Saturday, May 1, 2010

Failing to Speak Out Against the War

Change we can believe in has not come to Iraq and Afghanistan

Of course, there never was a universal expectation that Barack Obama's election would end the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq very quickly. But it seems likely that a good percentage of those who consider themselves fundamentally anti-war did expect that both wars would end sooner rather than later as Obama pursued a more realistic and internationalist foreign policy. I know I hoped for such things, but in the meantime, I've paid little attention to the details, like who's killing whom, who is dying, how much the wars are costing

Where is my anger over this dragging on of war? Perhaps part of the taming of my peace-movement ardor is that it has been so long since we had a president with an interest in some of the issues that are absolute priorities for me. Or at least a president with a commitment to discussion of policy. Are my appreciations of this guy simply self-deception?

We do have an apparent winding down of the war in Iraq. We do have a modest health care reform bill, better than most progressives are willing to admit, albeit far short of what it would take to get U.S. health care costs and life-expectancies in line with all other industrialized countries. The stimulus package that passed Congress in 2009 without Republican support blunted the effects of an economic meltdown that could have been even worse. The bill saved the jobs of hundreds of thousands of highway construction workers and state and local government employees. It extended and increased unemployment benefits, and increased government spending on green jobs. Without the bill the current unemployment rate would be markedly higher.

But the Obama administration has been plenty disappointing, as well. The war in Afghanistan is not ending, it is ramping up. And U.S. and allied forces there are likely responsible for 40 percent or more of the thousands of civilian casualties over the last two years. U.S. aid to Afghanistan seems anything but stabilizing. In 2011, the U.S. will give Afghanistan more than $11 billion for its army and police. The amount is about 80 percent of the Afghan GDP. "It's obvious that Afghanistan is not going to be able to afford [to maintain] what we are building for them," said Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), quoted in "Senators Call for Changes to Troubled, Costly Afghan Police Training Program."

The Obama administration has also missed chances to help working people with mortgage cramdowns, preferring to push apparently ineffective measures that subsidize banks willing to forgive a portion of mortgage principle. The administration has shown a similar willingness to avoid confrontation with or, even, accommodate powerful interests in regard to oil and coal production, credit card regulation, climate change and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

All this is very disappointing, but two considerations make me hesitate to blast an administration that I campaigned and voted for. First, it's hard to imagine a political climate more likely to give a moderate and cerebral president pause. I would have counseled a far more aggressive approach to passing health care, challenging unions to give their full support to a tax on "cadillac" health plans and blue dog Democrats to back off opposition to a public option before Ted Kennedy died. But it would be presumptuous for me to assume that strategy would have succeeded. More likely it would have killed any chance of a bill passing this year. and Kennedy would still be gone and Scott Brown would still be the senator from Massachusetts.

Second, there has been a Democratic president in only 14 of the 42 years since 1968. Jimmy Carter, who has made a far better ex-president than president, held the office for four of those 14 years, and Bill Clinton was president for 8 of them. But Carter was a graduate of the Naval Academy, a nuclear engineer and a Southerner, someone from whom I expected neither progressivism nor peace (but who was actually more progressive and more peaceful than I expected him to be).

During the 1992 Presidential primary, Clinton very publicly left the campaign trail to return to Arkansas where, as governor, he would figuratively preside over the execution of Ricky Ray Rector, a mentally retarded murderer, who was reputed to have asked if he could save the dessert from his last meal until after the execution. In refusing to spare the wholly incompetent Rector, Clinton manufactured proof that he could be tough enough on crime to be president. Oddly, Clinton, who failed utterly on health care reform and worked with Republicans to "reform" welfare, led the country into a war over Kosovo that turned out to be generally popular with a good portion of the Left.

But not with me. As the political writer for the Dayton Voice, I wrote a lot about who we were killing and what (and whom) we were bombing, what it all cost in absolute dollars and what we might otherwise be doing with those billions, and who (read weapons manufacturers and military contractors) was profiting. For the Left, and even for some of my colleagues at the Voice, the situation was made more ambiguous by repeated Serbian attacks on civilian populations in Kosovo. For many, saving lives trumped the usual anti-war objections and they supported the U.S. intervention. But I didn't. And I couldn't be silent.

So, now, on the question of continuing American intervention in Iraq & Afghanistan, in the face of hundreds of billions of dollars (the total for both wars is approaching $1 trillion) worth of spending in those places, on the occasion of hundreds of millions of dollars in profit for weapons manufacturers and military contractors, why am I silent?

Iraqi and Afghani civilians are still suffering tens of thousands of casualties annually. Hundreds of Americans who enlisted because they were poor or had no work or were looking for a way to help pay for college are dying in the Iraq and Afghanistan. Why do I remain silent?

No comments:

Post a Comment