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Midterm Election Results a Setback for Peace

Tom Hayden

 by The Nation

The November election was a setback for the peace movement, not only
because of the defeat of Sen. Russ Feingold but for deeper reasons.

Both parties collaborated in keeping Afghanistan out of the national
election debate and media coverage - while during the period
June-November alone, 274 American soldiers were killed and 2,934 were
wounded on the battlefield.

(The official American toll under Obama in Afghanistan has become at
least 730 deaths and 6,400 wounded; the taxpayer costs under Obama
currently are $113 billion per year.)

Democratic candidates this year chose not to use Afghanistan-Iraq as
an issue perhaps because they have become Obama's wars. According to the
New York Times, the US even plans to orchestrate an invitation
to remain in Iraq after the current 2011 deadline, but desperately
wanted to keep the controversy out of the election debates.

With Republican control of the House, antiwar Democrats will have
little room to hold hearings or maneuver against the wars. There were
162 House members, nearly all Democrats, who voted against funding the
war or in favor of an exit strategy earlier this year, one-fourth of the
House. In the Senate, Feingold authored similar legislation that
obtained 18 votes, a number not likely to increase either.

The notion among some that ultra-right fiscally conservative
Republicans will vote with the peace Democrats is largely a fantasy.
Republicans like Karl Rove did not want to advertise their support for
Obama's troop escalation this fall while they prepare to blast him for
drawing down short of "victory" next July. For example, Sen. John
McCain, who is planning a trip to Afghanistan, told Reuters that "this
date for withdrawal that the president announced without any military
advice or counsel has caused us enormous problems in our operations in
Afghanistan, because our enemies are encouraged and our friends are
confused over there."

McCain's comment was a huge lie, an indicator of the campaign
rhetoric to come. As McCain well knows, Obama has not given a "date for
withdrawal," only a date to "begin" a phase-out. Obama had months of
military advice and counsel, as reported in Bob Woodward's most recent
book. In fact, according to Woodward and Jonathan Alter, Obama had
Petraeus's word that they would have no complaints about the July 2011
deadline. In August, however, Petraeus declared that "the president
didn't send me over here to seek a graceful exit."

Obama's pledge to begin a July withdrawal may draw little or no peace
movement support unless he includes a timeline and substantial numbers,
and shows progress in diplomacy and talks with the Taliban. The
president's situation is similar to his problems with health care when
he appeared to over-promise and under-deliver, leaving his base
dispirited once again. (It should be noted that Obama took the strongest
exit strategy position among his internal advisers, according to
Woodward, with Hillary Clinton immediately supporting whatever troop
escalation Petraeus wanted.)

The next test for Obama will be whether his December review of
Afghanistan policy results in only another ratification of Afghanistan
status quo. Then comes another budget battle, with antiwar forces in
Congress at a greater tactical disadvantage than last year. By then
Obama's actual Afghan drawdown numbers will be publicly known, with
Republicans, the military and most of the media opposed or skeptical.

The 2012 national election predictably will be fought over
Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and the Long War favored by the Republicans
and the generals, with Obama positioned as favoring gradual troop
drawdowns in order to invest in his domestic agenda.

The wars will continue in any event, with increasing risks of
terrorist attacks on the US, bloody quagmires on the battlefields, and
the US propping up unpopular regimes in Kabul, Baghdad, Islamabad and
Yemen. The wars are unwinnable and unaffordable, but no one in power
dares say it.

The peace bloc - activist groups, anti-war Congress members, writers
and artists, here and across the NATO - can exercise a massive drag
against the war-making machine through 2012 as long as the wars remain
deeply unpopular. But in the absence of political statesmanship,
Petraeus need not worry, because the final stage will be anything but
"graceful."


© 2017 The Nation
Tom Hayden

Tom Hayden

Tom Hayden is a former state senator and leader of 1960's peace, justice and environmental movements. He currently teaches at Pitzer College in Los Angeles. His books include The Port Huron Statement [new edition], Street Wars and The Zapatista Reader.

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