What Can We Believe In?
Obama, Iraq and Change
By ROBERT FANTINA
Illinois Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is headed for Iraq where his policy about the U.S. disastrous war there may be ‘refined.’
It must be difficult for Mr. Obama to keep straight what audience he is addressing. Is it the one that sees him as an agent of change; you know, ‘change we can believe in?’ This would comprise mostly people who see the war for the oil-driven, murderous exercise that it is. Or he is standing before a group of aging veterans who tend to support their equally aged former fellow soldier, Republican presidential candidate John McCain of Arizona? These are mainly the people who will accept anything as long as it is delivered wrapped in an American flag.
But Mr. Obama seems to feel, perhaps justly, that now that he has wrested the nomination from New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, he has a different opponent who requires a different offensive posture. During the agonizing primaries he was able to hammer away at Mrs. Clinton’s initial vote for the war, a vote that she, and many other members of both houses of Congress, will never be able to live down. Mr. Obama need not mention that he did not vote for the war because he was not a member of Congress at that time, and therefore couldn’t, nor did he ever spend much time explaining why he has consistently voted to continue funding the war every chance he got.
But now he is going to Iraq, “to do a thorough assessment,” and continue to refine his policy.
This is a reasonable statement, and if he had only left it at that, those who oppose the war would not have had alarms ringing in their heads and red flags suddenly waving all over the place. He went on to say the following: '”I have said throughout this campaign that this war was ill-conceived, that it was a strategic blunder and that it needs to come to an end. I have also said I would be deliberate and careful about how we get out. That position has not changed. I am not searching for maneuvering room with respect to that position.” But he continued to say that his 16-month timetable for withdrawal could slip in order to ensure troop safety. It appears, Mr. Obama, that you are in fact giving yourself maneuvering room.
Mr. Obama also made this puzzling statement: U.S. troop presence may be needed “to be sure al-Qaida doesn't re-establish a foothold there.” Are we back to this fairly tale? Surely, Mr. Obama realizes that it was the American invasion that enabled al-Qaida to get any kind of ‘foothold’ in Iraq. And he must know that there is little, if any, association between the group known as al-Qaida in Iraq and the group that is believed responsible for the attacks of September 11. Surely he is not playing the 9/11 game with the U.S. voters. They have demonstrated themselves to be exceedingly naïve (a somewhat stronger word could be used, but I will refrain), and the old al-Qaida monster rearing its ugly head could be quite effective in an election year, at least with the aforementioned veterans groups and others who see threats to the ‘American way’ (whatever that might be) behind every door.
But might we be seeing a pattern? Mr. Obama has switched gears at a rather frightening speed on such important issues as immunity for telecommunications companies that violated the law with illegal wiretapping. Incredibly, he somehow found something praiseworthy in the recent Supreme Court decision overruling the right of Washington, D.C., where crime is rampant, to ban handguns. And now he appears to be backing away from his pledge to bring U.S. troops in Iraq home sooner rather than later; sooner seems to be slowly morphing into later. What will be next? Will he begin to see the advantage of the Bush tax cuts that benefit the rich at the expense of everyone else?
The night that Mr. Obama reached the magic delegate number and was able to vanquish Mrs. Clinton, both he and Mr. McCain delivered speeches. The Republican standard-bearer spoke to a crowd of a few hundred, and if anyone remembers that speech (most who saw it have attempted to block the memory from their minds, it was so pitiful), they will recall the 71-year old candidate, looking every bit his age, smiling (sort of; it was hard to tell) every time he said something about Mr. Obama and followed it up with “That’s not change we can believe in.”
At the same time, Mr. Obama was galvanizing a crowd of tens of thousands, bringing his message of change to a nation and a world desperate to hear it.
But that was then and this is now. Somehow the mantle of change seems to have worn a bit thin for Mr. Obama. Not that Mr. McCain has embraced it; astonishingly, he talks about change as continuing the 8-year-long disasters of President George Bush. Talk about change we can’t believe in: an elderly white male taking the oath of office as the clone of his predecessor is a frightening thought.
But back to Mr. Obama. Yes, as the national candidate he must appeal to Democrats, independents and even some Republicans. But there is a danger in believing that Democrats will vote for him no matter what because the alternative is so frightful. Many in the party have not forgiven him, nor will they easily do so, for usurping the title that the crowned princess coveted. Making nice with her will be insufficient; all this change talk has to be seen as having some substance.
He may be right, however, in assuming that hordes of voters will flock to the Democratic lever in the voting booth come November, simply because the thought of having yet another old, out-of-touch, incompetent, war-mongering, rich, white male running the show simply cannot be tolerated. But if that is the case, why not maintain the theme of change? Why bother to indulge in verbal gymnastics on the topics of wiretapping, gun control and that hot-button issue for so many voters, the Iraq war? Why not stick to the views that got him where he is today? Prosecute those who violated the law by listening in on, or providing the government with records of, private telephone conversations. Support strong, sensible gun control. And last but not least, turn Iraq back to the Iraqis by removing the 150,000 U.S. soldiers who are occupying and terrorizing that nation.
But what is one thinking? This is a U.S. presidential election, where the daily, ever-changing opinion polls provide the roadmap for the day’s proclamations, where the electorate has a short memory, and where the corporations which put their influential dollars where it will do them the most good are king. With Congress and the White House for sale to the highest bidder, why talk about principles?
Perhaps the ‘change we can believe in’ was all an illusion, something sufficient to tip the scales from the first viable female candidate for president to the first viable African-American candidate for president. Now that his nomination is secured, Mr. Obama can focus his attention on saying and doing the good corporate thing, rather than the good moral thing; any intersecting of the two is purely coincidental.
The coming months will show which it is going to be: a contest between real change and the current, deadly stagnation, or another ‘Tweedle Dum, Tweedle Dee’ election. The nation and the world deserve better; whether or not they get it is largely up to Mr. Obama.
Robert Fantina is author of 'Desertion and the American Soldier: 1776--2006.