Saturday, November 14, 2009


Like every other progressive in this country, I must admit that it was a hell of a lot more fun being critical of our last President than this one. By the time Barack Obama and his supporters manage to eke out a health care bill, he will be able to boast that he has (a) brought back the economy from the brink of disaster, (b) implemented significant, positive reforms on a topic that has confounded his predecessors for decades, and (c) brought the United States back to a position of honor in the world community, as reflected by his receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize. He will also have brought the kind of style that should delight every non-ditto head in the nation: open-minded, thoughtful, compassionate, down-to-earth, and the very portrait of the American melting pot. In short, in so many ways, Barack is the kind of leader that Blue Americans have been waiting for.

Cue the balloons, right? Well, not exactly. As every progressive knows, there’s a darker side to the equation, one that, to some degree, has been chronicled in the media. For example, we’ve heard plenty of reports about people who are out of work or underemployed, and are wondering why the boom on Wall Street hasn’t yet solved the problems of Main Street. We’ve heard complaints about why Barack has allowed fat cats like Geithner and Summers to control the trajectory of our economic “recovery,” whereas liberal voices like Krugman and Reich remain in the wilderness. And we’ve been told about liberal interest groups, like gay activists, who are wondering when the reality will ever meet up with the rhetoric. Clearly, if Barack the President was being rated in terms of his progressivism, he wouldn’t score nearly as high as Barack the Candidate.

But still, we all love the guy. Even Michael Moore, when he made his movie about capitalism and ripped Geithner and Summers to shreds, stopped short at blasting the President. Let’s face it, when Michael Moore pulls his punches on your behalf, you know you’re golden in the progressive community.

And therein lies a problem. You see, one of the consequences of Barack’s popularity among progressives is that the dissent on the left is more muted than usual. As I’ve said, we’ve heard about that dissent in a few areas – the economy and civil rights come immediately to mind. But there’s one domain in which dissent has been practically non-existent, at least relative to what you’d expect if someone were to say that Barack would be essentially continuing the policies of George Bush. I’m referring to the way we are continuing to fight wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Increasingly, we’re beginning to resemble America in the early 60s – run by a Democratic Commander-in-Chief, committed to a guerilla war halfway across the world with no apparent end in sight and no clearly understandable mission in mind, and seemingly apathetic about the whole problem. It wasn’t until 1965 when the antiwar protests of the Vietnam War reached any critical mass. At this rate, it will be 2015 before the progressive community begins to challenge Barack’s Bushian turn in Central Asia. Folks, that’s simply unacceptable.

I admit to being part of the problem. When W was President, I would take to the streets on several occasions and protest the war in Iraq, but it has been years since I joined in such a march. It’s time to dust off the old walking shoes, wouldn’t you think?

With respect to Iraq, I have no clue why (a) roughly 120,000 U.S. troops are still in Iraq, at the cost of more than $7 billion per month to the U.S. economy and even though all other nations have withdrawn their troops, and (b) the timetable for withdrawing our troops from Iraq seems ineluctably to get pushed back, and even now we’re talking about leaving 35,000-50,000 troops in Iraq after the remainder are moved at the end of the summer of 2010. Could someone who has Barack’s ear please ask him to explain this to his base – the ones who are now pulling punches and marveling at how classy he is as a leader?

As for Afghanistan, what in God’s name are we still doing there? And why would Barack possibly be considering ratcheting up our involvement? The regime that we propped up is as corrupt as a coked-up telemarketer. Bin Laden is probably hiding out in the tribal regions of Pakistan, rather than within the Afghan borders. And as for the Taliban, what is it about them that poses such a danger to the United States – assuming that we ultimately leave Afghanistan? Plus, if history has taught us anything, it’s that the Afghan terrain is unconquerable. So why don’t we simply withdraw all the troops except for some special forces, and narrow the scope of our mission to espionage and police activities aimed solely at al Qaeda?

I had thought that one of the benefits of the Obama Presidency would be that if we were truly needed to fight foreign wars, other nations would be joining us in an equitable fashion so that our own troops wouldn’t disproportionately have to bear the risks and expenses of war. The funny thing is, though, that at the same time that the world community is extending to Barack a Nobel Peace Prize, Europe and Asia seem completely uninterested in sending their boys off to die in Afghanistan. If they won’t, why should we? What is so damned compelling about this struggle that would cause an American family to be proud of their son for dying in it?

Why, in short, is this any different from Vietnam?

I think it is incumbent on Barack Obama to explain this to us. And as great an orator as he is, if he can’t persuade us, isn’t it time to dust off the old walking shoes?

1 comment:

Mary Lois said...

This time I'm in total agreement with you. In assessing the U.S. position in Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama has said that none of the options which he has been is acceptable; he is asking for others. Is nobody suggesting that the time has come for us to begin withdrawing our troops altogether? That would cause rejoicing in the streets not only here but across the world--a U.S. president doing the right thing for all to see! I'm too dim to see any downside to this, but apparently it is not under consideration. Has our nation been brainwashed by the military who see a wider war as the best (or only) solution? Doesn't anybody remember Viet Nam?