Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Antiwar Opportunists

Political bumper-stickers are funny things.

Drivers who adorn their vehicles with numerous stickers can sometimes inadvertently convey contradictory messages. For example, I often see cars with peace symbol stickers or phrases like, "Don't Attack Iran!" next to one for "Obama/Bidden, '12." I shake my head and wonder if the driver is aware the former sentiment is essentially cancelled out by the latter.

Point being, President Barack Obama is not a peace president. In fact, as I have detailed many times on this blog, he has been more of a military hawk than George W. Bush--who once bragged to the late Tim Russert that, "I'm a war president."

The U.S.'s overall military-spending as well as our troops' global presence have increased dramatically under Obama. We currently maintain military personnel in Afghanistan and Iraq (yes, we are still in Iraq), along with daily drone bombings in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. And Obama has all but codified the Bush administration's criminal policy of "preemptive" war under the interminable "War on Terror."

Yet try to point any of this out to a room full of liberal Obama supporters, and you will be greeted as though you are from Mars. The fact that Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize in the fall of 2009--while he was currently planning his escalation of the Afghanistan War, now the longest military conflict in U.S. history--has only further cemented liberals' conception of Obama-as-peacemaker.

But go back and listen to Obama's Nobel acceptance speech. The president used the occasion to invoke the nonviolent actions of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., only to then summarily dismiss their antiwar views as naively unsuitable for "the world as it is" today. ("Negotiations cannot convince al-Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms," he claims, despite the fact that the U.S., under both Bush and Obama, has rejected al-Qaeda's every offer for peaceful negotiations.)

What is that quote again about truth being the first casualty of war...?

The biggest misconception about liberals is that they are ideologically opposed to war whenever it can be avoided. They are not.

Liberals only express antiwar sentiment when it is a Republican president that is advocating the war. When the man in the White House is a Democrat liberals have no problem dutifully falling in line to "support the troops." This is why the antiwar movement has essentially shutdown under Obama.

Case in point, hundreds of thousands of liberal Americans protested Bush's invasion of Iraq in 2003. Indeed, these were some of the largest antiwar demonstrations in history and they were not relegated to the United States. Yet there have been no comparable protests against Obama's continuation of the very same war or the conflict in Afghanistan (which Obama campaigned on expanding as a candidate in 2008). And there has been even less discussion--never mind critique--of Obama's covert "dirty wars" in Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia.

Medea Benjamin, co-founder of the antiwar women's group, Code Pink, describes her firsthand account of the antiwar movement's evaporation even before Obama was elected president in a recent interview on the online Real News Network ("Media Benjamin on 'Reality Asserts Itself'," 04/16/2014).

"What happened to that [antiwar] upsurge?" RNN host, Paul Jay asks Benjamin.

"Well, you said it," she replies. "It's a one word answer: Obama."

"We had a huge movement," Benjamin continues.

You just look at one group like Code Pink: We came out of nowhere, and suddenly we had over 300,000 people on our mailing list. And we had over 300 groups around the country and, really, around the world... When Obama started to gain steam as a candidate, those started fizzling out. And when he won the election we had half the numbers of people we had before on our mailing list. And most of the groups started to disintegrate.  

The antiwar movement, in other words, is the victim of simple partisanship.

This is precisely the conclusion reached by researchers at the University of Michigan and Indiana University in a Sept. 2013 study. The researchers surveyed 5,300 antiwar protesters from 2007-2009 and found that the majority of protesters who identify themselves as Democrats, "withdrew from anti-war protests when the Democratic Party achieved electoral success" in the 2008 presidential election ("What Happened to the Anti-War Movement?", Truthdig.com, 09/05/2013).

Summing up the researchers' findings, reporter David Sirota writes, "...during the Bush years, many Democrats were not necessarily motivated to participate in the anti-war movement because they oppose militarism and war--they were instead 'motivated to participate by anti-Republican sentiments'."

The fact is mainstream liberals have never been the knee-jerk pacifists Fox News makes them out to be. Historically, liberals have a long tradition of supporting military intervention--especially when it is the name of "humanitarianism." (See: Bosnia, Kosovo, the Gulf War, Iraq War I--hell, even World War II was fought for "humanitarian" reasons. And yes, it is perfectly legitimate to question the justifications for the United States' involvement in "The Good War.") Indeed, this liberal thirst for interventionism dates back to WWI, during which a Democrat--Woodrow Wilson--was president.

As if further evidence of liberals' penchant for war, a recent cover story in that bastion of elite liberal opinion, the New York Times, illustrates recent military recruits' frustration--even disappointment--over the lack of any current major (declared) military conflict in which to build their careers on ("In New Officers' Careers, Peace is No Dividend," 04/14/14). "[F]or the [West Point Academy] class of about 1,100 cadets," the article laments, "there may be few, if any, coveted combat patches on their uniforms to show that they have gone to war.

Reinforcing the mythic national narrative of war as a glorious, noble pursuit where boys become brave men of valor and courage and similar nonsense, the Times' story continues, "Many of them may not get the opportunity to one day recall stories of heroism in battle, or even the ordinary daily sacrifices--bad food, loneliness, fear--that bind soldiers together in shared combat experience."

Then again, what should one expect from one of the leading publications that successfully sold readers the lies and deceptions that launched the Iraq war?

(Ironically, all of the young soldiers interviewed for the story express a desire to transfer to the Special Operations forces, the elite mercenary unit primarily involved in the U.S.'s covert missions in Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan, and Ethiopia. The military careerists claim that is where "the real action is.")

It is the Left--the radicals, anarchists, socialists, and communists--not liberals, that have consistently been the staunchest opponents of war.

The outspoken Socialist leader and perennial presidential candidate, Eugene Debs, was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 1918 under the Espionage Act for passionately denouncing World War I. "Wars throughout history have been waged for conquest and plunder," Debs spoke to a massive crowd in Canton, Ohio. ".... And that is war in a nutshell. The master class has always declared the wars. The subject class has always fought the battles..."

Yet contemporary liberals have little connection, both to the history of this nation's radical left-wing movement, and to the socialist ideals many of its members like Debs advocated. The truth is, liberals tend to support empire (they call it "neoliberalism"), which is inextricably linked to capitalism. Liberal acolytes like Katrina vanden Heuvel, Van Jones, Todd Gitlin, and Rachel Maddow may correctly decry capitalism's excesses or foibles from time to time. But by definition, liberals are only interested in reforming the system. Radicals want to overthrow it.

As a result, liberals are not necessarily opposed to war as a means of foreign policy. Like Obama, they are merely opposed to "dumb wars," as he famously referred to the war in Iraq. And this is why the antiwar movement has atrophied under Obama. Liberals do not want to challenge war and mass killing when it is "their guy" in the White House.

Glenn Greenwald is right: Obama is not the "lesser evil." He is the "more effective evil."

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