Obama Expands War, Slaps Peace VotersJack A. SmithDissident Voice: A Radical Newsletter in the Struggle for Peace and Justicehttp://www.dissidentvoice.org/2009/03/obama-expands-war-slaps-peace-voters/March 2, 2009The Obama Administration has engineered a triplesetback for the U.S. peace movement and the millions ofAmericans who opposed the Bush Administration's unjust,illegal, immoral wars.In the last two weeks of February, President BarackObama upon whom so many peace supporters had countedto change Washington's commitment to wars andmilitarism delivered these three blows to his antiwarconstituency:1. By ordering 17,000 more U.S. troops to AfghanistanFeb. 17, President Obama is continuing and expandingGeorge W. Bush's war. It's Obama's war now, and it'sgetting much bigger.2. By declaring Feb. 27 that up to 50,000 U.S. soldierswould remain in Iraq after "combat brigades" departed,President Obama is continuing the war in a country thatremains a tragic victim of the Bush Administration'saggression and which has taken the lives of over amillion Iraqi civilians and has made refugees of 4.5million people.3. By announcing Feb. 26 that his projected 2010Pentagon budget was to be even higher than budgetssought by the Bush Administration, President Obama wassignaling that his commitment to the U.S. bloated warmachine even at a time of serious economic recession was not to be questioned.Whether or not Obama's actions will revive the peacemovement is another matter. Antiwar activism during theelection year was minimal. And now that a Democrat isin the White House it may be further reduced, sincemost peace backers voted for Obama. The movement'sstrength will be tested at the demonstrations inWashington, San Francisco, Los Angeles and other citieson the sixth anniversary of the Iraq war March 21.Two recent Washington Post/ABC News public opinionpolls provide contradictory and disturbing results. Inthe January poll, 61% opposed any increase in U.S.troop strength in Afghanistan, and only 34% thought anincrease was required. But a month later in the Feb. 26poll, ABC News reported that "Nearly two-thirds ofAmericans [64%] support Barack Obama's decision to send17,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan despitesubstantial skepticism on whether the war there hasbeen worth fighting." Only half the respondents in thenew poll believed the war "was worth" fighting, yet asubstantial majority backed the deployment.The biggest support for Obama's move came fromRepublicans, 77%. Democrats, who had been the mostopposed in January, were 63% in favor. About 60% ofindependents were in favor as well. Among those"strongly in favor" Republicans were 52% and Democrats,35%. "Among liberal Democrats it's just 29%," ABC Newsrevealed.The additional 17,000 troops will bring U.S. forces upto 55,000 in Afghanistan. This is opposed by the peopleof Afghanistan. In a recent poll of Afghan opinion byABC, BBC and ARD (the German news consortium), only 18%approved of sending more foreign troops, and 44% wantedthe existing number lowered. The new troops will beadded as combat brigades are transferred from Iraq. ThePentagon still wants another 13,000 at some point. Inaddition there are 23,000 troops from eight NATOcountries, largely in non-combat assignments. Secretaryof Defense Gates, with negligible success, has beenpressuring NATO to send more troops.Many peace groups were critical of Obama's Afghansurge. CODEPINK Women for Peace declared Feb. 19 it "isheartbroken and discouraged by the deployment," sayingit brought "a screeching halt to his rhetoric forchange and moving our country in a new direction."In a statement Feb. 28, the ANSWER antiwar coalitiondeclared: "President Obama decided not to challenge the[Bush Administration's] fundamental strategicorientation in the region. That explains why he keptthe Bush team Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, andGenerals Petraeus and Odierno on the job to overseeand manage the Iraq occupation. They will also managethe widening U.S. war in Afghanistan and the aerialassaults on Pakistan. There have been over 30 U.S.bombing attacks in Pakistan in the last two months."On Feb. 18 the UFPJ coalition stated that "militaryescalation will only exacerbate the horrors that nowplague the region and that this escalation is not theanswer for Afghanistan and it is not in the interestsof the United States."One of the most descriptive critiques was from JustinRaimondo, the libertarian editor of Antiwar.com, whowrote in an article titled "The Silence of theLiberals": "Antiwar voters who cast their ballots forObama have succeeded in rolling the stone all the wayup a rather steep hill, only to see it fall down theother side and we are right back where we started.The next hill is called Afghanistan, and beyond that isyet another: Pakistan."Progressive war correspondent Patrick Cockburn, writingin The Independent (UK) Feb. 26, declared: "It isdifficult to believe that the Obama administration isgoing to make as many crass errors as its predecessor?. The reinforced US military presence in Afghanistanrisks provoking a backlash in which religion combineswith nationalism to oppose foreign intervention."At this stage there are 142,000 U.S. troops in Iraq,and all but 50,000 or so will withdraw within 19months, three months later than Obama pledged. In lateFebruary administration sources disclosed how manytroops were scheduled to remain in Iraq, much to theconsternation of Congressional Democratic leaders whowere astonished by the high number. House Speaker NancyPelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid, joinedby New York Sen. Charles Schumer, Washington State'sSen. Patty Murray, Wisconsin's Sen. Russell Feingold,among others, all expressed the view that the numberwas too high.Sen. John McCain, the defeated Republican presidentialaspirant, supported the size of the "residual" force.He said Feb. 27 that Obama's plan "can keep us on theright path in Iraq. I worry, however, about statementsmade by a number of our colleagues indicating that, forreasons wholly apart from the requirement to secure ouraims in Iraq, we should aim at a troop presence muchlower than 50,000."All U.S. troops are supposed to leave Iraq before 2012under the withdrawal arrangement between formerPresident Bush and Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Malikithat was approved a few months ago but that's nearlythree years from now and anything can happen.Top American generals, led by Petraeus and Odierno, areknown to believe that U.S. forces should remain in Iraqpast Dec. 31, 2011. The arrangement can be changed ifthe Iraqi government "requests" that American forcesremain, and this is entirely possible. A number ofleading Iraqi politicians, well aware that they owetheir power to Uncle Sam's intervention, are said toprefer a longer occupation. The overwhelming majorityof the Iraqi people, of course, have opposed theAmerican presence throughout Bush's, and now Obama's,war.President Obama chose to make public his withdrawalplans during a speech to 2,000 Marines at Camp Lejeune,NC, Feb. 27. He said the troops that remain in Iraqwould be engaged in training, equipping and advisingthe Iraqi security forces, but administration sourcesindicated that some would engage in combat operations.Obama lavishly praised the troops as he has donebefore. Last month, as he prepared to assume command ofan Armed Forces engaged in two illegal wars foisted onthe world by the neoconservative imperialists of theBush Administration, Obama declared: "Our troopsrepresent the best America has to offer," anunfortunate incentive to the growth of a warriorculture in America. And to his Marine audience Obamamade the following remark that turns history on itshead:"We sent our troops to Iraq to do away with SaddamHussein's regime and you got the job done. We keptour troops in Iraq to help establish a sovereigngovernment and you got the job done. And we will leavethe Iraqi people with a hard-earned opportunity to livea better life ? that is your achievement; that is theprospect that you have made possible." The ANSWERcoalition correctly noted that Obama "made Bush'sinvasion sound like a liberating act and congratulatedthe troops.'"We won't go into the real causes of the war andoccupation here, but in terms of the "better life"given to the Iraqis, here's how Robert Dreyfussdescribes the situation in Iraq today in the March 9issue of The Nation: "Key political actors on all sidesremain bolstered by paramilitary armies. Unemploymentis vast, and basic services electricity, water, trashcollection, healthcare are intermittent ornonexistent. The army and police are infiltrated bymilitias, and their loyalty is suspect. Baghdad is abewildering maze of blast walls and sealed-off enclavessurrounding the fortress-like Green Zone, and the cityis reeling from years of brutal ethnic cleansing. Theprovincial capitals are rife with intrigue, and many ofthem Kirkuk, Mosul, Baquba and Basra, for instance are perched at the brink of civil strife. And theelections themselves, in which millions of voters weredisenfranchised, were deeply flawed."Life in pre-war Iraq was hard U.S.-UN sanctionskilled over a million people between 1991-2003 but itwas better than what has happened to that countryduring the devastating U.S. invasion and occupation.The Obama Administration's provisional Pentagon budgetfor fiscal 2010, which starts Oct. 1, was included in a10-year general budget projection released by the WhiteHouse Feb. 26. This preliminary war budget (a completeproposal will be made in April) increases "defense"spending by 4% over Bush's budget for 2009.In addition, President Obama is requesting asupplementary appropriation of $75.5 billion to financethe three wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and "on terrorism"until the end of September this year, and $130 billion"to support ongoing overseas contingency operations,while increasing efforts in Afghanistan and drawingdown troops from Iraq responsibly." Including the warcosts, defense spending amounts to $664 billion, $10billion more than 2009. These figures, however, aretotally misleading not in the allocations just listedbut in the war money that is hidden in other sectors ofthe budget. All told, the war budget exceeds $1trillion in 2010, as we explain in part 2 of ourarticle on The Recession below.Despite unlimited financing, the Pentagon has lost thewar in Iraq. When the world's greatest militaryjuggernaut is fought to a stalemate by an erraticirregular force of perhaps 20,000 effectives, it is adefeat that cannot be covered up at least by history through a cosmetic "surge" consisting of equal partsviolence and bribery. But the Obama Administrationseems committed to a clear victory in Afghanistan (aswere the British and Russians of previous eras, much totheir chagrin). In the Department of Defense budgetproposal the monies are to facilitate "achieving U.S.objectives in Afghanistan," and those objectives ofnecessity include wiping out the military humiliationin Iraq.Some of the war budget will go toward increasing theArmy and Marines troop strength by a total of 90,000new recruits. Recruitment, for the first time in years,has been successful in the last few months because ofthe recession. So many young people cannot find jobsthat they are lining up to join the military. Thebudget also includes another pay increase for the ArmedForces, of about 3%.Eventually, Obama is going to make the gesture ofnominally reducing the overstuffed military budget,mainly concentrating on cutting some of the obsoleteCold War-type big-ticket items. He had been expected todo so upon taking office, but evidently saw the need toprove his militarist credentials to the Pentagon,Congressional Republicans, and the pro-war sector ofAmerican opinion. In time he will have to make somecuts, probably explaining it is a concession to thestaggering economy.Since taking office, President Obama has shown the backof his hand to the U.S. antiwar movement, whichconsists in large majority of Democratic Party voters.Expanding the Afghan war, keeping troops many yearslonger in Iraq, and increasing war spending is exactlywhat those voters didn't want. It's certainly not the"change" they believed in.If the Obama supporters who genuinely opposed Bush'swars now become silent or reduce their antiwaractivities because a Democrat is in the White House,our peace movement, and the humanitarian cause itrepresents already weakened since the "surge" isheaded for very difficult times indeed. And withoutthat movement the political pressure for peace willquickly dissipate. --Jack A. Smith is editor of the Activist Newsletter anda former editor of the Guardian (US) radicalnewsweekly. He may be reached at: email@example.com.