He’s said it many times, in many different venues, and perhaps the words change a bit over time, and the cadences, too, but the message is always the same:
"I think the pundits have it wrong. I think the American people have had enough of politicians who go out of their way to look tough, who say one thing in a caucus and another in a general election. When I am the nominee of our party, the choice will be clear. My Republican opponent won’t be able to say that we both supported this war in Iraq. He won’t be able to say that we really agree about using the war in Iraq to justify military action against Iran, or about the diplomacy of not talking and saber-rattling. He won’t be able to say that I haven’t been open and straight with the American people, or that I’ve changed my positions. And you know what? The American people want that choice. Because I believe that’s what we need in our next President.
"We’ve had enough of a misguided war in Iraq that never should have been fought a war that needs to end."
Barack Obama said that in a Des Moines speech back in October, but he’s been repeating it with added emphasis as his campaign has taken off. It’s that last line that always gets the loudest, most prolonged applause: the audience goes wild, people stand and cheer as well they should. We are told that the ideological differences between Obama and the Clintons aren’t all that great, that in fact they barely exist, which I think is a highly dubious proposition, but, in any case, on this issue the vital question of war and peace the gulf between them could not be wider, or deeper.
She, after all, voted for the war, and she’s been saber-rattling over Iran much to AIPAC’s delight. Obama, on the other hand, has taken a clear and consistent antiwar position on the Iraq war, as angular as one could hope for in a mainstream politician, while her insincere pandering to the antiwar instincts of the Democratic base has been absolutely shameless.
This is the real source of Obama’s streak of solid victories, aside from the hypnotic effects of his oratory: contra the conventional wisdom, it isn’t all about style with him, or "platitudes," as John McCain puts it. It’s all about his opposition to the Iraq war. When Obama makes his appeal to Democrats, "and, yes, plenty of Republicans out there who are ready to turn the page on the broken politics and blustering foreign policy coming from Washington" as he put it in his Des Moines speech that is very far from mouthing bromides, as blusterer-in-chief McCain will soon discover if and when Obama wins the nomination.
Obama has emerged as the antiwar candidate, constantly driving home the point that he unlike the Senator from New York had the judgement to doubt the veracity of the President’s case for war from the get-go.
The Clintons are desperately trying to spin this away, with President Priapus denouncing Obama’s antiwar record as "a fairy tale" and The New Republic rather more subtly suggesting "Obama himself may understand that the issue is more complicated than his condemnations of Hillary Clinton’s judgment." That’s the last line of a rather curious piece by Michael Crowley, whose microscopic examination of Obama’s public pronouncements on the war question might have been published by Antiwar.com except for that last line.
It is a piece that starts out by chronicling Obama’s memorable performance at a 2002 antiwar rally in Chicago when very few mainstream politicians were showing up at antiwar events and charts his subsequent equivocations, wobbles, and doubts, slyly implying that he’s not really all that far away from being a calculating Clintonian himself. Crowley cites the Clintonites’ contention that the liberal district he hailed from in Chicago meant he wasn’t really going out on a limb in opposing the war early on, an argument that makes no sense when one remembers he was getting ready to run for US Senate. Statewide, support for the war, while not as fervent as in some other regions of the country, was generally reflective of the post-9/11 hysteria that made warmongering such a lucrative profession for so many. As Thomas B. Edsall pointed out in the Huffington Post:
"Among all Illinois voters, 17 percent said the U.S. should attack Iraq with or without allied support, 51 percent said an attack should be initiated only with the backing of allies, and 18 percent said the U.S. should not attack at all. Among Democrats, only 8 percent backed a unilateral invasion of Iraq, 59 percent said the US should attack only with broad allied support and 23 percent opposed any military action."
People wanted more evidence that an attack was necessary 52 percent but, in general, the good people of Illinois went along with the national zeitgeist, which was all about "taking out" Saddam Hussein and showing those Ay-rabs who’s in charge. After all, a mere 23 percent opposed going to war at all, and that’s where Obama was. The only reason he avoided paying the political price was due to extraordinary luck: his principal opponent in the Democratic primary was hit with a major scandal and effectively knocked out of the race. The same fate befell his putative Republican opponent and the eventual GOP nominee, Alan Keyes, was never a credible opponent to begin with.
So, yes, it took courage to come out against the war at that point. Remember, the post-9/11 Bizarro Effect still had most of the country in its hallucinatory grip, and the War Party and the "mainstream" media were collaborating on a propaganda campaign of unprecedented ferocity, broadcasting brazen lies as if they were fact and trying to bully anyone who defied them, e.g. Democrats Mike Thompson, Jim McDermott and David Bonior.
Yet there was more than courage on display at that rally. There was also Obama’s prescience. It’s odd that Crowley opens his piece with the scene from that rally, but somehow neglects to report what Obama said:
"What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war. What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other armchair, weekend warriors in this administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne….
"I suffer no illusions about Saddam Hussein. He is a brutal man. A ruthless man. A man who butchers his own people to secure his own power. He has repeatedly defied UN resolutions, thwarted UN inspection teams, developed chemical and biological weapons, and coveted nuclear capacity. He’s a bad guy. The world, and the Iraqi people, would be better off without him.
"But I also know that Saddam poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbors, that the Iraqi economy is in shambles, that the Iraqi military a fraction of its former strength, and that in concert with the international community he can be contained until, in the way of all petty dictators, he falls away into the dustbin of history. I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a US occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaeda. I am not opposed to all wars. I’m opposed to dumb wars.”
With most of the rest of the country swept up in an emotional rush of belligerence-in-search-of-a-target, Obama kept his cool and clearly perceived the facts as most of us would later come to see them. This is called judgement another name for it is leadership.
That’s why he’s winning, beating Hillary and her much-vaunted "machine," and why the Clintonites have half-unveiled their ultimate weapon: the dreaded "super-delegates," primed to snatch the nomination away from Obama and his majority of pledged (i.e. elected) delegates at the last moment. Furthermore, he looks, acts, and sounds like a president, whereas Hillary merely reminds one of a high school class president (and Edwards the prom king).
In the face of this nationwide upsurge of Obama-mania, the War Party is making threatening noises, such as in this piece in the Jerusalem Post reporting Malcolm Hoenlein’s visit to Israel, where he announced that Obama’s candidacy may represent a threat:
"All the talk about change, but without defining what that change should be is an opening for all kind of mischief. Of course Obama has plenty of Jewish supporters and there are many Jews around him. But there is a legitimate concern over the zeitgeist around the campaign."
Yes, the "zeitgeist" just isn’t right, according to Hoenlein, who also took out after Obama for going after Hillary Clinton’s vote in favor of putting the Iranian Revolutionary Guards on the official list of terrorist organizations. This election year, warns Hoenlein, is signaling a sea change away from unconditional support to Israel, which most Americans see, he avers, as "a dark and militaristic place." Gee, I wonder why? Could it be the repeated invasions of neighboring states by the IDF? Or perhaps it’s the ongoing occupation of Palestinian territories, which is both brutal and seemingly never-ending.
Oh well, never mind that: what Señor Hoenlein is worried about is "the greater tolerance of anti-Israel statements that wouldn’t have been allowed in the past." Could he perhaps be referring to Obama’s statement that "nobody is suffering more than the Palestinians."? By the standards of our American Likudniks, such a remark is evidence of vehemently "anti-Israel" sentiments. After all, doesn’t he know that the Israelis have a monopoly on suffering? Has he no respect?
Hoenlein’s complaints were not limited to Obama, however. He also took Ron Paul to task, saying "He is openly anti-Israel and who managed to raise $15 million in two days and is the second preferred candidate of many young voters that is very worrying.” The Lobby went after Paul, and with a vengeance, launching a campaign that climaxed in a classic smear job in The New Republic where else? which accused the good-natured Paul of being the second coming of Adolf Hitler. It isn’t hard to imagine that the same circles have it in for Obama.
Indeed, one has to imagine nothing, since the evidence is all around us, including a recently uncovered internal memo written by an official of the American Jewish Committee that betrays "a quiet unease" over Obama’s Middle East policy positions, as The Forward reports and I predict that it won’t be long before quiet unease turns to a loud howling.
In fact, I give it until sometime next week, when we’ll be hearing that Obama is an anti-Semite or, at least, that he is close to "known" anti-Semites (specifically, the Nation of Islam and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright); that he’s anti-Israel, and that he Barack Hussein Obama is an "appeaser" whose foreign policy views are way to the "left" of right-reason. I wonder if Marty Peretz will assign Jamie Kirchick to do the job .
Another accusation to be hurled at Obama: his chief foreign policy advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinksi, has praised The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, a book by John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt that exposes the all-pervasive role of the pro-Israel lobby in this country and its distorting effect on American foreign policy. The Lobby will fight tooth and nail before they’ll let Obama and Brzezinksi anywhere near the White House.
Noah Pollak, over at Commentary, is singling out Samantha Power, a foreign policy advisor to Obama, who has dared agree with Brzezinski that the Lobby’s veto power over US policy in the Middle East needs to be abolished before we can move forward.
For a comprehensive compilation of the Likudnik complaint against Obama, go to The American Thinker web site, here which, just coincidentally, is the same Web site that started the drumbeat about how Ron Paul is a white supremacist-neo-Nazi. Just a coincidence, you understand .
Señor Hoenlein avers that the current election is "transitional," and "could bring about a shift in American life" and, by his lights, that’s not a good thing. Could America really be reconsidering its foreign policy of relentless aggression in the Middle East could the era of unconditional support to the cause of striking down Israel’s foes be coming to an end? Why, it must be a neo-Nazi plot!
Of course, they’re going to have a hell of a time hanging the neo-Nazi label around a black man’s neck, but don’t worry there’s always the Rev. Wright-Nation of Islam angle to work. And believe you me, they will work it for all it’s worth before the primaries are over.
This is the fate that befalls all antiwar candidates for the presidency: the Smear Bund knows its job, and it never sleeps. Whether Obama will survive the vicious attacks that are sure to come remains to be seen. What I do know is this the same forces that went after Ron Paul have Obama in their sights, and for precisely the same reason.
The War Party’s agenda is clear and simple: de-legitimize anyone who advances foreign policy ideas that go against the grain of militarism and slavish appeasement of Israel. Anyone who questions why we are in a war in the midst of Mesopotamia for no apparently good reason is going to be smeared, and brought down. The War Party and by that I don’t just mean Republicans plays dirty, and they play for keeps.