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Doves Keep The Faith as Obama Team Tilts Right

Jonathan Martin

Progressives who knew Obama before his ascent onto the national stage also suggest that he's remaining on the same course he's always charted - one that hews closer to the middle than those on the right will give him credit for or those on the left would prefer.

Leading opponents
of the war have mostly been silent as president-elect Barack Obama, who
first built his national image on the foundation of his early
opposition to the Iraq war, assembles a group of national security
hands that is anything but a team of doves.

It's a disorienting moment for the peace wing of the Democratic Party,
at once elated America selected a new president opposed to the Iraq war
and momentarily disoriented by the imminent removal of a
commander-in-chief whose every action they've opposed for the past
eight years.

"Shock has paralyzed them for the moment," said Steven Clemons, a
senior fellow at the New America Foundation who writes The Washington
Note, a popular foreign policy blog. "We are in an Obama bubble now.
And it's tough to step out and be first to deflate the bubble."

Especially, he added, before that bubble takes shape.

"You've got some people like myself who are saying there may be an
interesting design in what Obama is trying to do. Maybe it doesn't fit
easily in a neatly sculpted box of liberal pacifist and warmonger hawk.
Maybe it's more complex than that."

Still, it's clearly a team that tilts to the right of Democratic foreign policy thought.

Vice-president-elect Joe Biden initially backed the war in Iraq and has
supported other military interventions in his long Senate career. Sen.
Hillary Rodham Clinton also supported the Iraq war resolution, a vote
that Obama framed as a critical failure of judgement during the
primary. She's also taken a harder line on Iran than the
president-elect-and is in line to be his Secretary of State.

Jim Jones, a retired Marine General who advised Clinton, Obama and
John McCain during the campaign and has refused to disclose his
partisan leanings, is slated for National Security Adviser. And running
the Pentagon? For at least the first year of his administration, it's
virtually certain that the new president will retain Robert Gates-the
Secretary of Defense appointed by President Bush.

Liberals scored one victory, though, when a top candidate to take over
the CIA withdrew from consideration this week after concerns surfaced
over his views on the agency's interrogation methods. In a letter
taking his name out of consideration, John Brennan said he didn't want
to be a "distraction" to the president-elect.

Yet most leaders on the left are keeping to themselves any criticisms
of the centrist quartet that will help shape and implement Obama's
foreign policy.

For now there is a measure of trust from liberals who believe Obama
will hold to the principles he espoused during the campaign: end the
war in Iraq, negotiate with adversaries and restore America's standing
in the global community.

"We should have a simple sign on our wall saying, ‘It's the policy
stupid,'" said Tom Andrews, the former Maine congressman, riffing off
James Carville's 1992 Clinton campaign mantra. "Many will give
President-elect Obama the benefit of the doubt about who is executing
the policy as long as there is no comprise or backtracking on the
policy itself," added Andrews, who now heads the group "Win Without

There is, Andrews noted, a reluctance to carp before Obama is even
sworn in. "He hasn't been president for one second yet," the former
congressman observed.

Progressives who knew Obama before his ascent onto the national stage
also suggest that he's remaining on the same course he's always charted
- one that hews closer to the middle than those on the right will give
him credit for or those on the left would prefer.

Maryiln Katz, a veteran of the peace movement dating back to her days
as a member of Students for a Democratic Society, helped organize the
October 2002 rally in Chicago's Federal Plaza where Obama declared his
opposition to what he called a "dumb war."

But, Katz recalled, the then-state senator also made certain to point out he was no pacifist.


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"He asserted his own position in contradiction to [the] anti-war
movement," she said. "He wasn't us. He didn't pander to the crowd."

But Katz, a well-connected Chicago public-relations executive, said
that some liberals chose to ignore the part of the speech where Obama
stressed that he was not against military force and actually urged more
aggressive pursuit of al Qaeda.

"A lot of people took his position on Iraq and projected our politics
onto him," she said. "And that was never him. It was never true."

Still, President Obama sounds a lot
better than President Bush to a peace movement whose members have spent
the last seven years in a posted of principled, if often powerless,
opposition-and who now have to find a new point of orientation.

"It's a real challenge to those of who have grown up in opposition to
everything," said Katz. "How do we behave in a way that it expands the
progressive point of view? How do you maintain an independent NGO,
issue-based infrastructure based on something other than a culture of

Some clues could come in Chicago, where from January 1st to the 19th
(MLK Day and the day before Obama's inauguration), a coalition of
liberal groups will rally in Hyde Park at what they're calling "Camp
Hope" to push for various liberal priorities at home and abroad. Still,
the language of their "presence" -- they do not call it a
protest-highlights the confusion as to how to relate to an incoming
president who is, at the least, less adversarial to their agenda.

The group will congregate daily to "congratulate Senator Obama as our
new President-elect and recommit ourselves to progressive actions he
promoted on his campaign trail," states the message on their Web site,
which adds, "We earnestly hope his presidency will signal the dawning
of long-needed progressive change in the United States."

To be sure, there are some voices who haven't hesitated to take on the
president-elect when he's departed from their line, but those voices
have found themselves increasingly marginalized by the press and those
in the peace movement willing to give Obama a chance.

"He is violating the people's mandate," complained Jodie Evans, a Code
Pink co-founder who emailed from Tehran, where she was meeting with
government officials and other peace activists. "The people elected him
over her precisely because of their different foreign policy stances.
Here we are in Iran, working to establish citizen diplomacy, hearing
the concerns of the Iranian people and how it feels to have [Clinton]
say she wants to obliterate Iran. Those comments are not taken lightly
and [are] seen as policy positions here."

Evans, who with her husband helped raise money for Obama during the
primary and general election, hinted at how the new president-elect has
kept the left-wing at bay since winning the election-by focusing on the
issue that first brought them to his side.

Recalling her interaction with Obama at fundraisers, the veteran
liberal activist said: "It has gotten to the point where he sees me
coming and before I am close he just keeps repeating, 'Jodie, I
PROMISE, I will end the war, I promise I will end the war.' It is
effective in limiting the amount of time I have to complain about what
ever is up [to] at the moment."

Those vested in power, though, are less inclined to complain just yet.

"My immediate reaction was that I feel sure that President Obama knows
that he was elected on a campaign of change, and that includes on
foreign policy," said Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), a Bay Area liberal who
co-chairs the House Progressive Caucus, when asked about the new
commander-in-chief. "Regardless of who advises him, he must and I
believe he will embrace a bold agenda that uses our non-military

Woolsey said others in the peace movement are holding their fire
because they are "so relieved that we will have a leader they can
trust," even as, she said, they are "counting on the progressives in
the Congress to keep his feet to the fire."

So far, though, Obama's yet to feel the flame.

Observed Clemons: "It's very hard for even leaders of the left to poke
holes because too many of their followers will say, ‘give the guy a
break-he hasn't even been in there yet.' You should see the ridicule or
hate at anyone that tries to poke a hole in the Obama myth right now."

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