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If Obama Wants Them To Keep Their Shoes On

While everyone else is trying to figure out how Muntadar al-Zeidi got that second shoe off so fast or whether it was just that Iraqi security didn't bother to tackle him until he ran out of shoes, President-elect Obama might want to figure out when the shoes might start flying in his direction. After all, on January 20, Bush's Iraq War becomes his. And so does his Afghanistan War, which could prove the greater problem.

By all appearances, Obama is in for something of a honeymoon so far as Iraq is concerned. He did, after all, oppose the war when Bush first proposed it, even if he did vote to fund it once he arrived in the US Senate. And given his antiwar campaign stance, combined with the Bush Administration's recently negotiated agreement for a broader withdrawal of US forces than Obama himself campaigned on, the American public will likely cut him some slack for some time.

After all, when even the left-wing Nation magazine is only calling on him to stick to his sixteen month withdrawal timetable, a broad movement for immediate withdrawal doesn't seem in the offing.

All this, of course, only holds if nothing changes significantly in Iraq and the public response to Bush's shoe-ducking is a good reminder of just how strong the hostility to the occupation runs there. But if American casualties remain low, Obama can likely go a considerable period of time before being seriously challenged on this front. The fact is, that while John McCain could hardly have stated his position more poorly in speaking of a potential hundred year occupation of Iraq, his assessment that Americans could live with a long-term military presence in the country so long as it was pacified was probably right. There are, after all, no demonstrations calling for the removal of American troops from South Korea and that war ended over fifty years ago.

Obama will not and should not get a grace period on Afghanistan, however. He calls it a "good war" and supports sending more troops. And it is far from clear that the worst doesn't lay before us. Afghanistan has always been a sticky matter for the American antiwar movement, though. For one thing, there were many who opposed the Iraq War but actually supported the Afghanistan invasion, at least at the outset. And even as more people started to see it as a reflex reaction to 9-11, a war entered into to make someone pay for that attack, the larger and more heinous Iraq War drew away much of the attention that might have gone there. For the antiwar movement it's been pretty much remained an add-on: We oppose the War in Iraq (and Afghanistan.) But the new Administration's enthusiastic embrace of this war seems to leave the antiwar movement little choice but to confront it, ready or not.


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If anything, the White House (regardless of occupant) has an even better enemy in the Taliban than it did in Saddam Hussein and that goes a long way. But they don't have much more than that. It is largely forgotten today that the Taliban offered to turn Osama bin-Laden over to a third party for trial if he was captured because their offer was instantly dismissed as unacceptable, if not simply absurd. America would find bin-Laden and America would try him. But seven years later, what have we achieved? Bin-Laden remains at large and the Taliban is resurgent.

It's hard to know what to make of Obama's stance on this. Does he really believe in this war or was it mostly campaign rhetoric? But we have little choice but to take him at his word and start to push the outlines of an argument against the war into mainstream debate. Opponents do have a couple of strong cards to play. One is history. Here there are two stories. The first is that of prior US support for fundamentalist groups like Al Queda as part of an effort to defeat the Soviet Union in its Afghanistan war and the devastating blowback it has brought. The other is the Soviet Union's ultimate military failure, despite its relative advantage of geographic proximity compared to us. Were our goal to convince fundamentalists that the US wishes to engage in a worldwide conflict with Islam, this war might work, but we are unlikely to succeed in much else.

But the trump card may be economic. The new Administration rides in on high hopes that are only magnified by the deepening economic crisis, to the point where talk of a Second New Deal has become a commonplace. The surest way to derail those hopes will be to continue pouring what now amounts to trillions of dollars into the sinkholes of the wars initiated by the Bush Administration. And if Barack Obama doesn't want to some day himself be pelted with shoes, or whatever they throw in Afghanistan, he'll figure that out – fast.

Tom Gallagher

Tom Gallagher

Tom Gallagher is a former Massachusetts State Representative and the author of 'The Primary Route: How the 99% Take On the Military Industrial Complex.' He lives in San Francisco. He can be reached at

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