"We nonviolently oppose the reliance on unilateral military actions rather than cooperative diplomacy."


November 20, 2008

Barack Obama won the nomination of the Democratic Party in large part because of the support of antiwar voters. Obama was against the Iraq war from the beginning, and spoke out against the war at antiwar rallies while Sen. Hillary Clinton was backing the drive to invade Iraq and gave support to the Bush administration's false claims about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and ties to al-Qaeda. Obama addressed the issue of his lack of experience by asserting his better judgment. In July 2007, for example, he reportedly told a closed-door off-the-record meeting of media and corporate leaders at the Time Warner Center in New York: "One thing I'm very confident about is my judgment in foreign policy [which] is, I believe, better than any other candidate in this race, Republican or Democrat."

Since winning the nomination, however, this better judgment has been hard to detect. Obama has certainly not shown much interest in showing support for antiwar positions. He chose Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware as his running mate, despite Biden's October 2002 vote in favor of the Iraq War Resolution, and despite Biden's continued disingenuous defense of that judgment. (On Apr. 29, 2007, he told Tim Russert on "Meet the Press" that "I was correct about" the U.S.'s having "no choice but to eliminate the threat" of Saddam Hussein.)

During the campaign Obama continued to promise to "end this war," but also promised, in the words of his campaign document entitled "A 21st Century Military for America," to "rebuild our armed forces" and to "increase the size of the Army by 65,000 troops and the Marines by 27,000 troops." Obama promises to "deploy at least an additional two brigades (7,000 personnel) of rested, trained American troops to Afghanistan to reinforce our counter-terrorism operations and support NATO's efforts to fight the Taliban," to strike "high value terrorist targets" in Pakistan "if the United States has actionable intelligence" and the Pakistani government "will not act on it," and to "ensure that our military becomes more stealthy, agile, and lethal in its ability to capture or kill terrorists" ("Barack Obama: The War We Need to Win"). He endorsed the War on Terror as "the war that has to be won," and identified Afghanistan and Pakistan as "the right battlefield."

Since winning the presidential election, Barack Obama has continued to "drift from the antiwar moorings of his once-longshot presidential candidacy," the Los Angeles Times reports today. "Obama has eased the rigid timetable he had set for withdrawing troops from Iraq, and he appears to be leaning toward the center in his candidates to fill key national security posts," writes Paul Richter. "The president-elect has told some Democrats that he expects to take heat from parts of his political base but will not be deterred by it."

"What can Barack Obama be thinking?" asked Ray McGovern yesterday, in a long Consortium News piece bemoaning reports that Obama is contemplating keeping Robert Gates as secretary of defense. At Antiwar.com, Justin Raimondo has concluded that under Obama "our foreign policy is going to remain pretty much the same." Raimondo speculates that Obama, who seems at heart to be more interested in domestic issues than in foreign policy, may have decided that the best way to focus on the overwhelming fiscal and economic crises that face global capitalism and their domestic ramifications for the United States is to "hand foreign policy over to the Clintons." There would be "horrific consequences as far as the peace movement is concerned."

At United for Peace of Pierce County, we cannot pretend to be very surprised. We're as admiring and impressed as anyone at Barack Obama's political and intellectual gifts, and continue to be moved by the proof of historic social progress that his election on November 4, 2008, undeniably represents. In many important respects, Obama's election demonstrates that some of the fibers of progressive American values we hold dear have strengthened the fabric of American life. In particular, the ability of Obama and his campaign to withstand ugly, sectarian, often racist attacks while remaining true to a vision of rational and respectful political discourse deserves admiration and support.

But we lost any illusions about Barack Obama being an antiwar leader two years ago, when UFPPC's Monday-night book discussion conducted a study circle entitled "Barack Obama and the Legacy of Martin Luther King Jr." We read Obama's two books, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance (1995) and The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream (2006). It was clear from the ambiguous formulations to be found in, especially, The Audacity of Hope, that Sen. Obama had decided to proceed only part of the way down the road toward the "radical revolution of values" that Martin Luther King Jr. called for in his "Beyond Vietnam" speech. The United States needed such a revolution then, and we need it even more now. "We must rapidly begin the shift from a 'thing-oriented' society to a 'person-oriented' society," King said on April 4, 1967. "When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered." As president, Obama has an unparalleled opportunity to address this need. We fear, though, that we'll never hear him say as president the words "militarism" or "military-industrial complex."

Speaking yesterday to Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!, Cornel West expressed his view of what approach antiwar activists and others in the movement for a radical revolution of values should take. "Well, we use, in many ways, [Barack Obama's] own words. He says that he wants the bottoms up. That's fine. We organize, we mobilize. We don't look simply for a top down. The Clintonites have often been top down. It's the bottom up. We organize. We mobilize. We consolidate our organizations. And in the end, of course, we may have to take to the streets. That’s how people’s power is expressed. But it's expressed in a critical and, for me, in a loving way. I do still support Brother Barack Obama gaining access to the White House, because he was the best that America could do at this particular moment in the midst of imperial occupation in Iraq, war in Afghanistan, financial Katrina, legacy of Katrina in New Orleans, wealth inequality, dilapidated housing in chocolate cities, disgraceful school systems, unacceptable levels of unemployment and underemployment, not enough access to healthcare for fellow citizens across race and region, not enough access to childcare. At this moment, the best America could do was Brother Barack Obama—liberal, centrist. Will he govern like a progressive Lincoln? Will he triangulate like Clinton? Will he be an experimentalist like FDR? Those are the challenges. I hope he's a progressive Lincoln. I plan to be—aspire to be [part of] the Frederick Douglasses against, to put pressure on him."

Those who support peace can take comfort in his election, because the alternative was appalling. And we still have the audacity to hope that Barack Obama will fulfill antiwar voters' trust in his "better judgment."


"We nonviolently oppose the reliance on unilateral military actions rather than cooperative diplomacy."