Code Yellow

The selling-out of the antiwar movement

by , October 09, 2009

Right on time  for the somber eighth anniversary of the Afghanistan war and occupation, Code Pink founder and primary spokeswoman Medea Benjamin has announced that her organization – which made so many headlines and newscasts protesting "Bush’s war" – is now "rethinking" their position on Afghanistan. A piece in the Christian Science Monitor, which Code Pink is now strenuously trying to spin, reports that the famous antiwar group is seriously amending their position after listening to the views of Afghan women. On a recent trip to Afghanistan, the leaders of Code Pink met Afghan women who opposed the idea of a US withdrawal, and this somehow forced them into a reevaluation of their views. As the Monitor reports: 

"When Medea Benjamin stood up in a Kabul meeting hall this weekend to ask Masooda Jalal if she would prefer more international troops or more development funds, the cofounder of US antiwar group Code Pink was hoping her fellow activist would support her call for US troop withdrawal.  

"She was disappointed. 

"Ms. Jalal, the former Afghan minister of women, bluntly told her both were needed. ‘It is good for Afghanistan to have more troops – more troops committed with the aim of building peace and against war, terrorism, and security – along with other resources,’ she answered. ‘Coming together they will help with better reconstruction.’" 

"Her fellow activist" – the "minister of women" of the US-supported regime of "President" Hamid Karzai? An official of a government whose brazen vote theft in the recent "election" was too much for even the American bureaucrat overseeing the fraudulent process to bear? This is Medea Benjamin’s "fellow activist"? One has to ask: which movement is the author of this article referring to? And of course the answer is: the women’s movement.  

The old-style anti-imperialism of the traditional liberal gives way all too easily to the newfangled identity politics of the post-Marxist left – especially when they’re often embodied in the same person.  

Why it seems like barely a month ago – indeed, it was just barely a month ago! —  that I heard Benjamin on Amy Goodman’s "Democracy Now!" program publicizing Code Pink’s latest project, a petition to set a timeline for the complete withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan: 

"Well, this is to mark the anniversary of that vote in Congress that authorized the use of force in Afghanistan, and it’s a petition that’s being spread by many groups throughout the United States, the antiwar community, members of the religious community, and it’s appeal to the White House, to Congress, to set a timetable for the withdrawal of troops. We feel … that this is the time for action."  

So where’s the action? Well, it seems that particular protest has been indefinitely postponed, as the Monitor reports: 

"The visit convinced them that setting a deadline isn’t in Afghanistan’s interests, say Ms. Benjamin and fellow cofounder Jodie Evans. We would leave with the same parameters of an exit strategy but we might perhaps be more flexible about a timeline,’ says Benjamin. ‘That’s where we have opened ourselves, being here, to some other possibilities. We have been feeling a sense of fear of the people of the return of the Taliban. So many people are saying that, ‘If the US troops left the country, would collapse. We’d go into civil war.’ A palpable sense of fear that is making us start to reconsider that.’" 

It’s just a coincidence that this amounts to an approximation of what will no doubt turn out to be the position of the Obama administration: he’s already ruled out getting out, and yet is unlikely to accede to the military’s request for 40,000 more troops. The President – and Code Pinko – wind up somewhere in the middle, with the latter a few micrometers to the "left" of the former.  

The right-wing of the blogosphere has been alight with embittered glee at this sudden about face by a prominent antiwar group: the headline of a blog post by Michael Moynihan on Reason’s "Hit and Run" – "It’s Different When Obama Does It, Part 35" – pretty much summed up the general sentiment. Not that Moynihan and the top editors at Reason said or did anything to protest Bush’s wars — back when they were popular, that is – but still: the transformation of Code Pink from a solid antiwar group into a gaggle of political whores is a sight that has the War Party guffawing. How soon before Medea’s calls to end the war morph into "win the war" – no doubt under the general rubric of an Afghan "war on poverty"? Scary stuff — and it isn’t even Halloween yet.  

I don’t mean to be abusive – well, then again, maybe I do – but, really, this kind of behavior is completely unacceptable, and all too predictable. I recall the first time I ran into Medea was at an antiwar rally early on in the Iraq conflict. She was within earshot as I told Alex Cockburn that I was curious how, since the platform was festooned with banners exhorting the workers of the world to unite, the organizers had somehow neglected to have a single American flag – perhaps the old "Don’t Tread on Me" revolutionary flag – on stage. Cockburn agreed with me, and said he had always been very pro-flag  Medea butted in, sneeringly declaring she wouldn’t want to see an American flag anywhere near the place.  

Our second run in was at a film showing at San Francisco’s trendy-wendy leftie theater, the Roxie, the premiere of "Hijacking Catastrophe: 9/11, Fear, and the Selling of American Empire," an excellent documentary that exposes the key role played by the neocons in fomenting the post-9/11 wilding of American foreign policy. Before we go to see the movie, however, the audience was "treated" to a dreary panel discussion and "cultural" presentation that sent me running for the doors, although I did catch Medea making her pitch for … John Kerry! Kerry’s support for the Iraq war, his endorsement of the whole panoply of military measures in "response" to 9/11 – all of this was reduced, in her view, to a few "deficiencies," although she never mentioned any specifics. What mattered to her was that we get "the Bush gang" out of office, and then we can build a movement to "pressure" President Kerry to pursue the path of righteousness and peace.  

A political whore isn’t "born again," as it were, on account of a single visit to Afghanistan and a talking to by the "minister of women" – this lady has been operating the political equivalent of a house of ill repute at least since 2004.  

This is all so tiresomely predictable that one can barely contemplate it without a sustained yawn: but of course the great bulk of the American left is going to walk away from its always somewhat tenuous commitment to anti-interventionism, now that one of their own is in the White House. Yes, there’s that sun, setting again – just like clockwork! It’s useless to complain about the rhythm of American politics, the seismic shifts that turn the landscape upside down every so often, so that right becomes left becomes right again. In the 1930s, the "right" was anti-interventionist, and the left wanted to go crusading: by the time we got to the 1950s, the sides had switched positions: the anti-Communist "right" was pro-war, and the liberal-left was less-interventionist. Today, with the Dear Leader at the head of a "progressive" coalition to expand the size and scope of government on every level, even the far "left" wing of Obama’s popular front, represented by Benjamin, is lining up behind Obama’s war.  

According to the Monitor, "Code Pink says it will continue to oppose sending more troops to Afghanistan … and advocate for more funding for aid and humanitarian projects instead." This is quite in line not only with the administration, but also with the Pentagon’s brand new "COIN" strategy. Cooked up in the bowels of the Rockefeller-funded Center for a New American Security (CNAS), as promulgated by the chief guru of the COIN crowd, John Nagl, a successful counterinsurgency must place US troops "among the people," and win them  over to our side. According to COIN doctrine, our goal is not just to protect the Afghans – it is to "transform" their entire society, from the bottom up. It is, in short, a project of "nation-building." In the Afghan context this means not merely restoring a shattered State, as in Iraq, but creating what has never really existed: an effective central government, headquartered in Kabul. 

This is a project sure to warm the hearts of "progressives" who long to do the same right here in the US – lift up the starving masses and pull them (forcibly, if necessary) into modernity. In the meantime, however, they’re content to settle for Afghanistan as a target of opportunity, and a kind of experimental laboratory in which to perfect their social engineering skills.  

Added to this "humanitarian" impulse is the tremendous pull of identity politics, which dictates that something must be done about the status of women in Afghanistan – and if the US army does it, well then, Benjamin will hold her nose and overcome her distaste for the flag they fly long enough to applaud the "liberation" of Afghan women. Has a more appalling hypocrisy ever been conceived? 

The pathetic demise of Code Pink – for surely they’ve now lost all credibility as an "antiwar" group – brings  to mind the sheer insubstantiality of the antiwar movement in this country, and its changing character over the years. During the 1990s, believe it or not, we had a growing influx of political conservatives, who had come to question the wisdom of policing the world as a result of Bill Clinton’s promiscuous interventionism. During the Bush years, and post-9/11, this vanished almost entirely – except for the good folks at The American Conservative and Chronicles magazine – to be replaced by a flood of liberal-progressive types, who railed against "Bush’s war." Now that it’s come time to protest Obama’s wars, this crowd is noticeably A.W.O.L. No surprise there.  

What’s disheartening, however, is that the Right remains reflexively pro-war, calling for more troops to Afghanistan and a rapid escalation of the conflict. With progressives deserting in droves, and conservatives remaining frozen in their old position, only the Ron Paul movement on the right and a diminishing number of antiwar activists on the left remain standing on our side of the barricades.  

The defection of Medea Benjamin comes at a plastic moment in the evolution of this administration’s venture into the foreign policy realm: just when we need antiwar activism the most, some "leaders" are calling it quits. The irony is that she’s doing precisely the opposite of what she said she’d do if Kerry had been elected President. Where is the "pressure" to get out of Afghanistan (and Iraq) being exerted on the part of her organization? Indeed, it looks like the pressure is traveling in the other direction, from the Obama-ites to Medea Benjamin & Co. Somehow, it always seems to work out that way – that’s why they call it selling out. 

This sea-change in Code Pink’s view of the Afghan war calls for a more formal recognition of their new perspective. Perhaps a name-change: I propose "Code Yellow" – because a more brazen act of political cowardice hasn’t been seen in quite some time. Not since 1941, when Hitler invaded the Soviet Union and Communist-controlled "peace" groups in the United States suddenly changed their "antiwar" tune. One Communist speaker in New York City’s Union Square, having been handed a note informing him of the invasion, is reputed to have changed his "line" in mid-speech – without missing a beat. This incident is famously replicated in George Orwell’s novel, Nineteen Eighty-four, in which a government propagandist seamlessly segues into denouncing "Eastasia" when a few moments ago the object of his hatred was "Eurasia."

The title of an interview with Benjamin by our very own Scott Horton, "Is Medea Benjamin Naïve, Or Just Confused?" – in which she tries to wriggle out of the implications of her position, to no avail – is a question that begs an answer, and the answer is: neither. She’s just another opportunist, who has left the antiwar movement for greener pastures. Maybe she’ll be the new Van Jones.

NOTES IN THE MARGIN 

People talk about the "antiwar movement," but this is a "movement" that has very few enduring institutions. The pacifists, of course, have always been with us: they are a principled and uncompromising pillar that we have come to depend on through the years, but they are few in number, and their resources are stretched thin. The left, as we have seen, is unreliable, and the right – well, they’re the enemy, except for the small but articulate anti-imperialist right, which has captured the allegiance of the younger libertarians and unconventional conservatives. And that’s about it, as far as the antiwar movement is concerned. We did have a few thinktanks, but those on the liberal-left have pretty much defected to the Obama administration, along with Code Pink.  

Which leaves us with a few dedicated local groups, who do great work, and … Antiwar.com.  

I can’t emphasize enough the importance of maintaining this Web site as the virtual focal point of opposition to our foreign policy of global intervention. Antiwar.com is the key link in an information-driven ideological revolution against the foreign policy status quo. Protest presupposes knowledge. Before you can act, you need to know how and why your opposition is wrong – and why they just might possibly be lying. That’s why Antiwar.com has endured. For over a decade, we’ve been exposing the lies of the War Party, 24/7 – and on a shoestring budget! 

You know you can count on us: the day we sell out is the day the earth will stand still in its tracks. And you can take that to the bank: but, unfortunately, we can’t — take it to the bank, that is. Which is why your support is so essential.  

Yes, we have quarterly fundraising drives, and it’s been pretty difficult lately, what with the economy tanking and all. But did you know there’s another way you can help us out – by shopping at Amazon.com? Go here to find out how.  

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