President Peacenik’s War

Word leaked out last weekend that our Nobel Peacenik President is close to announcing plans to escalate the US troop level in the Afghanistan War by 50%, we appear to be about to have perhaps the ultimate of ironies—a president announcing a big step-up in American war-making near the 90th anniversary of the the day established in much of the Western world as Armistice or Remembrance Day.

While modern Americans might not know it, amid all the boom and bombast and mindless flag-waving featured in the military parades popular in today’s warrior culture, November 11 was originally established by Congress one year after the day the guns of World War I finally went silent over the blood-drenched fields of Europe in what was once, in a naïve spasm of optimism, referred to as the War to End All Wars. In declaring the national holiday Armistice Day, Congress said it was to be “a day dedicated to the cause of world peace.” (The day’s name was changed to Veterans’ Day in 1954 by President Dwight Eisenhower, to honor veterans of all America’s many wars.)

It’s hard to see how President Obama, who has yet to actually receive his Nobel Prize as a “peacemaker” from Norway’s King Harald, is contributing to peace with the addition of another 34,000 US soldiers and Marines to the 68,000 already fighting, killing and dying on Afghan soil. Maybe he thinks holding this escalation to 102,000 instead of accommodating Afghanistan Theater Commander Gen. Stanley McCrystal’s request for 80,000 more troops for a total of 148,000 is an act of pacificistic moderation.

I doubt it. (Incidentally, some Pentagon and White House flaks are referring to this likely escalation as another “surge,” but you can’t call a 50% increase in troop commitments a “surge.” It is what it is—a massive expansion of the current war effort.)

No, sadly, Obama, who has declared the bloody assault on one of the world’s most remote and impoverished lands to be a “necessary war,” seems stubbornly and ignorantly and foolishly to be trying to emulate the mistakes of an earlier Democratic president, Lyndon Baines Johnson, who turned a minor conflict in Vietnam into the biggest war, and biggest disaster, that the US has engaged in since World War II.

Of course, the difference between the two men, Johnson and Obama, is still enormous. While Obama may be just as bone-headed as was Johnson in caving to the will of his generals instead of leading them, he doesn’t hold a candle to Johnson when it comes to leading the charge for progressive domestic legislation. While Johnson was ginning up the war in Vietnam, he was simultaneously dragging the racist Democrats of the southern states kicking and screaming into the post-slavery world with passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1965, which for the first time enabled African Americans to actually participate in voting. He also rammed through Congress a truly innovative single-payer health program—Medicare–to provide health care for all Americans once they reached 65, or became disabled, as well as a second program–Medicaid–to care for the poor.

Against these great accomplishments, Obama hasn’t even shown the resolve to end discrimination against gays and lesbians in the military—something he could do with a phone call to the Joint Chiefs! That is to say, while he’s willing to pointlessly, on the basis of some bizarre political calculus, put another 34,000 young Americans in harm’s way in Afghanistan, he’s not willing to ban discrimination against those of them who may not be suitably heterosexual.

Former Afghanistan theater dommander and now US ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry has reportedly sent a message to the president arguing against any troop increase, but the likelihood is still that Obama will go for at least a significant step-up in the US troop commitment and the level of fighting. The signs are grimly clear that this silver-tongued but politically gutless president is steering the country into yet another military disaster—one that has killed 200 young men and women under his command, but which could easily become as costly in blood and fortune as was Johnson’s Vietnam War four decades ago. Making matters worse is the fact that while the Vietnam War was fought at a time when America was at its height as an economic power, today this country is an economic basket case.

If the war is ramped up, I predict that it will not be long before protesters will be packing the Washington Mall and jamming the streets surrounding the White House shouting chants of “Hey, Obama, What Do You Say? How Many Kids Have You Killed Today?”(How’s he going to explain those shouts to his daughters, Sasha and Malia?)

The sheen has already warn off this latest huckster for American militarism and imperial adventure, and, with his increasingly blood-stained hands tied by the Pentagon and military quagmire, he has nothing to show domestically to earn him public support and affection. The man had a chance, ten months ago, to come into office and smash the criminal banking syndicate, to put Americans back to work with a serious jobs program, and to finally expand Medicare to all, bringing America into the modern world on health care. Instead he turned the financial system completely over to the banksters, helping them to grow even bigger, left the unemployed to fend for themselves, and fobbed off the job of health care “reform” on Congress, which predictably did the bidding of the Medical Establishment, and deep-sixed the whole thing.

It is, I would suggest, time for progressives to start searching for a serious, gutsy, plain-speaking candidate to challenge Obama for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in 2012. This man needs to have a new Gene McCarthy or George McGovern breathing down his neck for the next three years.

The 90th anniversary of Armistice Day would be a good day to launch that search.


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Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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