls for "preventing U.S. escalation in Iran." Of course, I support such an appeal, but there also needs be an equally urgent call for the Iranian gov't to end its bone-chilling threats against Israel and other nations,including the US. And we need to also raise our voices in demanding that Iran allow the UN full access to their to nuclear facilities in order to truly demonstrate to the international community that it isn't pursuing the development of nuclear weapons. To date, the Iranian gov't has been anything but completely forthright and sufficiently cooperative.

But despite these reservations, I think Tom Hayden has given us an excellent overview of the current situation. And, as is so typical of Tom, he has combined this analysis with a specific call to action.

Thanks Tom - keep up the great work.

Ken Brociner

TCinLA said...

I can say as someone who is working for the campaign as a fundraiser that this "nuance" crap is killing him with the people who were supporting him from back on Day 1 in 2007. This "definition of the meaning of the word 'is'" is exactly why I never voted for that bastard Bill Clinton - you could tell with his "never inhaled" and his baloney tale of how he avoided the draft that he was a lying sack of shit - which was proven over the next eight years.

I really hate to say it, but the people who were telling me thwt Obama talks out of both sides of his mouth were right.

I'm not normally a big fan of Arianna, but she had a great post on this topic of how he's selling out the people who made him the nominee over at Huffington Post this week.

Right now, the one thing that keeps me on the farm is the Supreme Court, and I am now wondering how solid his committment is there for appointments.

I am old enough to remember how inspiring JFK was - he had a way with words, and they did indeed inspire a generation, but they inspired that generation to go a lot further than JFK himself, mainstream sorta-liberal politician that he was, would have gone. He absolutely did not want to be involved with civil rights in 1961-62, wanting to save that for the "second term," but his own words came to haunt him and he had to step up. The same may end up being true of Obama.

No one on the left should see Obama for anything other than what he is: a Chicago politician and one who got where he is by playing by those rules. The only way anything we want to happen will happen is when he realizes that his base - or at least a part of it big enough to derail him - is not as wedded to him as he thinks they are. So far, that independent base has held his feet to the fire on FISA and given enough support to guys like Feingold and Dodd that they managed to get enough support to push it back a month, giving enough time to organize opposition sufficient that Obama may end up voting differently than he said he would.

As Tom has said, we have to do the same on the war.

We need to give Obama a lesson in the truth of the statement by the old French socialist politician in 1885 (whose name escapes me at the moment):

"There go my followers, and I must run after them, for I am their leader."

nathan said...

I'm very disappointed with all the ways Obama has tacked to the right. On Democracy Now a while back, Ralph Nader said that his candidacy pulls Obama to the left while so many other forces are pulling Obama to the right. I think this is right. If Obama had to debate not just McCain, but also Ralph Nader, he couldn't move to the right to decrease McCain's margin with out also increasing Nader's margin. So I think the best way to hold Obama's feet to the fire is to support Nader's campaign--at least to help get him into the debates.

While the Commission on Presidential Debates won't let Nader into their debates, Google / YouTube are now planning a debate for September 18. The website is here:

Unfortunately, right now a candidate must be at 10% in national polls to be included. Nader is doing better this year than in any previous year--he's at 6% nationally. But he will probably be excluded by this rule. Go to the debate website and click on the "Contact Us" link; tell them to lower the requirement to 5%.

This would get in Nader--and also Bob Barr (the Libertarian Party nominee). This is important because if Bob Barr gets votes that might otherwise go to McCain, there is less worry about Nader getting votes that might otherwise go to Obama. But it still puts Nader into the debate where he can hold Obama's feet to the fire. Barr is also anti-war, so this also pulls Obama in that direction--and it makes it three anti-war candidates against McCain.

So the best way to hold Obama's feet to the fire, I think, is to support Ralph Nader's campaign and effort to get into the Google / YouTube debate.

(Also watch the series of videos on YouTube linked below about the role of third parties in our current system; it makes a pretty convincing case for third parties playing to kind of role I am arguing that Nader's campaign should play this year.)

Carl Davidson said...

I'm not nearly as concerned about the Obama campaign's re-framing their positions when the target is McCain, as opposed to Hillary, and they have to win among all voters, rather than mainly Democrats, as I am when they start tinkering with positions themselves.

But I don't think Nader means much this year one way or another. Far more important all the young activists at Obama's base, and the need for them to be enthusiastic and engaged. They are the one's doing the most work to expand the electorate with new voters.

They were the ones most concerned about some of these developments, substantial or insubstantial, and Obama, fortunately, has already spoken to it several times in the past few days.

So that's where I'd keep the focus, rather than another four-way non-debate for the cameras.

Anonymous said...

I think if you cannot trust a leader to do what he said why vote for him? If you trust him then you have to accept the fact that he has the judgement to know what to do to get elected first and then do what he has to do.
I interpreted his words as an affirmation he wants to end the war but logically and sanely by developing a strategy once he has all the facts, on how to actually achieve his plan.
We cannot weaken our position with the enemy and it is important for them to see a strong president fully supported by the people, not a weak person who gets intimidated by the mob even in this country.
Do you want run out of Iraq and leave our soldiers remaining there at risk or do you support a plan who is based on diplomacy and careful observation of the development on the ground?
Stop the doubts and blackmail with your vote, let him know what you think and accept that in order to be the president he has to appeal to all americans.

Anonymous said...

It is disturbing to hear progressives constantly explaining/making excuses for Senator Obama's clear willingness to say and do whatever is politically expedient.
This pattern will not magically go away if he is rewarded with a coronation in Denver.
We may have given away a chance to nominate someone better equiped for the White House in favor of someone who would tell us what we wanted to hear...until he got our vote.
Politicians have a way of showing us who they are.It's our own fault if we choose not to see.

Carl Davidson said...

I'm not sure what you have in mind, 'Anon.' For the most part, Obama's stuck pretty much to the positions he has always held. It's just that some in the left-progressive camp weren't quite aware of them. His qualified support for the death penalty is a case in point. I heard that one at a house party full of liberals when he was running for the Senate, and it didn't score any points for him there. Likewise, when he's talked with the evangelicals, he hasn't backed away from Roe V. Wade.

But there are some things were he's been conflicted all along himself, such as how to get out of Iraq, not the wisdom of going in, where, hopefully, he'll change for the better.

In any case, we have our work cut out, both in getting him elected and in keeping the heat on. Cynicism doesn't help with either.

Carl Davidson said...

As for the 'Anon' worried about 'blackmail,' don't.

Everyone in a contest as historic as this one is making their voice heard, and those of us determined to stop this war will be heard, too.

The most important thing in getting out of Iraq is a decision at the top to do just that. The second most important think is the make a deal with Iran about it, since they're the only ones who could screw it up. The modalities of getting our troops out quickly and safely is small potatoes once the first two are taken care of.

Anonymous said...

Iraq? I am seeing a breakdown of issues weekly. what about Obama's lack of support for gun control in Washington DC, his shameful appearance before AIPAC which was pandering of the first order...or a turnabout in what he said would be a balanced view of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. and then, to me most shocking was his support to enlarging the death penalty to include child rapists. This is not the man I have contributed to, spoken in behalf of and supported with deep conviction. This is an...Old Time Politician.
It is heartbreaking.

Carl Davidson said...

I'll agree with you on AIPAC, Judith, but I don't see much new in the other things you mention. And the AIPAC performance didn't do him any good, either. The Likkud crowd still see him as the main danger. As we said at the beginning of this project, he's a candidate speaking to and from the center, and its our task to independently organize a progressive pole in a broader alliance vs the right. There's still a world of difference between him and McCain, so let's keep focused.

Anonymous said...

The strongest move Progressives could make is to require a roll-call vote on Progressive planks and the Nomination in Denver.

The old saying about marriage applies to politicians' thinking as well..."Why buy the cow when you can get the milk (vote) for free?"

Carl Davidson said...

I'll pass on your first suggestion, except to note that it assumes we are mostly agreed on what 'progressive' might be in that context. Our main focus will be the antiwar plank.

But I'll disagree on your last point. When the key to victory requires expanding the electorate, all factors that shrink it, including new voters feeling it really isn't worthwhile to them, means there's no 'free milk' and everything matters.

Anonymous said...

What is the war on terrorism at this point? It is the USA wanting control over the Middle East at whatever costin $$ and lives to the American People... or the loss of lives and distruction of these countries Iraq, Afganistan,Pakistan or any other country that does not agree with the USA! The American battle cry lets kill them all and call them terrorist!!! How many more people have to die? How many of our young men and women have to come back in body bags? Why do we only put value on american lives but say we are freeing the people of other countries while we mass murder so many innocent to kill the BAD guy? Oh yeah in war there is collateral damage in war (PLEASE!)
When does it end?

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