Obama And The Winds Of War
By Glen Ford
01 December, 2006
Obama is a windblown politician. The junior Illinois senator avoids
anchoring himself to any principle, lest his political sails fail to
catch the slightest breeze blowing from the left or the right. His political
direction is always tentative, although his ultimate destination is
never in doubt: he will be a formidable national presence--maybe even
But Barack Obama--who has
never claimed to be a Black leader--is in fact not a leader at all.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the most critical issue facing
Americans and the world at this dangerous juncture in history: the war
One year after his bland
and idea-less speech on Iraq to the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations
(see "Obama Mouths Mush on War," December 1, 2005), Obama
returned to mush more of the same to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.
The U.S. should "begin to move towards a phased redeployment of
American troops from Iraqi soil," he told the business-oriented
crowd. Since the objective reality on the ground in Iraq and in U.S.
public opinion had changed dramatically in the intervening year--resulting
in Democratic capture of the House and Senate--Obama's failure to substantively
revise his previous, timid prescriptions actually amounts to a turn
to the right.
As the 2008 campaign begins,
Obama instinctively positions himself even closer to the right wing
of the party. His finger is in the wind, as always, but not the popular
national or Democratic rank and file winds. Rather, Obama's game is
to maneuver himself deep into the foggy Iraq policy realm inhabited
by the gaggle of Democratic "front-runners"--a muck from which
nothing ever emerges of any relevance to Iraqi or world realities. On
that soggy playing field, the Senator is betting that his personal popularity
and charisma will propel him towards his goal--whether that be the presidential
or vice-presidential nomination, or simply to solidify his position
as a major power broker.
Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold
dropped out of the race this month, the only presidential hopeful to
call for a firm timetable for the bulk of U.S. troops to actually leave
Iraq by July, 2007, rather than a schedule to begin withdrawal at some
point months in the future--Obama's position. With no one to Obama's
left, he feels free to repeat the platitudes offered by the rest of
the Democratic presidential field.
Obama's focus on gamesmanship
rather than principled leadership, which became strikingly evident well
before he won election to the U.S. Senate, in 2004, has rendered him
virtually useless in the struggle to end the occupation and war in Iraq,
or to prevent further U.S. aggressions in the future. Both his Chicago
speeches testify to that sad fact.
Obama in Wonderland
In contrast to Sen. Feingold's
proposal that U.S. troops "redeploy from Iraq" by mid-summer,
and Congressman Jack Murtha's proposal that Washington "immediately
redeploy U.S. troops consistent with the safety of U.S. forces,"
Sen. Obama calls for "a phased redeployment of U.S. troops from
Iraq on a timetable that would begin in four to six months. Such a timetable
may not need to begin in 2007, but begin it must."
That's essentially the same
kind of mush Obama served the Chicago Council on Foreign relations in
2005, when he said: "The strategic goals should be to allow for
a limited drawdown of U.S. troops, coupled with shift to a more effective
counter-insurgency strategy that puts the Iraqi security forces in the
lead and intensifies our efforts to train Iraqi forces."
This time around, Obama again
puts forward a faux withdrawal plan full of holes big enough to drive
a convoy of Bradley Fighting Vehicles through. "The President should
announce to the Iraqi people that our policy will include a gradual
and substantial reduction in U.S. forces," said the senator. "He
should then work with our military commanders to map out the best plan
for such a redeployment and determine precise levels and dates. I am
not suggesting that this timetable be overly-rigid."
Oh, heavens no! Let's not
be too "rigid" with a president who has vowed the U.S. will
not leave Iraq while he remains in office.
Obama's so-called withdrawal
strategy is full of gaping loopholes. "The redeployment could be
temporarily suspended if the parties in Iraq reach an effective political
arrangement that stabilizes the situation and they offer us a clear
and compelling rationale for maintaining certain troop levels."
There is no When, How or
How Many in Obama's amorphous vision--but he keeps on talking, anyway:
"As a phased redeployment is executed, the majority of the U.S.
troops remaining in Iraq should be dedicated to the critical, but less
visible roles, of protecting logistics supply points, critical infrastructure,
and American enclaves like the Green Zone."
Ah, that Green Zone, the
vast fortress in the heart of Baghdad where the U.S. is building the
largest embassy by far in the world. Leaving the Green Zone in U.S.
military hands would be like a foreign occupier "withdrawing"
from New York City while retaining fortifications stretching across
all of mid-town Manhattan.
The fantasy continues: "Drawing
down our troops in Iraq will allow us to redeploy additional troops
to Northern Iraq and elsewhere in the region as an over-the-horizon
Yes, sort of like Dorothy
in the Wizard of Oz, Obama wants some U.S. troops, but not all, to go
somewhere over the horizon. But the horizon he's talking about is Kurdish
turf, protected by 60,000 battle-hardened Pesh Merga fighters who have
already secured the territory's virtual independence and, at last word,
have not requested that their region be occupied. Given the habitual
conduct of U.S. troops, a redeployment to Kurdish Iraq would likely
alienate the only major Iraqi group that is not yet actively hostile
to the Americans. The Kurds constantly threaten to seize for themselves
the oil fields at Kirkuk--a move that would almost certainly provoke
war with both Sunnis and Shia. If, as he claims, Obama doesn't want
U.S. troops caught in a crossfire, he's got a strange way of avoiding
Contradictions abound in
the ephemeral formula Obama shares with most of the Democratic presidential
field. The senator donned his Uncle Sam top hat to scold the Iraqi parties/militias,
demanding that they provide the U.S. with a "political solution"
to the chaos ushered in by the invading Americans:
"To reach such a solution,
we must communicate clearly and effectively to the factions in Iraq
that the days of asking, urging, and waiting for them to take control
of their own country are coming to an end. No more coddling, no more
equivocation. Our best hope for success is to use the tools we have--military,
financial, diplomatic--to pressure the Iraqi leadership to finally come
to a political agreement between the warring factions that can create
some sense of stability in the country and bring this conflict under
No more "coddling"?
Here, Obama reveals himself as just another imperialist, oblivious to
his own nation's crimes and incapable of internalizing the concept of
self-determination and sovereignty of weaker nations. The U.S. has "coddled"
600,000 Iraqis to death--not counting those who previously perished
during decade-long sanctions. The Americans methodically destroyed the
Iraqi state, and now wonder why the militia/parties can't put it back
together again. The Americans drove most Iraqis to hate them, yet remain
persuaded that they retain the moral authority to scold one part of
the nation, their "allies," while "extinguishing"
(Obama's word) another part, the resistance.
The Roman, Tacitus wrote
in his Annals: "[T]he legions create a wasteland and call it a
A number of modern writers
have quoted Tacitus, with the Americans standing in for the Roman legions:
"They create a wasteland and call it Democracy."
Barack Obama, surveying the
wasteland and finding no peace and no Democracy, refuses to blame the
Americans, but instead claims the U.S. is "coddling" Iraqis.
He admits "polls show that almost two-thirds of all Iraqis now
sympathize with attacks on American soldiers"--an amazing figure,
since the Kurdish region of Iraq is relatively untouched by the war
and occupation, and Sunnis make up only about 20 percent of the population.
Apparently, a huge chunk of the Shia majority, the group the Americans
thought would be their natural allies, would just as soon see them dead.
In such a situation, the
word "coddling" seems wildly out of place. But delusions run
deep in the American political culture, undermining the faculties of
even the most popular Black man in America.
Obama did succeed in putting
distance between himself and presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton,
in Chicago. "[W]hile some have proposed escalating this war by
adding thousands of more troops, there is little reason to believe that
this will achieve [U.S. objectives] either"--a clear reference
to the New York senator.
The truth is, Obama's speech
is relevant only to U.S. domestic politicking, and has no bearing on
events as they unfold on the ground in Iraq. Sen. Clinton postures as
a hawk to prove to war-lusting white men that she has balls. Sen. Obama
continues on his lifelong quest to demonstrate that he is a reasonable,
thoughtful Black man--unlike the others. This is theater for American
audiences only, and has nothing to do with statesmanship, or the search
Just two weeks before Obama
delivered his pablum-filled speech, his constituents across the Illinois
voted overwhelmingly to stop the war and "immediately begin an
orderly and rapid withdrawal." In Chicago, the ballot measure passed
by a whopping 80-to-20 percent. Similar results were tallied in suburban
Cook County, Evanston and Oak Park--wherever the measure was on the
The voters, from both political
parties, are way ahead of Obama and his fellow senatorial shufflers.
Nationwide, more than 70 percent of Democrats--the people who nominate
the party's presidential candidates--favor an immediate withdrawal from
Iraq. To lead, Obama would have to run to catch up.
There is a political solution
to the American war in Iraq, although not the one Obama and his corporatist
friends are willing to accept. Get out. Now.
Glen Ford is
executive editor of the newly launched website The Black Agenda Reprt.
He can be reached at Glen.Ford (at) BlackAgendaReport.com. Be sure to
substitute @ for (at).
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