In the last two weeks Senator Obama has been sounding rather hawkish. Perhaps he believes he has the Democratic nomination wrapped up and now can start running to the center-right. The peace movement needs to let him know his positions are not acceptable.
Some peace advocates had already given up on Sen. Obama because of his record since he came to the U.S. Senate. His voting record on Iraq and foreign policy is very similar to Sen. Clinton. Obama did make a great speech before the war began, saying much the same thing that peace advocates were saying, but that seems to have been the peak of his peace advocacy. Indeed, Black Agenda Report described how Obama took his anti-war speech off his website once he began running for the senate. And since coming to the senate he has voted for Iraq funding, giving Bush hundreds of billions of dollars. Further, he is calling for nearly 100,000 more U.S. troops as well as keeping the military option on the table for Iran.
But in the last two weeks he has moved to the right. On April 1, Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! interviewed Obama about what type of U.S. residual forces he would leave behind in Iraq. First, Obama acknowledged combat troops would be left behind as “a strike force in the region.” Where would this strike force be based? Obama said “It doesn’t necessarily have to be in Iraq; it could be in Kuwait or other places.”
Of even greater concern was the 140,000 civilian troops — the private security forces that some describe as mercenaries — who are in Iraq. With regard to these Obama said: “we have 140,000 private contractors right there, so unless we want to replace all of or a big chunk of those with US troops, we can’t draw down the contractors faster than we can draw down our troops.” When Goodman pressed him on whether he would support a ban on private military forces Obama said “Well, I don’t want to replace those contractors with more U.S. troops, because we don’t have them, alright?”
Obama seems to be choosing his words very carefully when he talks of his Iraq plan. He always talks in terms of only “withdrawing” “combat” troops and ending “the war.” Withdrawal is not the same as bringing troops home as it could mean moving the troops somewhere else in the region and into Afghanistan. Combat troops are a minority of the 150,000 troops in Iraq. And, ending the “war” is not the same as ending the occupation. Indeed, Obama plans to keep the massive U.S. Embassy as well as the long-term military bases being built in Iraq. No wonder he does not talk about ending the occupation as it does not seem that is his intent.
What are the two-thirds of Americans who oppose the Iraq war and want to see U.S. forces brought home to think? It sounds like Obama would leave more than 100,000 and perhaps even more than 200,000 public and private military troops in Iraq. And, he would leave strike forces in the region “not necessarily in Iraq” who could strike in Iraq when needed. Is this what he means by withdrawal?
The other important speech that Obama gave focused on his broader approach to foreign policy. In this speech, given on March 28th, Obama praised the foreign policy of George H.W. Bush. Obama described his foreign policy as a traditional U.S. approach — certainly not the “change” he promises in his big campaign speeches saying “my foreign policy is actually a return to the traditional bipartisan realistic policy of George Bush’s father, of John F. Kennedy, of, in some ways, Ronald Reagan.”
There is lot to unravel in the foreign policy of these former presidents. While these X-President’s are much more popular than the current occupant of the White House, which is why Obama believes tying himself to those will garner votes, each of their foreign policy strategies relied heavily on the use of the U.S. military. Here are some highlights:
Both George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan get credit for negotiating with Iran to hold the U.S. hostages until after Reagan-Bush took power in return for military and financial assistance to Iran. This act put their personal political ambitions ahead of the needs of U.S. citizens being held hostage.
Perhaps the best known Reagan-Bush foreign policy was the Iran-Contra scandal, a scheme to circumvent U.S. law by providing arms to overthrow the government in Nicaragua. They shipped weapons to the mullah’s in Iran in return for cash which was used to fund the Nicaraguan fighters. This was done because the Congress passed a law preventing U.S. tax dollars being used to arm the rebels in Nicaragua.
As part of their campaign against the Soviet Union the Reagan-Bush team also armed Islamists fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan. This allowed Osama bin Laden to gain a stronghold in Afghanistan and is one of the root causes of today’s military adventures.
Thus Reagan-Bush armed two current “enemies” Iran and al Qaeda. In fact, they also armed Saddam Hussein by providing him with the makings of an array of weapons of mass destruction. The arming of Saddam continued with the Bush-Quayle administration even after Saddam “gassed” his own people.
President George H.W. Bush was the only CIA director to become president. As in the Reagan era, Bush I treated Saddam Hussein as a close ally. Shortly before the Gulf War he approved the sale of an additional $4.8 million in “dual-use” technology to factories identified by the CIA as Saddam’s nuclear and bio-weapons programs. And, just before Saddam invaded Kuwait, Bush sold him $600 million in advanced communications technology.
Prior to the Kuwait invasion the Bush administration sent signals to Saddam that the U.S. was not worried about a military conflict between Iraq and Kuwait. But when Saddam sent tanks into Kuwait the U.S. responded with an aggressive aerial campaign that destroyed much of Iraq’s civilian infrastructure and a 100 hour ground war. Bush then urged anti-Saddam forces to rise-up against Hussein and then left them hanging without U.S. support. Then, the “peace” with Iraq led to the sanctions of the Bush and Clinton administrations which killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.
The only Democrat mentioned by Obama was JFK. Obama did not mention the less popular LBJ, Jimmy Carter or his opponent’s husband, Bill Clinton. Perhaps because the Kennedy administration was so long ago he expects voters not to remember their militarism. And, the Camelot aura of Kennedy is one Obama aspires to.
Of course, President Kennedy must be given credit for the steady expansion of the Vietnam conflict and its escalation into a quagmire that trapped his successor. Kennedy drew a line in the sand against communism in Vietnam saying “”Now we have a problem making our power credible and Vietnam looks like the place.” Troop escalation went from hundreds to more than 15,000, the Green Berets and helicopters were both sent in. Kennedy approved a coup which led to the killing of the prime minister and his brother in 1963 and a succession of regimes seen more and more as U.S. puppets. Kennedy was assassinated shortly after the coup but the path into Vietnam had been laid.
What other foreign policy misadventures does JFK get credit for? One of note was a military attack on Cuba known as the Bay of Pigs. This invasion by 1,500 exiled Cubans ended in disaster for the U.S. as it was easily rebuffed by Castro with most of the troops captured. JFK did not give up on regime change after this failure; in fact he escalated it with Operation Mongoose. Mongoose, which lasted until the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, included among its plans the use chemical weapons against sugar cane workers, sending the Green Beret’s into Cuba, using gangsters to kill Cuban police, propagandizing the Cuban people, sabotaging mines, cash rewards for killing Cuban officials and false flag attacks against the U.S. to be blamed on Cuba.
And Kennedy also gets credit for taking the initial steps that ended up with Saddam Hussein in Iraq. In 1963 Kennedy backed a coup against the Iraqi government. The CIA helped bring the Baath Party to power. The CIA provided the new Iraqi government with a list of suspected Communists to kill. Saddam Hussein was one of those who carried out the killings which included hundreds of doctors, teachers, technicians, lawyers, Iraqi professionals and officials. The U.S. began to arm the Iraq regime with weapons they used against the Kurds and U.S. and British oil companies began profiting from Iraqi oil.
No doubt Senator Obama is well-aware of this history, so what did he mean when he said his foreign policy would emulate these three? Are we to expect more coups of regimes we don’t like? The arming of future adversaries? Illegal actions to circumvent the Congress? Now that Sen. Obama has tied himself to Kennedy, Reagan and H.W. Bush he needs to clarify whether this Hall of Shame history of bi-partisan U.S. foreign policy is what he intends to emulate.
Senator Obama clearly thinks he can take the peace movement for granted. Many peace advocates support Obama because of his pre-U.S. Senate speech against the Iraq invasion. But, now his foreign and Iraq policies are coming more closely into focus maybe it is time to re-think that support. It is time for the peace movement to push Sen. Obama to be a better candidate, one that will really bring change to U.S. foreign policy.
For those who like Obama’s message of “hope” and “change” it is important to realize his foreign policy, as he is beginning to define it, brings neither. Obama is risking the loss of votes to three strong alternatives to the two parties. If Obama is not pulled back toward his pre-Senate position more and more peace voters will desert him for either former Representative Cynthia McKinney of the Green Party, Ralph Nader and Matt Gonzalez’s independent campaign, or possible Libertarian candidates Mike Gravel or former congressman Bob Barr. These are all candidates who are strongly opposed to military intervention and the Iraq occupation. In November there will be choices of real peace candidates or a major party nominee who is no longer promising real change.
Pressure now from the peace movement, if heeded by Sen. Obama, will make him a stronger candidate. Is it time to for the peace movement to protest Obama?