By Kevin Zeese
Although many of Senator Obama’s policy pronouncements are disturbing to peace voters, there are two things that Senator Obama has said during the long presidential campaign that give voters opposed to war some hope.
First, in a debate on January 31st 2008, Senator Obama said:
“I want to end the mindset that got us into war in the first place.”
If this statement is to be taken seriously it would mean a paradigm shift in U.S. foreign policy away from militarism towards diplomacy, foreign aid and cooperation with other nations. It will also mean shrinking the already too large defense budget creating the ability to invest in the new energy economy, U.S. infrastructure and the basic necessities of the American people.
Secondly, Sen. Obama has repeatedly told voters that the change he promises will not occur unless voters organize to pressure him and other elected officials. Most recently when he reversed course on the issue of telecom immunity, Senator Obama said that he expects voters to “hold me accountable” and make demands of him, saying:
“…when citizens join their voices together, they can hold their leaders accountable. I’m not exempt from that. I’m certainly not perfect, and expect to be held accountable too.”
Now is the time to do as exactly Senator Obama requests. As he travels in Afghanistan and Iraq and is on his way to meet European leaders it is time for us to urge Senator Obama to begin the process of ending the mindset of war. Peace voters need to be more organized and demonstrate that it is time to change U.S. foreign policy. We need to let Senator Obama know that we will hold him accountable and that we have other choices in this election; he has not yet earned our votes.
Peace voters are disgruntled with many of the positions Senator Obama has taken. His plan for Iraq is not a withdrawal but a redeployment of troops. Obama has called for a gradual redeploying of combat troops to Kuwait, where they can serve as a strike force to attack inside Iraq, while moving other troops to Afghanistan. He is also calling for a residual force to remain in Iraq. He does not say how large this force would be but his foreign policy advisors have put the number at 30,000 to 80,000 troops. Further, he told Amy Goodman of Democracy Now that he would not remove 140,000 private security forces (mercenary troops like Blackwater). On July 15, 2008, Sen. Obama told Larry King “I’ve also said that we’ll leave a residual force there to engage in counterterrorism activities inside of Iraq, as well, to protect our bases and our diplomats and civilian workers there.” This describes the current mission of U.S. troops. The comment about protecting bases was particularly disturbing to peace voters because it means he plans to keep U.S. military bases in Iraq.
Senator Obama’s recent promise to escalate the number of troops in Afghanistan by 10,000 is certainly not the direction peace voters would advocate. Even stalwart Obama supporter and peace activist Tom Hayden has described Obama’s policy as trading two wars for one – the two being Afghanistan and Pakistan. More troops will not help in Afghanistan. Already the U.S. is bombing wedding parties and killing civilians. Isn’t that making more enemies rather than less? And as far as capturing Osama bin Laden and other al Qaeda and Taliban leaders, wouldn’t precision military and intelligence activities be more effective than a force of 10,000? Afghanistan is better stabilized by less military and more foreign aid to show them that the U.S. is trying to build up the country and improve the lives of Afghanis rather than further destroy it with military force. Such an approach would weaken support for al Qaeda and the Taliban, while increased military activities could strengthen them.
Another concern of peace voters was Senator Obama was his speech before AIPAC — his words revealing a policy seemingly more hawkish than Senator McCain’s. In the speech Obama ad-libbed a promise to do everything necessary to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons — repeating ‘everything’ three times — a clear signal that Obama would use military force to accomplish this objective. Indeed, one of the few issues on which he has not wavered is keeping the military option on the table for Iran.
At the same time, Sen. Obama has talked more about diplomacy and foreign aid. Those are the types of signals peace voters need to hear of more.
By speaking of diplomacy and foreign aid, at this point, Obama is holding on to most peace voters However, he has lost many to candidates like Cynthia McKinney, Ralph Nader and Bob Barr—third party and independent candidates who are clearly calling for withdrawal from Iraq while Obama wavers. Many more peace voters are likewise wavering as they watch Obama’s pronouncements upon returning from his foreign tour. Is he moving toward ending the mindset of war or increasing U.S. militarism?
The vast majority of Americans—a growing super majority—oppose continuing keeping U.S. troops in Iraq, bombing Iran and want a less military-based foreign policy. We, as peace voters, must do exactly as Senator Obama has requested and hold him accountable. Now is the time to let Senator Obama know he cannot take peace voters for granted. Peace voters are the majority and we must insist that this majority opinion be respected. Are peace voters willing to take a stand and demand a de-militarized foreign policy?
As a first step toward demanding peace, please join in signing this important petition below. You can do so at www.VotersForPeace.US. The petition urges Sen. Obama to begin to make good on his pledge to “end the mindset that got us into war in the first place.”
Obama said: “I’m asking you to believe. Not just in my ability to bring about real change in Washington… I’m asking you to believe in yours.” Let’s begin by believing we can change the direction of Sen. Obama’s on foreign policy.
Petition to Sen. Obama: It is time to work to "end the mindset" of war
In recent comments you have urged voters to "hold you accountable" and make policy demands on you. On January 31, 2008 you said "I want to end the mindset that got us into war in the first place." This is the standard we urge you live-up to – the statement for which we write to hold you accountable.
Your recent writings and speeches on Iraq indicate that you have not backtracked, and it is critical that you do not do so. Many in the peace movement are reasonably concerned with some of your positions, particularly the incomplete withdrawal that leaves tens of thousands of residual troops in Iraq, more than 100,000 private military forces, and a combat strike force in Kuwait, while continuing to threaten Iran. DO NOT TAKE AMERICANS OPPOSED TO WAR FOR GRANTED. Anti-war voters – the growing majority of Americans – have many options. We do not have to donate time or money to your campaign. We can vote for clearly anti-war third party and independent candidates or we can not vote at all.
As you travel through Europe, the Middle East and Afghanistan as the putative Democratic nominee, now is the time to begin to "end the mindset" of war. When you visit Israel, urge them to not bomb Iran; tell the Israelis and Palestinians that peace is the priority. Urge U.S. commanders in Iraq to speed up the withdrawal that you have proposed and to make it a complete withdrawal– do not leave residual troops, mercenaries, a strike force in Kuwait or any long-term bases. When you are in Afghanistan, emphasize non-military solutions to the conflict there. Militarism dominates U.S. statecraft. Now is the time for greater emphasis on negotiation, diplomacy, multi-lateralism and foreign aid. The people demand it.
War is not the answer to any of these conflicts. The U.S. is not made more secure by creating new enemies and draining our treasury. The U.S. military budget is sapping the economic strength of the nation and making it impossible to face up to the urgent needs of a new energy economy, upgraded infrastructure, health care for all and other necessities of the American people. When you "end the mindset" that led to the Iraq War, it will allow for a re-prioritization of resources at home and abroad, moving the U.S. away from a military economy toward a civilian one. Now is the time to begin to end the mindset of war.
-Kevin Zeese is executive director of Voters For Peace (www.VotersforPeace.us). He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.