Who is this man we elected to the highest office in the land? Is he a change-bringer, or just more of the same?
We’re about to find out.
The New York Times informs us that there is a battle shaping up for hearts and minds – not in the wilds of Afghanistan, but in the White House. And the one heart and mind that matters the most is, of course, the President’s. On one side of the barricades stand Hillary Clinton and her ally Richard Holbrooke, the butcher of the Balkans. It was Hillary, you’ll recall, who demanded of her husband, then-President Bill Clinton, to stop shilly-shallying and begin the bombing of Belgrade. That she’s living up to her reputation as the Democratic Valkyrie of the War Party when it comes to Afghanistan was all too predictable.
On the other side – Vice President Joe Biden, who wants to implement what is essentially the George Will plan for the Afghan front: position our troops somewhere else in the region and send the special forces in as necessary to take out al-Qaeda.
But where does Barack Obama stand?
During the election, he took the Clinton-Holbrooke "nation-building" position, attacking the Bush administration for "neglecting" the "real" war on the Afghan front and framing his opposition to the Iraq invasion in hawkish terms. That was then, however, when politics was in command: now that he’s President, he’s having second thoughts, according to press reports. The Times avers that many in the Pentagon are worried their commander-in-chief has "buyer’s remorse" over sending those 20,000 reinforcements to Afghanistan – like those home-buyers who got in at the top of the market, and are now several feet underwater, which is where he’s heading in the polls.
Obama’s top general on the Afghan front, Stanley McChrystal, is asking for some 40,000 more troops, but that has been put on hold pending the outcome of the internal battle over policy – a battle that will be won or lost in the arena of public opinion.
This defining moment in Obama’s presidency illustrates quite nicely my own thesis that all foreign policy decisions – especially the decision to go to war – are the result and outgrowth of domestic political considerations. Since the primary – indeed, the sole – aim of those in power is to retain (and if possible expand) their hegemonic position – a principle, I might add, that applies to all societies, whether democracies or dictatorships – our rulers will invariably make decisions about US actions overseas in accordance with what effect it has on their standing at home.
President Obama is clearly balking due to the unpopularity of this war. Can he afford to alienate the clear majority of Americans who now think the battle for Afghanistan isn’t worth the price – or will he listen to Hillary and her government-in-exile?
Hillary is clearly the Dick Cheney of this administration in two senses: she’s the chief hawk in the president’s inner councils, and her State Department is taking on all the accouterments of War Party HQ, just as the Office of the Vice President did during the Bush era. Her chief consigliere, AIG board member Holbrooke, would probably have been in Hillary’s position if the Clintons had retained control of the Democratic party in 2008. He is an unmitigated interventionist, who supported the Iraq war and could fairly be described as the architect of the Clintons’ war in the Balkans.
He’s the "closest thing the party has to a Kissinger," as Ari Berman, citing an anonymous foreign policy analyst, put it. Holbrooke was gung-ho on the Iraq misadventure, averring, in 2003, that failure to invade would amount to a violation of international law by the US! Perhaps with an eye to the Democratic base, Holbrooke, as chief foreign policy advisor to presidential candidate John Kerry, tempered his views somewhat, urging the Democratic standard-bearer to keep his rhetoric "deliberately vague" on Iraq.
He is, in short, the examplar of what Berman calls the "strategic class" – the professional managers and guardians of America’s overseas domain, our empire of bases, colonies, and protectorates that provides a good living for a growing class of Americans. Since their incomes and social standing are enhanced by the empire’s global scale, they are constantly seeking not only to defend it but also to expand it whenever possible. All debates within this stratgegic class are over the practicality of whatever new war is on the agenda – never over the legitimacy of our role as global hegemon.
Holbrooke has been given a very broad mandate by the President as plenipotentiary in charge of the "Af-Pak" portfolio, and the role he’s playing was made clear when, at a meeting with our European allies, he hailed the recent Afghan election, so brazenly stolen by "President" Hamid Karzai.
In pursuing his portfolio Holbrooke is very likely to reflect the views of his capo di tutti capi, who took the unusual step of going public with the internal debate over Afghanistan policy. In a recent interview with PBS, Hillary came out against the Biden option guns blazing:
"Some people say, ‘Well, Al Qaeda’s no longer in Afghanistan. If Afghanistan were taken over by the Taliban, I can’t tell you how fast Al Qaeda would be back in Afghanistan."
To listen to this kind of talk, you’d think there hadn’t been a Democratic primary and a subsequent election. Or maybe she thinks she won both. So much for that "cabinet of equals": what we have here is Hillary’s shadow government, which is openly trying to run the foreign policy show. And where is the President?
This is the big question in the minds of "progressives," and the left in general, these days. The decision he makes about Afghanistan will give us an answer. It will be the test of their Great Leader concept of the man they put in the White House, in whose success they’ve invested so much. Their reverence for Obama has an almost North Korean edge to it: his shining visage illuminates their vision of a "progressive " America at peace with the world. They overlooked his promise during the campaign that he would escalate the war on the Afghan front: he has to do that, they thought, to prove he’s not "soft" on national security issues and is tough enough to be commander-in-chief. But we know what he really thinks and wants, the lefties averred: he’s really one of us (that’s what the Rush Limbaugh types, say, too). But is he?
We’ll soon see.
This plastic moment is the perfect time for the antiwar movement to gear up for a major campaign – so where are they? A series of disconnected local events are scheduled for October 7: but no nationally-coordinated action is planned in Washington, DC. Instead, various groups are independently putting on events, such as a "Peace for Afghanistan House party" suggested by Peace Action, which clearly ought to change its name to Peace Inaction.
Yes, you can "protest" the war holding a glass of white wine in one hand and that wonderful sushi your friend Tiffany whipped up in the other. Forget those tired protest signs!
What’s wrong with these wimps?
I’ve seen this kind of thing happen time and again on the left. As a disinterested and somewhat bemused observer on the sidelines, I’ve been continually astonished at the almost masochistic willingness of the so-called progressives to be pushed around by the "centrist," "moderate" wing. On every issue, from healthcare to gay rights, they have conceded in the name of "unity": just give in this one time, the Mod Squad argues, and you’ll get what you want in the end. Just not now.
I wonder if the left will ever run out of patience. For the moment, at least, they’ve put their complete trust in the Dear Leader. Which raises the question: will they follow him wherever he wants to go – even if it’s into the wilds of Waziristan?
Some will, some won’t, with the former, I fear, outnumbering the latter. What’s especially troubling, however, is that at the very moment when maximum pressure on the President to get out of Afghanistan would do the most good, the antiwar movement has gone A.W.O.L. When the shameful history of this rotten war is written, their craven passivity will make for an especially shameful little footnote.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
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