Obama: Ending the Mindset that Got Us into War

By Kevin Zeese

2008 Campaign provides the opportunity to build a movement for fundamental change away from militarism

The issue on which Sen. Obama scored the most points in the January 31st debate with Sen. Clinton was the Iraq occupation.  While Iraq has been pushed from the front pages, despite continued carnage, it remains a priority for many voters.  Iraq persists to be an area of weakness for Clinton in the primary. 

Indeed, the most recent CNN poll, which has Obama in the lead nationally for the first time, shows Democratic voters trust Clinton more on health care and the economy, but trusted Obama on Iraq.  Iraq is the issue propelling Obama ahead of Clinton.

Obama made a number of points on Iraq in their last debate, finishing  with: “I don’t want to just end the war, but I want to end the mindset that got us into war in the first place.”  He followed that lofty goal with a promise: “That’s the kind of leadership that I think we need from the next president of the United States. That’s what I intend to provide.”

 Obama blames conventional, Washington thinking for the war saying:

 “. . . conventional thinking in Washington lined up for war. The pundits judged the political winds to be blowing in the direction of the President. Despite, or perhaps because of how much experience they had in Washington, too many politicians feared looking weak and failed to ask hard questions. Too many took the President at his word instead of reading the intelligence for themselves. Congress gave the President the authority to go to war. Our only opportunity to stop the war was lost.” 

The mindset for war often infects Washington.  Since World War II the U.S. has been a nation at war more often than not, and whether at war or peace, consistently invests in building the most powerful military in world history. 

Peace Voters have already begun the process of changing that conventional thinking mindset in Washington.  Even Senator Clinton, who has voted for the war from the beginning, is now saying “I will do everything I can to get as many of our troops out as quickly as possible.”   She promises to take one to two brigades out per month.

Ending the “mindset” of war is essentially the position of the organization I direct, VotersForPeace.  Not only do we want to end the Iraq occupation but also prevent future wars of aggression.  We urge people to take the peace pledge which states: “I will only vote for or support federal candidates who publicly commit to a speedy end to the Iraq war, and to preventing future ‘wars of aggression’.”  See VotersForPeace.US.

Obama’s soaring rhetoric of hope and unity along with the proposition of the U.S. electing the first African American president makes me want to exclaim ‘eurkea!’ finally a candidate who can bring much-needed change to the United States.

And, changing the mindset that leads to war would result in other changes in Washington. On foreign policy the U.S. will need to work with other countries, not dominate them and rely on negotiation and diplomacy rather than force.  And, to prevent violence, the U.S. will need to help put in place solutions to the underlying problems that lead to military conflict.

Ending the mindset of war would also change domestic policy.  For decades the U.S. has been investing in the military economy at the expense of the civilian economy.  And, it shows – in the loss of industry, a weakened middle class, a failing infrastructure, and a deteriorating economy.  

Could Obama really mean it?  Does he really want to end the mindset that leads to war?

How do voters opposed to war square Sen. Obama’s comment with his advocacy for an even bigger military – adding 100,000 more troops? The average annual cost of maintaining a single service member currently exceeds $100,000.  The cost of these troops is tens of billions more dollars for the military.  And, if the U.S. has another 100,000 troops isn’t its leadership more likely to use them?  Isn’t this a signal to the military industrial complex that Obama will not challenge them?

Many members of VotersForPeace, including me, have been critical of Obama’s votes on the war.  We all know he spoke out against the war when he was a state senator. He described it as “a rash war” that would result in “an occupation of undetermined length, with undetermined costs, and undetermined consequences.”  He was right.  But we also know that since coming to the senate his record has been the same as Sen. Clinton.  He has voted to give Bush all the funds he has requested, with no strings attached and continue the occupation of Iraq. 

And, peace advocates have seen Obama play to the right wing Israeli lobby, missing his first senate vote to speak to AIPAC event and telling them what they want to hear regarding Iran – “all options are on the table.”  Yes, he says he wants negotiation with Iran at the same time he keeps the military option available.

So, what is the meaning of Sen. Obama’s comment?  Can we trust him to really “end the mindset” that gets the U.S. into continuous wars? It is a lofty goal and would be an epic political struggle.  It would require him to challenge the military industrial complex, the oil industry, the pro-war Israeli lobby and others who profit from war. Does Obama have the strength to overcome these political adversaries?

So what is a peace voter supposed to do? 

Obama has consistently said, on issue after issue, that change is going to require the people to be organized, active and vocal.  He says “change does not happen from the top down, but from the bottom up.”  An organized citizenry is especially required when a fundamental paradigm shift is needed in a policy that has deep roots.  And militarism runs deep in the United States where half the discretionary spending goes to the military and with the U.S. already spending as much as the rest of the world combined on its armed forces. The strength of the military industrial complex was evident way back when Eisenhower warned the country about it in his farewell speech in 1961.

During the election year some peace voters will take Obama at his finest words and work to elect him hoping that he will provide the leadership he promises.  Some may even be satisfied with Hillary Clinton’s election year conversion.

Others, will look to the Green Party which has two strong peace candidates in Ralph Nader and former congresswoman Cynthia McKinney or other third parties like the Libertarians and Constitution Parties which also are running anti-war candidates.  Nader has questioned whether Obama has the backbone to stand up to the special interests on the issue of militarism and points out how Bush justified the war based on Clinton policies.  McKinney seeks to lead a “peace slate” to end the war and, like Nader, opposes the bloated military and intelligence budgets.

Whatever choice is made, the 2008 election year is an opportunity to build a movement for deep-seated change away from militarism.  And after the election peace advocates need to come together to pressure whoever is elected, to end not only the mindset that has led the U.S. to ongoing wars but the ongoing investment in the military economy.

The election promises to continue to be a debate on the Iraq war.  Obama said as much during the debate: “I will be the Democrat who will be most effective in going up against a John McCain, or any other Republican — because they all want basically a continuation of George Bush’s policies.”

Clinton concurs that Iraq will be central to the election year saying “There will be a great debate between us and the Republicans, because the Republicans are still committed to George Bush’s policy, and some are more committed than others” specifically mentioning Senator McCain. 

In fact, Obama seems to relish the battle, especially if it is with Senator McCain: “I will be the Democrat who will be most effective in going up against a John McCain . . .  because I will offer a clear contrast as somebody who never supported this war, thought it was a bad idea.”

In fact, the peace movement’s job in the 2008 election is to make sure the war is an issue through November no matter who the nominee.  Senator McCain is a superhawk who jokingly sings about bombing Iran and told a town hall meeting in New Hampshire that it would be “fine with me” if the U.S. stayed “maybe a hundred years in Iraq.”  McCain will be quick to the trigger in using the U.S. military. 

Building the anti-war movement is a major goal of the election year. It will be critical in 2009 that the movement be stronger than it is today because it will either be facing a militarist in John McCain, or a Democrat who has consistently voted for war funding while saying they will begin to withdraw troops from Iraq.  How much progress the United States makes on ending the mindset that leads to ongoing wars will depend more on how well peace advocates organize and how aggressively political pressure is applied to the next president.

-Kevin Zeese is Executive Director of Voters for Peace www.VotersForPeace.US. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com

(The Palestine Chronicle is a registered 501(c)3 organization, thus, all donations are tax deductible.)
Our Vision For Liberation: Engaged Palestinian Leaders & Intellectuals Speak Out