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Barack Obama and the Winds of War


Barack Obama is a windblown politician. The junior Illinois senator avoids anchoring himself to any principle, lest his political sails fail to catch the slightest breeze blowing from the left or the right. His political direction is always tentative, although his ultimate destination is never in doubt: he will be a formidable national presence–maybe even president.

But Barack Obama–who has never claimed to be a Black leader–is in fact not a leader at all. Nowhere is this more evident than in the most critical issue facing Americans and the world at this dangerous juncture in history: the war in Iraq.

One year after his bland and idea-less speech on Iraq to the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations (see "Obama Mouths Mush on War," December 1, 2005), Obama returned to mush more of the same to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. The U.S. should "begin to move towards a phased redeployment of American troops from Iraqi soil," he told the business-oriented crowd. Since the objective reality on the ground in Iraq and in U.S. public opinion had changed dramatically in the intervening year–resulting in Democratic capture of the House and Senate–Obama’s failure to substantively revise his previous, timid prescriptions actually amounts to a turn to the right.

As the 2008 campaign begins, Obama instinctively positions himself even closer to the right wing of the party. His finger is in the wind, as always, but not the popular national or Democratic rank and file winds. Rather, Obama’s game is to maneuver himself deep into the foggy Iraq policy realm inhabited by the gaggle of Democratic "front-runners"–a muck from which nothing ever emerges of any relevance to Iraqi or world realities. On that soggy playing field, the Senator is betting that his personal popularity and charisma will propel him towards his goal–whether that be the presidential or vice-presidential nomination, or simply to solidify his position as a major power broker.

Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold dropped out of the race this month, the only presidential hopeful to call for a firm timetable for the bulk of U.S. troops to actually leave Iraq by July, 2007, rather than a schedule to begin withdrawal at some point months in the future–Obama’s position. With no one to Obama’s left, he feels free to repeat the platitudes offered by the rest of the Democratic presidential field.

Obama’s focus on gamesmanship rather than principled leadership, which became strikingly evident well before he won election to the U.S. Senate, in 2004, has rendered him virtually useless in the struggle to end the occupation and war in Iraq, or to prevent further U.S. aggressions in the future. Both his Chicago speeches testify to that sad fact.

Obama in Wonderland

In contrast to Sen. Feingold’s proposal that U.S. troops "redeploy from Iraq" by mid-summer, and Congressman Jack Murtha’s proposal that Washington "immediately redeploy U.S. troops consistent with the safety of U.S. forces," Sen. Obama calls for "a phased redeployment of U.S. troops from Iraq on a timetable that would begin in four to six months. Such a timetable may not need to begin in 2007, but begin it must."

That’s essentially the same kind of mush Obama served the Chicago Council on Foreign relations in 2005, when he said: "The strategic goals should be to allow for a limited drawdown of U.S. troops, coupled with shift to a more effective counter-insurgency strategy that puts the Iraqi security forces in the lead and intensifies our efforts to train Iraqi forces."

This time around, Obama again puts forward a faux withdrawal plan full of holes big enough to drive a convoy of Bradley Fighting Vehicles through. "The President should announce to the Iraqi people that our policy will include a gradual and substantial reduction in U.S. forces," said the senator. "He should then work with our military commanders to map out the best plan for such a redeployment and determine precise levels and dates. I am not suggesting that this timetable be overly-rigid."

Oh, heavens no! Let’s not be too "rigid" with a president who has vowed the U.S. will not leave Iraq while he remains in office.

Obama’s so-called withdrawal strategy is full of gaping loopholes. "The redeployment could be temporarily suspended if the parties in Iraq reach an effective political arrangement that stabilizes the situation and they offer us a clear and compelling rationale for maintaining certain troop levels."

There is no When, How or How Many in Obama’s amorphous vision–but he keeps on talking, anyway: "As a phased redeployment is executed, the majority of the U.S. troops remaining in Iraq should be dedicated to the critical, but less visible roles, of protecting logistics supply points, critical infrastructure, and American enclaves like the Green Zone."

Ah, that Green Zone, the vast fortress in the heart of Baghdad where the U.S. is building the largest embassy by far in the world. Leaving the Green Zone in U.S. military hands would be like a foreign occupier "withdrawing" from New York City while retaining fortifications stretching across all of mid-town Manhattan.

The fantasy continues: "Drawing down our troops in Iraq will allow us to redeploy additional troops to Northern Iraq and elsewhere in the region as an over-the-horizon force."

Yes, sort of like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, Obama wants some U.S. troops, but not all, to go somewhere over the horizon. But the horizon he’s talking about is Kurdish turf, protected by 60,000 battle-hardened Pesh Merga fighters who have already secured the territory’s virtual independence and, at last word, have not requested that their region be occupied. Given the habitual conduct of U.S. troops, a redeployment to Kurdish Iraq would likely alienate the only major Iraqi group that is not yet actively hostile to the Americans. The Kurds constantly threaten to seize for themselves the oil fields at Kirkuk–a move that would almost certainly provoke war with both Sunnis and Shia. If, as he claims, Obama doesn’t want U.S. troops caught in a crossfire, he’s got a strange way of avoiding it.

Contradictions abound in the ephemeral formula Obama shares with most of the Democratic presidential field. The senator donned his Uncle Sam top hat to scold the Iraqi parties/militias, demanding that they provide the U.S. with a "political solution" to the chaos ushered in by the invading Americans:

"To reach such a solution, we must communicate clearly and effectively to the factions in Iraq that the days of asking, urging, and waiting for them to take control of their own country are coming to an end. No more coddling, no more equivocation. Our best hope for success is to use the tools we have–military, financial, diplomatic–to pressure the Iraqi leadership to finally come to a political agreement between the warring factions that can create some sense of stability in the country and bring this conflict under control."

No more "coddling"? Here, Obama reveals himself as just another imperialist, oblivious to his own nation’s crimes and incapable of internalizing the concept of self-determination and sovereignty of weaker nations. The U.S. has "coddled" 600,000 Iraqis to death–not counting those who previously perished during decade-long sanctions. The Americans methodically destroyed the Iraqi state, and now wonder why the militia/parties can’t put it back together again. The Americans drove most Iraqis to hate them, yet remain persuaded that they retain the moral authority to scold one part of the nation, their "allies," while "extinguishing" (Obama’s word) another part, the resistance.

The Roman, Tacitus wrote in his Annals: "[T]he legions create a wasteland and call it a peace."

A number of modern writers have quoted Tacitus, with the Americans standing in for the Roman legions: "They create a wasteland and call it Democracy."

Barack Obama, surveying the wasteland and finding no peace and no Democracy, refuses to blame the Americans, but instead claims the U.S. is "coddling" Iraqis. He admits "polls show that almost two-thirds of all Iraqis now sympathize with attacks on American soldiers"–an amazing figure, since the Kurdish region of Iraq is relatively untouched by the war and occupation, and Sunnis make up only about 20 percent of the population. Apparently, a huge chunk of the Shia majority, the group the Americans thought would be their natural allies, would just as soon see them dead.

In such a situation, the word "coddling" seems wildly out of place. But delusions run deep in the American political culture, undermining the faculties of even the most popular Black man in America.

Obama did succeed in putting distance between himself and presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton, in Chicago. "[W]hile some have proposed escalating this war by adding thousands of more troops, there is little reason to believe that this will achieve [U.S. objectives] either"–a clear reference to the New York senator.

The truth is, Obama’s speech is relevant only to U.S. domestic politicking, and has no bearing on events as they unfold on the ground in Iraq. Sen. Clinton postures as a hawk to prove to war-lusting white men that she has balls. Sen. Obama continues on his lifelong quest to demonstrate that he is a reasonable, thoughtful Black man–unlike the others. This is theater for American audiences only, and has nothing to do with statesmanship, or the search for peace.

Just two weeks before Obama delivered his pablum-filled speech, his constituents across the Illinois voted overwhelmingly to stop the war and "immediately begin an orderly and rapid withdrawal." In Chicago, the ballot measure passed by a whopping 80-to-20 percent. Similar results were tallied in suburban Cook County, Evanston and Oak Park–wherever the measure was on the ballot.

The voters, from both political parties, are way ahead of Obama and his fellow senatorial shufflers. Nationwide, more than 70 percent of Democrats–the people who nominate the party’s presidential candidates–favor an immediate withdrawal from Iraq. To lead, Obama would have to run to catch up.

There is a political solution to the American war in Iraq, although not the one Obama and his corporatist friends are willing to accept. Get out. Now.

GLEN FORD is executive editor of the newly launched website The Black Agenda Reprt. He can be reached at Glen.Ford (at) BlackAgendaReport.com. Be sure to substitute @ for (at).


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