FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Illinois Anti-Warriors and the Attractive Senator

by CARL G. ESTABROOK

“…Yes, this protest march was like many we’ve seen over the years. First came the traditional running of the liberals [shot of what is probably the lead marchers running down the street], followed by the ritual display of somewhat eccentric signage like this one: CENTRAL ILLINOIS SAYS NO TO WAR — reflecting the political wisdom that as goes Effingham, so go Altamont and Beecher City…”

–Jon Stewart, The Daily Show, September 27, 2005

Actually, Stewart’s got it quite wrong: the sign was from Urbana, not Effingham, which is some eighty miles south of Urbana along Illinois’ Interstate 57… LeMonde captured Urbana’s presence in the September 24 Washington peace demonstration somewhat more accurately: in an editorial, LeMonde wrote,

“Cody Bralts is only 13 years old. He came from Urbana (Illinois) with his mother. He has been a militant for two years in pacifist groups, and he is ‘against everything that this government does.'”

Both the makers of the sign and young Mr. Bralts were associated with a local peace group, of which I am also a member, AWARE — “Anti-War, Anti-Racism Effort.” The group was formed in Champaign-Urbana shortly after 9/11. Home of the main campus of the University of Illinois (with about 40,000 students during term-time), Champaign (pop. 68,000) and Urbana (pop. 38,000) form one population center amidst the corn, soybeans and major agribusiness interests (such as Archer Daniels Midland) of central Illinois. AWARE has contained students and faculty, but most of its members are permanent residents of the two towns.

With a fluid membership and a minimum of formal organization, AWARE has organized anti-war activities, including forums and demonstrations, for almost four years. But an August visit by Illinois’ new junior senator, Barack Obama, produced a rift in the organization that reveals among other things the danger of co-option of the anti-war movement by soi-disant progressives like Obama.

Senator Obama’s “town meeting” (a well-controlled PR exercise) was an apparent triumph. An editor of the right-wing local newspaper, The Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette, wrote, “It was a virtual love-in Thursday at the Illinois Terminal in Champaign when Democratic U.S. Sen. Barack Obama stopped by to answer questions at a town meeting. Even the anti-war protestors, who criticized Obama for not arranging the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq after a mere eight months in office, were deferential.”

The student newspaper, The Daily Illini, described AWARE’s activities: “Anti-war protesters met Obama in the Illinois Terminal parking lot with posters critical of the senator’s reluctance to endorse an immediate pullout. After a short exchange of words with Obama, the protesters followed him all the way to the fourth floor ballroom of the terminal. As Obama delivered his opening statement from the podium, a member of the Anti-War/Anti-Racism Effort walked the aisles passing out the group’s literature. Obama attempted to align himself with the protesters’ sentiments while defending his cautiousness toward a pullout.”

In fact, the senator took just one (gentle) question on the war, and never mentioned torture, Iran, the Downing Street minutes, Israel, impeachment, imprisonment without trial by the US government, etc. (Asked about that by a member of AWARE after the rally, Obama replied, “Other people have the right to ask questions, too.”) What he did say about the war was even more disturbing — that he hoped US troops “could begin to leave Iraq next year, [but] removing the troops now would result in a massive bloodbath for both countries.”

That is, of course, almost identical with the administration’s position, and it ignores the fact that a majority of the Iraqis want the U.S. out now, understandably enough, because the “massive bloodbath” is already occurring. It contrasts sharply with the view expressed so clearly this summer by Cindy Sheehan, who points out that one is either for the ending of the war and the withdrawal of the U.S. from Iraq, or for its continuance.

But to a largely sympathetic audience in August, Obama pled his poor power to add or detract from the blood-letting: he was, after all, only “99th in seniority” in the Senate. “I am not the president — yet,” he said — “prompting loud cheers,” according to the student newspaper.

There was a vein of smug self-satisfaction in Obama’s casual talk, as there was in his keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic convention. When asked about John Rogers’ nomination to the Supreme Court, he replied with a smile, “Well, I know he went to a good law school.” (Obama and Rogers were both at Harvard Law.) In an article for Time magazine about another Illinois politician, he had earned some condign ridicule by writing, “In Lincoln’s rise from poverty, his ultimate mastery of language and law, his capacity to overcome personal loss and remain determined in the face of repeated defeat — in all this, he reminded me not just of my own struggles.”

But it’s Obama’s role as a liberal enabler of the war that most disquieted members of AWARE. He is cooperating in the critical support that the Democratic party has given to the war and to U.S. government policy in the Greater Middle East — a policy that has killed tens of thousands of people during this administration and may yet have even more catastrophic results. Leading Democrats are now to the right of the Bush administration in calling for an expansion of the U.S. military.

Obama was celebrated as a progressive figure when Illinois voters elected him to the Senate, against token Republican opposition. (He also had an unfunded independent opponent who supported both withdrawal from Iraq and universal health care, positions that Obama rejected.) But his performance belies that description:

–The day before his convention speech, Obama told reporters, “There’s not that much difference between my position and George Bush’s position at this stage. The difference, in my mind, is who’s in a position to execute.” In the speech Obama criticized Bush for invading Iraq “without enough troops to win the war, secure the peace, and earn the respect of the world” — which remains the general Democratic party position.

–Obama voted twice (once in committee and once on the Senate floor) to confirm Condoleezza Rice, the National Security Adviser during the invasion of Iraq, as Secretary of State. (His senior colleague, Richard Durbin, along with thirteen other Democrats, managed to vote no.)

–Like all but six of the Senate Democrats, Obama quite rightly voted against the confirmation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, the promoter of the torture policy and the Patriot Act, but he said he did so “At a time when we are fighting for freedom in places like Iraq and Afghanistan … the seeds of democracy began to take root in Iraq … we are engaged in a deadly global struggle with those who would intimidate, torture, and murder people for exercising the most basic freedoms…” In short, he echoed the administration’s account of the war.

–When Illinois’ senior senator, Richard Durbin, timorously raised the question of the administration’s torture policy on the floor of the Senate, Obama failed to support him. Instead, he rather timidly observed, after Durbin’s tearful apology for doing such a thing, “…he should have said what he said somewhat differently.”

–This summer Obama said, “It is a challenge now to try to fix the mess that has been made by this administration. There aren’t any easy answers. It would be irresponsible to just spout off without having thought through what all the alternatives — and implications of those alternatives

— might be … I believe the president must take a realistic look at our current strategy and reshape it into an *aggressive and workable plan that will ensure success in Iraq*” [emphasis added].

–Perhaps most disturbingly for the future, during his senatorial campaign Obama supported the possibility of a pre-emptive attack on Iran. On 25 September 2004, the Chicago Tribune wrote, “…the United States should not rule out military strikes to destroy nuclear production sites in Iran, Obama said … ‘having a radical Muslim theocracy in possession of nuclear weapons is worse [than] us launching some missile strikes into Iran…’ he said.”

Obama is reported to have said in another town meeting that same week that the U.S. shouldn’t maintain permanent bases in Iraq -­ but then John Kerry said the same thing during the presidential campaign, and both senators oppose U.S withdrawal now.

In spite of this record, there seemed to be a notable hesitation on the part of some members of AWARE to call Obama on his support for the war. Prompted by the complaints of one black Democrat after the town meeting, several members decided that leafleting Obama’s rally had been “rude” and that the leaflet “demonized” him. They took the uncomfortable position that AWARE needed to treat black politicians differently from white politicians.

With respect for my colleagues in AWARE, that’s nonsense — it’s patronizing or hypocritical, if not racist. A senator in favor of continuing the war, as Obama is, has blood on his hands, whether he’s black or white, from voting for continued appropriations and confirmation of the executives who make war. Anti-warriors who fail to say so because of the senator’s race find themselves covertly supporting the war.

C. G. Estabrook is a visiting scholar at the University of Illinois, U-C. He can be reached at galliher@uiuc.edu.

An earlier version of this article appeared in the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette. Thanks to several members of AWARE for help in its preparation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

CLARIFICATION

ALEXANDER COCKBURN, JEFFREY ST CLAIR, BECKY GRANT AND THE INSTITUTE FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF JOURNALISTIC CLARITY, COUNTERPUNCH

We published an article entitled “A Saudiless Arabia” by Wayne Madsen dated October 22, 2002 (the “Article”), on the website of the Institute for the Advancement of Journalistic Clarity, CounterPunch, www.counterpunch.org (the “Website”).

Although it was not our intention, counsel for Mohammed Hussein Al Amoudi has advised us the Article suggests, or could be read as suggesting, that Mr Al Amoudi has funded, supported, or is in some way associated with, the terrorist activities of Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda terrorist network.

We do not have any evidence connecting Mr Al Amoudi with terrorism.

As a result of an exchange of communications with Mr Al Amoudi’s lawyers, we have removed the Article from the Website.

We are pleased to clarify the position.

August 17, 2005

 

C. G. Estabrook conducts “News from Neptune” on Urbana (IL) Public Television.  He can be reached at carl@newsfromneptune.com.

February 08, 2016
Paul Craig Roberts – Michael Hudson
Privatization: the Atlanticist Tactic to Attack Russia
Mumia Abu-Jamal
Water War Against the Poor: Flint and the Crimes of Capital
John V. Walsh
Did Hillary’s Machine Rig Iowa? The Highly Improbable Iowa Coin Tosses
Vincent Emanuele
The Curse and Failure of Identity Politics
Eliza A. Webb
Hillary Clinton’s Populist Charade
Uri Avnery
Optimism of the Will
Roy Eidelson Trudy Bond, Stephen Soldz, Steven Reisner, Jean Maria Arrigo, Brad Olson, and Bryant Welch
Preserve Do-No-Harm for Military Psychologists: Coalition Responds to Department of Defense Letter to the APA
Patrick Cockburn
Oil Prices and ISIS Ruin Kurdish Dreams of Riches
Binoy Kampmark
Julian Assange, the UN and Meanings of Arbitrary Detention
Shamus Cooke
The Labor Movement’s Pearl Harbor Moment
W. T. Whitney
Cuba, War and Ana Belen Montes
Jim Goodman
Congress Must Kill the Trans Pacific Partnership
Peter White
Meeting John Ross
Colin Todhunter
Organic Agriculture, Capitalism and the Parallel World of the Pro-GMO Evangelist
Ralph Nader
They’re Just Not Answering!
Cesar Chelala
Beware of the Harm on Eyes Digital Devices Can Cause
Weekend Edition
February 5-7, 2016
Jeffrey St. Clair
When Chivalry Fails: St. Bernard and the Machine
Leonard Peltier
My 40 Years in Prison
John Pilger
Freeing Julian Assange: the Final Chapter
Garry Leech
Terrifying Ted and His Ultra-Conservative Vision for America
Andrew Levine
Smash Clintonism: Why Democrats, Not Republicans, are the Problem
William Blum
Is Bernie Sanders a “Socialist”?
Daniel Raventós - Julie Wark
We Can’t Afford These Billionaires
Enrique C. Ochoa
Super Bowl 50: American Inequality on Display
Jonathan Cook
The Liberal Hounding of Julian Assange: From Alex Gibney to The Guardian
George Wuerthner
How the Bundy Gang Won
Mike Whitney
Peace Talks “Paused” After Putin’s Triumph in Aleppo 
Ted Rall
Hillary Clinton: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Gary Leupp
Is a “Socialist” Really Unelectable? The Potential Significance of the Sanders Campaign
Vijay Prashad
The Fault Line of Race in America
Eoin Higgins
Please Clap: the Jeb Bush Campaign Pre-Mortem
Joseph Mangano – Janette D. Sherman
The Invisible Epidemic: Radiation and Rising Rates of Thyroid Cancer
Andre Vltchek
Europe is Built on Corpses and Plunder
Jack Smith
Obama Readies to Fight in Libya, Again
Robert Fantina
As Goes Iowa, So Goes the Nation?
Dean Baker
Market Turmoil, the Fed and the Presidential Election
John Grant
Israel Moves to Check Its Artists
John Wight
Who Was Cecil Rhodes?
David Macaray
Will There Ever Be Anyone Better Than Bernie Sanders?
Christopher Brauchli
Suffer Little Children: From Brazil to Flint
JP Sottile
Did Fox News Help the GOP Establishment Get Its Groove Back?
Binoy Kampmark
Legalizing Cruelties: the Australian High Court and Indefinite Offshore Detention
John Feffer
Wrestling With Iran
Rob Prince – Ibrahim Kazerooni
Syria Again
Louisa Willcox
Park Service Finally Stands Up for Grizzlies and Us
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail