Obama’s Road to War

Obama is keeping his eye on the prize – the Nobel Prize, that is, as a reward for brokering a Middle East "peace" deal. Unfortunately, he’s doing it on the backs of the Palestinian people – and the rest of us, as well.  

The news out of the negotiations with the Israelis is that Bibi gets everything, and Obama gets to make an announcement that the perpetually stalled talks with the Palestinians will resume. By "everything," I mean to include what the Guardian describes as "a partial freeze" on settlement construction – an oxymoron that could only exist in the context of an agreement between Israel and the US.  

But isn’t that what the "special relationship" is all about? Love, as Ayn Rand put it, is exception-making – and I certainly can’t imagine the US capitulating so quickly and completely as it has in this instance.

Quite aside from the settlements, however, the Obama-ites really gave away the store when they agreed to "adopt a much tougher line with Iran over its alleged nuclear program." What this means, more precisely, is that the bar for judging whether Iran is building useable nukes is going to be considerably  lowered: get ready for a slew of "intelligence" reports claiming they’re on the verge of nuking Tel Aviv. With Congress getting ready to impose strict economic sanctions on Iranian energy exports, the stage is set for a military strike.  

That a US President has agreed to go to war in exchange for a Nobel Peace Prize is an event that could only occur in Obama-world – which is apparently situated somewhere very close to Bizarro World.

The announcement of this "breakthrough," as the Guardian calls it, is slated for the last week of September – and you can count on the war drums to start beating around the same time.  

It’ll be a long, drawn out process, however, of fake "negotiations," phony intelligence reports, and diplomatic arm-twisting at the UN, before the ever-cautious Obama gets up the nerve to actually pull this on his ostensibly liberal supporters, and their patience with Obama’s wars is likely to run out long before then.  

On the Afghan front, the news is grim: a failed election fraught with fraud, a huge bombing in Kandahar that underscores the weakness of the American position, and growing voices of opposition being raised on the home front. As conservatives tentatively and hesitantly reassess the interventionism-run-amok of the Bush years, and liberals begin to wake from their dreams of a perfectly "progressive" president, the outlines of a new anti-interventionist coalition are taking shape.  

Suddenly Afghanistan is in the news, and commentators on the right as well as the left are taking note. Tony Blankley, former chief aide to Newt Gingrich and editor of the Washington Times, joins Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuval and Pat Buchanan in comparing Obama to LBJ – a chief executive with an ambitious liberal domestic program dragged down by his commitment to a losing war.  

Citing LBJ’s 1964 taped phone conversations with McGeorge Bundy and Senator Richard Russell, Blankley shows that the President knew he was pushing America into a quagmire in Vietnam: "I don’t think it’s worth fighting for," averred Johnson to Bundy. "What the hell is Vietnam worth to me? What is it worth to the country?"  

Americans began asking the same questions a decade or so later, but by then it was too late – hundreds of thousands had already died, and with them the national honor.

That same day, President Johnson spoke with Senator Russell, a friend and confidante, asking his advice on the Vietnam matter. Russell told him "I’d get out: it isn’t important a damn bit." Yes, but the President was worried: "The Republicans are going to make a political issue out of it," he said. "Nixon, Rockefeller and Goldwater all (are) saying let’s move (and) let’s go into the North. … They’d impeach a president … that would run out. Wouldn’t they?" 

Against his better judgment, Johnson escalated the Vietnam war, pushing through the Tonkin Gulf resolution, and publicly declaring that it was a war of necessity – a war we could and would win. We know, now, what he really believed: but politics trumped both reason and morality – and, although Blankley avers LBJ was "no monster," I beg to differ. To have gone ahead with such a momentous decision based on a purely political calculation is nothing less than monstrous. There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that one of the most corrupt and ruthless presidents in American history has gone on to his singularly just reward. The subversive question Blankley raises is: does Obama risk a similar fate?  

"Today President Barack Obama is on the cusp of a fateful policy decision. He has argued consistently that the war in Afghanistan is necessary to deny al-Qaida a base of terrorist operations and to stop the Taliban insurrection from destabilizing nuclear Pakistan. But serious doubts are being raised by many policy experts and an emerging majority of the American and British publics as to whether we have a strategy and the materiel to succeed. Even the optimists believe that a successful counterinsurgency in Afghanistan (and needed as much in Pakistan) will require several years of sustained commitment." 

Even then, avers Blankley, it may not be possible — the implication being that the President surely knows this. He also no doubt knows his base will have a hard time following him into the wilds of Waziristan. Blankley avers Republican support for the war will be muted and even tending toward reversal on account of partisan considerations.  

"Thus," he writes, "President Obama has a hard decision to make": this is a reference to the review of Afghan military strategy scheduled to take place shortly. Come September, the Middle East will be a major focus of the administration’s concern, and it promises to be historic. Whether or not it turns out to be a historic tragedy remains to be seen. As Blankley puts it: 

"In this already politically difficult summer of 2009, President Obama must bring a higher level of intellectual integrity and moral courage to his go/no-go war decision than Lyndon Johnson was capable of 45 years ago. Notwithstanding his prior and current commitment to prosecute the war in Afghanistan — and notwithstanding the ambiguous political effect of his decision — he owes it to both himself and the many young service members who soon may be shipping out to make a new, cold calculation of whether he believes that he has a reasonable chance of successfully leading us in this new stage of the war. I don’t envy him his job at the moment." 

The Democrats of today are even more fearful of Republican criticism of liberal "appeasers" than they were in LBJ’s time. Having become the antiwar party of the 1970s, with the triumph of McGovernism and the secession of the Scoop Jackson neocons, they have been cowering ever since, scared to death that the "kill ‘em-all-and-sort-it-out-later" wing of the GOP will go after them hammer and tongs. The result has been the promiscuous interventionism of the Clinton era, and, more recently, the rise of the "national security Democrats" — a school of foreign policy and military analysts dedicated to proving that Democrats can be just as bloodthirsty as their partisan opponents, albeit in a "pragmatic" and impeccably PC way.  

Gathered around the Center for a New American Strategy and the Center for American Progress, which have supplied the Obama administration with civilian Pentagon officials dedicated to pursuing a "smart" strategy in Afghanistan, these reincarnations of "the best and the brightest" may yet convince Obama that he can damn the torpedoes and go full speed ahead.  

Who, after all, is there to stop them? The "progressives" are too busy smearing the "tea-baggers" as "terrorists" to bother with the impending disaster – and, besides that, they could use a "good war" to divert attention away from the snowballing domestic failures of this administration, and their own apparent powerlessness in its inner councils.  

As for the conservatives – well, we’ll see. Blankley is an unusually thoughtful example of the species, and I hardly expect Glenn Beck and his clueless cohorts to suddenly join Cindy Sheehan in opposing Obama’s war. No doubt the partisan instincts of a good number of rank-and-file conservatives will kick in, as the more intellectually precocious among them begin to wake up to the domestic uses of war as Obama pursues his bid to vastly expand the power of government on the home front. Yet the neoconservative leadership of that once proud movement is dedicated to militarism as a high principle. Slaughter is their religion.  

What is going to be fascinating to watch is how many big-time liberals are going to jump on Obama’s war-wagon and go along for the whole ride. Already I’ve seen a few references on the Huffington Post to "Obama’s Vietnam" – even if one was only a link to a New York Times piece, and the site has carried plenty of pro-war material. (For "balance," no doubt: mass murder is debatable on the HuffPuff, while the health care issue is not.) 

In any case, Blankley’s conception of Obama facing a momentous decision needs to be put in its full context: the President isn’t deciding between war and peace. He and his foreign policy advisors are merely debating which war to fight first, with the more pro-Israel faction voting for a strike against Iran, and the more pragmatic types wanting to finish the job in Kabul and environs before tackling Tehran.  

This is a repetition of rather recent history, when the neocons in the Bush administration, such as Paul Wolfowitz, argued that an invasion of Iraq had to be our first response to 9/11, while others argued for taking on the Taliban. I suspect the latter types will win out, just as they did during the Bush years.  

Whether this gives the antiwar movement time and the chance to attract enough support from both sides of the political spectrum to make an attack on Iran impossible is a tantalizing — but still highly speculative — question. What is certain, however, is that by the time the Obama-ites get around to fulfilling their pledge to Netanyahu to take on Iran, Americans – left, right, and center – will be thoroughly war-sick, if not thoroughly sick of Obama.


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Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of Antiwar.com, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].