2008 Campaign provides the opportunity to build a movement for fundamental change away from militarism
The issue on which Sen. Obama scored the most points in the January 31st debate with Sen. Clinton was the Iraq occupation. While Iraq has been pushed from the front pages, despite continued carnage, it remains a priority for many voters. Iraq persists to be an area of weakness for Clinton in the primary.
Indeed, the most recent CNN poll, which has Obama in the lead nationally for the first time, shows Democratic voters trust Clinton more on health care and the economy, but trusted Obama on Iraq. Iraq is the issue propelling Obama ahead of Clinton.
Obama made a number of points on Iraq in their last debate, finishing with: “I don't want to just end the war, but I want to end the mindset that got us into war in the first place.” He followed that lofty goal with a promise: “That's the kind of leadership that I think we need from the next president of the United States. That's what I intend to provide.”
Obama blames conventional, Washington thinking for the war saying:
The mindset for war often infects Washington. Since World War II the U.S. has been a nation at war more often than not, and whether at war or peace, consistently invests in building the most powerful military in world history.
Peace Voters have already begun the process of changing that conventional thinking mindset in Washington. Even Senator Clinton, who has voted for the war from the beginning, is now saying “I will do everything I can to get as many of our troops out as quickly as possible.” She promises to take one to two brigades out per month.
Ending the “mindset” of war is essentially the position of the organization I direct, VotersForPeace. Not only do we want to end the Iraq occupation but also prevent future wars of aggression. We urge people to take the peace pledge which states: “I will only vote for or support federal candidates who publicly commit to a speedy end to the Iraq war, and to preventing future ‘wars of aggression’.” See VotersForPeace.US.
Obama’s soaring rhetoric of hope and unity along with the proposition of the U.S. electing the first African American president makes me want to exclaim ‘eurkea!’ finally a candidate who can bring much-needed change to the United States.
Ending the mindset of war would also change domestic policy. For decades the U.S. has been investing in the military economy at the expense of the civilian economy. And, it shows – in the loss of industry, a weakened middle class, a failing infrastructure, and a deteriorating economy.
Could Obama really mean it? Does he really want to end the mindset that leads to war?
How do voters opposed to war square Sen. Obama’s comment with his advocacy for an even bigger military – adding 100,000 more troops? The average annual cost of maintaining a single service member currently exceeds $100,000. The cost of these troops is tens of billions more dollars for the military. And, if the U.S. has another 100,000 troops isn’t its leadership more likely to use them? Isn’t this a signal to the military industrial complex that Obama will not challenge them?
Many members of VotersForPeace, including me, have been critical of Obama’s votes on the war. We all know he spoke out against the war when he was a state senator. He described it as “a rash war” that would result in “an occupation of undetermined length, with undetermined costs, and undetermined consequences.” He was right. But we also know that since coming to the senate his record has been the same as Sen. Clinton. He has voted to give Bush all the funds he has requested, with no strings attached and continue the occupation of Iraq.
And, peace advocates have seen Obama play to the right wing Israeli lobby, missing his first senate vote to speak to AIPAC event and telling them what they want to hear regarding Iran – “all options are on the table.” Yes, he says he wants negotiation with Iran at the same time he keeps the military option available.
So, what is the meaning of Sen. Obama’s comment? Can we trust him to really “end the mindset” that gets the U.S. into continuous wars? It is a lofty goal and would be an epic political struggle. It would require him to challenge the military industrial complex, the oil industry, the pro-war Israeli lobby and others who profit from war. Does Obama have the strength to overcome these political adversaries?
So what is a peace voter supposed to do?
Obama has consistently said, on issue after issue, that change is going to require the people to be organized, active and vocal. He says “change does not happen from the top down, but from the bottom up.” An organized citizenry is especially required when a fundamental paradigm shift is needed in a policy that has deep roots. And militarism runs deep in the United States where half the discretionary spending goes to the military and with the U.S. already spending as much as the rest of the world combined on its armed forces. The strength of the military industrial complex was evident way back when Eisenhower warned the country about it in his farewell speech in 1961.