In just a few hours, President Obama will lay out his plan to send an additional 30,000+ US troops to Afghanistan. Which makes this a very trying moment for progressives who supported Obama during the campaign, his Presidency, and up to now. It is a very painful moment, a very anguishing one, as many of us are picking up our anti-war protest signs once again. Many of us will be demonstrating against this decision in the coming days and weeks ahead.
Do you feel the pain? I certainly do. This is even very painful for me to write. The pain I feel, that we feel – those of us who did support Obama- is very real. And it is to those I now appeal – those who championed the first African-American to assume the Presidency, to take the reins of our Empire in the hopes of bringing our democracy back from the eight long Bush years.
For those progressives and leftists who never supported Obama because he was a Democrat, or he was not radical enough, not left enough, not anti-corporate enough, not green enough – they are now gloating with “I told you so’s”. I am not addressing myself to them. They are already sufficiently self-righteous and are not open to this argument. They have already written Obama off – and some have even written me off.
But for some of us, those of us who listened to Obama during the campaign, who have both feet on the ground, knew this was coming. We knew, sooner or later, that we would be facing this moment – the moment when Obama sets out his expansive military plan for Afghanistan. We knew this moment of pain was coming. We heard him talk about it during the campaign.
We also know that the American people are very divided on this question. Polls still show an electorate split on whether escalating and sending more troops into that land-locked country is what they want or believe.
In the end, this is the moment of the crystallization of the dilemma of the disenchanted progressive. This is the moment I described in my recent series “The Dilemma of the Disenchanted Progress” – the moment when progressives are so disenchanted with the tempo and types of changes that the man they voted for has ushered in, that they are leaving the Obama bus in droves and are ready to kick him under it. This is the last straw. It’s Obama’s war now, he’s the new War President.
The dilemma then arises for us when we realize that despite this military misadventure, the main threat to our country is still the racist extremists who have incorporated all the attributes of an American fascist movement, supported by the Republican leadership, the corporate media, and some really wealthy patrons. They are opposing Obama, trying to undo the 2008 election, pushing the Sarah Palins and Glenn Becks forward as their leaders – and next President.
How can we resist this fascist movement that is gunning – quite literally for the first Black President – and at the same time oppose this gigantic disastrous move by him into Afghanistan?
It is not easy, it is excruciating painful, and in fact it may be so difficult that either we fail, he – Obama – fails, or both.
It takes a political maturity, seeped in both American and world history, to figure this out. It takes a maturity that is able to protest Obama’s plan on this, yet support him on other liberal elements of his administration’s policies. How – or why – can we do this?
Sure, we grab our protest signs. Sure we march against war again. Sure we chant, yell, even shout at Obama.
But there are differences. When we protested Bush’s invasion and occupation of Iraq, we even called him the ‘worst president in history’, called for his impeachment, called him out for his lying to us and Congress. Obama has not done these. He never said he would end the war in Afghanistan. He didn’t lie to the people, he didn’t invade a country that had nothing to do with 9-11.
And for progressives and leftists to diss him this early in his administration – even calling for his early retirement – does seriously play into the game plan of the militarists and corporatists. For then he becomes so isolated politically – that he is a better target for them.
It is a difference of substance. And of style. We can protest and demonstrate against Obama and his Afghan policies without demonizing him, without vilifying him, without questioning his legitimacy, and without jeopardizing the liberal elements of the rest of his administration. We gave up on George W ever listening to us on anything. We have not and cannot do that now. We protest so Obama can hear us.
Obama even told us to do that. Like FDR, he needs the grass-roots to apply our pressure. He needs progressives to counter the pressures from the generals, the huge military-industrial complex that Eisenhower warned us against.
Some liken this moment to 1965 when Lyndon Johnson was escalating the conflict in Vietnam. Despite his “Great Society” achievements, LBJ became a symbol of war for an entire generation – my generation. We chanted, “Hey, Hey, LBJ! How many kids did you kill today?”
I think actually this moment is closer to 1961 and 1962 when John Kennedy was handed the Vietnam conflict. He was advised to send in more advisers, more troops – which he did at first. But he went up against the military-CIA-corporate establishment in many ways. From thwarting the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba to questioning the conflict in Vietnam. Some say they assassinated him for his opposition. JFK was planning to withdraw from Vietnam, beginning his exit strategy when he was killed. As soon as the dust settled after Kennedy’s death, Johnson re-committed our country to the conflict in Southeast Asia. And we stayed there for another 12 years, and another 45,000 American deaths and a million Vietnamese dead.
This is not over yet. Obama has not been in office for a year yet. Progressives in this country gave George W Bush even more time than that.
We need to protest President Obama’s Afghanistan decision. Yet we need to do it so he will listen.