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Opposing Obama’s War: Let’s Be Real

Posted by Mike E on December 2, 2009

By Mike Ely

Most readers know  the details: Obama has now announced that he will expand the U.S. war of conquest in Afghanistan — sending tens of thousands of more troops.

His plan is to have new deployment create a window — for bullying-and-bribing Pashtun tribal leaders until they abandon the Taliban and help kill Osama Bin Laden.

Most readers understand this war is not about “defending the American people” — but establishing a stable U.S. domination over a highly strategic arc reaching from Iran (west of Afghanistan) to Pakistan (east of Afghanistan).

Let’s discuss where we don’t have any common understanding. I read the following comments (by JAK)  in another forum:

“I did not vote for Obama so he could send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan… To be honest, he did run on expanding the US role in Afghanistan instead of Iraq and I voted for him anyway. So I am not surprised, but it is still some bullshit… Yeah, he didn’t fake it. But I was hoping he’d be more accountable to the people who put him in office.”

I think this pained comment raises important questions:

Why exactly is Obama not “more accountable to the people who put him in office”?

Why does he not represent the core social base of the Democratic Party? Or even the broader spectrum of people who voted for him?

Is it that the poor and unorganized working people are less able to “exert pressure” in Washington than corporate lobbyists, the military and national security establishments? Should we listen to those who urge the people to organize themselves (electorally and non-electorally) to better push this government to the left?

Why do elected Democratic politicians (especially at the presidential level) so unfailing uphold imperialist interests — instead of the interests and desires of their own  base? Is it that (by electoral logic) they simply think “where is our base going to go — to the Republicans?” and so “take them for granted”?

Or is all this much more profoundly structural — arising from the inherent functioning of this capitalist class society and the nature of its political system?

Is it that this state and its government serve the imperialist ruling class (through complex historically-evolved institutions and mediations) — and not the popular sentiment of “voters”? And is it that in the absence of huge upheavals, that ruling class has little  need to take the desires of the people too seriously into account?

Is there a profound chasm running through the Democratic Party — a fracture line ultimately rooted in class — separating the quite consciously imperialist interests of its establishment and the profoundly different interests of its base? And is that division inherent — especially when it comes to matters of war and empire?

Why is it that many thoughtful and progressive people (like the commentator above) have been so caught up in ” but I was hoping…”?

Why are so many  confused and demoralized by these developments? We knew all along that Obama called for “defending U.S. national interests” — in the Persian Gulf, in Afghanistan, in the world as a whole.

Some said they supported Obama because a Black president was historic, and because they felt they were voting against the white racist backlash. Ok, but given that, why are still so many still saying “but I was hoping….”?

Is it because large sections of the people have objective interests in maintaining the empire, or because they don’t clearly understand their own interests and how this system works?

Is it because “nothing else seems possible” — in a non-conjunctural moment without a significant socialist pole in the world? Is it because more radical forces have been unable to articulate an alternative? (What’s the chicken, what’s the egg?)

How do revolutionaries act in this situation?

What will it take to rip people out of these terrible political moorings? And what can we do to accelerate that — while preparing forces capable of forming a revolutionary movement?

* * * * * *

Here are some of my own thoughts:

1)    We need to have a clear understanding that this war is unjust and unsupportable. It is a war for consolidating U.S. domination in large parts of the world. We should oppose it, and we should expose and denounce those imperialists pursuing that war — including, obviously, the Obama White House.

And as part of that understanding — we need to invent creative new ways to speak to those who don’t agree with us. Far too many progressive people still think this is the “supportable” war — because “we were attacked first” (on 9/11), because of the ugliness of the Taliban and its “foreign fighter” allies, because they hope the U.S. occupation might “do some good,” and because they are concerned about new terrorist attacks on civilians in the U.S.

We need to be able to explain the actual purposes behind the U.S. ongoing war — and the reactionary impact of a U.S. victory in this war (both in the U.S. and in that region).

We need to develop ways to speak to people about the danger of new 9/11-like attacks on the U.S. — including discussing how supporting U.S. domination around the world does not make anyone “safer.”

We need to answer the endless (nauseating) propaganda that the U.S. military “keeps us all free and safe” and expose what this military actually does. And we need an understanding of why Obama represents (defends and justifies) an oppressive form of society (and here too we need non-stereotyped ways of engaging the many people who don’t agree.

We do not yet have these arguments at hand — and far too many people have adopted the liberal Democrat view that the war is simply “too expensive” — a butter-not-guns politics that precisely ignores the whole question of imperialism and the class nature of the U.S. military and “national interests.”

2)    I think we should understand, clearly, the strategic importance of a fatal de-legitimization of the Democratic Party. During the election campaign, I wrote:

” If you conceive of a revolutionary united front capable of seizing and holding power in the U.S. — and you imagine the demographic support you would need…. you get (more or less) the social forces who now make up the Democratic party base. (Plus, one might hope a chunk of farmers — who are largely trapped these days in some version of republican politics… or worse.)

“And to imagine a revolution in the U.S., that Democratic party has to shatter, lose its base and become profoundly de-legitimized as the alternative to the ugliest, racist, uber-capitalist right.

“Forgive my history-geek reference: but i personally see an analogy (in American history) in the way the status-quo Whig party shattered on the eve of the Civil War, and a new (more radical and ultimately revolutionary) Republican Party emerged on the basis of opposing the dominance of the slaveocracy.

“In some ways, that kind of repolarization has to happen in the U.S. — where the social base of the Democrats simply abandon them, and re-congeal in a number of other movements, which in turn need to be unified around a revolutionary program of transitional demands in the midst of a profound social crisis.
That’s what the pre-history of a revolution looks like in a future America.”

3) We urgently need a mass antiwar movement — with broad participation and a clear confident indignation. We need demonstrations now, and people speaking out in many ways. We should of course support actions that are called.


It is not as if a mass movement can simply be willed into being — or generated simply by accelerating our own mass activity. Mao opposing wishful thinking by saying: “You can’t just pull on a sprout to make it grow.”

Even worse would be conceiving of our response to Obama’s war-making as persevering in the tired forms of  routinized activism of the usual players– responding to new events with protest-as-usual.

The work that confronts us is far more challenging — it involves fighting through strategic debates, developing new creative ways of speaking to the unconvinced, and developing tactical forms that aren’t predictable and boring.

A mass antiwar movement is possible, and we need to step up with our responsibility — including thinking and struggling deeply over how to do this.

We need to have our eyes on the high school and college students, not on rather impotent and compromised left. And we need to speak candidly about some deep political problems.

4) There needs to be an accounting with lines within the left.

Jed Brandt recently wrote:

“Obama finally fulfills a campaign promise: expands war AGAIN in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Thanks, liberal bullshit artists. Your efforts are being rewarded.”

Jed specifically mentions people leading the United for Peace and Justice antiwar colaition, the Communist Party’s Peace and Solidarity Commission, the CCDS (Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism).and “Progressives for Obama.”

The issue here is line: a politics that has kept the atrocities of Afghanistan and Gaza in the shadows, and helped demobilize resistance generally — in the name of helping Obama win. It is a politics that subordinates mass movements and protests to whatever is acceptable to the liberal wing of the ruling class — confining demands and actions to what is acceptable to the establishment liberals, to what doesn’t disrupt their liberal (read: imperialist) strategies (for gaining and wielding power).

Calling for an accounting does not mean that making that accounting is easy. The “Progressives for Obama” are far from the root cause of leftwing political paralysis or the general lack of resistance.  But they have advocated a particular course — and a particular response to the current situation.

And this moment (as Obama steps to the fore as a war maker) is a good one to examine that course, understand it more deeply. And (I hope) more of us can repudiate it.

5)    We need to understand that this period will not be some repeat of the LBJ/government isolation during the Vietnam war. In the 1960s, the fact that an unpopular and losing war was pursued by liberal Democrats opened up a major space for the radical left to embody the discontent among the people.

There are obviously many similarities now to the Vietnam war escalation.

There is, however,  important differences that we need to understand: Among them, Obama has a special relationship to the Black community. A split could develop — where many more radical and progressive people will (for obvious reasons) come to oppose the Obama administration, while the Black community will remain much more stubborn in their commitment to Obama. Given the strategic importance of Black people for any serious revolutionary movement, and given the obvious historic reasons for Obama’s support among Black people — this is a contradiction that requies attention and serious thought.

6) We are at a moment where the right has emerged as the side of radical critique, and the left has associated itself with the government. The situation demands a regroupment among revolutionaries.There can be no healthy regroupment process without a serious deep-going reconception (and promotion) of revolutionary theory. That goes against the grain (including the general all-American “just do it” mentality.)

Our goals cannot be served by the cynical merger of exhausted groupings — who all justify themselves with the urgency of “doing something.” The previous left has shown itself to be remarkably sterile — unable to engage the actual discussion of society, and largely unable to break with the system’s own politics and policies.

We need our own song. And writing such a song  requires a period of time where we make space for ongoing theoretical investigation and debate — even while we all continue (in experimental ways) to speak, connect and organize with a fiercely radical and revolutionary politics.

17 Responses to “Opposing Obama’s War: Let’s Be Real”

  1. Green Red said

    Having a Black person or a woman as a president, these spectacular actions are literaly the last aces kept for terrible condition and reputation of the state.

    An African American friend of mine used to tell me that see, republicans must make a big ..mess .. out of the world and do all the … things and then, the democrat comes to clean up for him. And it really couldn’t be another way in this case. Obama or anybody who gets to power within the existing parties, be it even Jesse Jackson if you will imagine, still has to do the American military thing somewhere. Putting hope and faith is absolute dilusion. Even if intending to do something, he would be stopped. That is one side of the matter. The other side is, since he is the good “brother president”, if he does any dirty thing it will be justified since, how dare you criticize the one and the only African American president?

  2. jak said

    That is my facebook status, along with an additional statement I made in the ensuing brief discussion, and then the last part is a statement made by someone else. For the sake of clarity it is important to note that excerpt is not a single comment but multiple comments strung together and made by different people. For what it is worth, I had no illusions that Obama would be more accountable to the people who voted for him. I’m not surprised nor shocked that he is escalating the war in Afghanistan, though I am still angry. When I wrote the status I mentioned voting for him because I was speaking to the majority of my Fb friends who have in varying degrees supported Obama–some like me, voting for him as a blow to white supremacy, but without illusions as to what he would do and who he would serve as president, and others who really believed a bigger change was gonna come.

  3. Andrew said

    um… isn’t iran west and pakistan east?

    [moderator note: typos fixed. thanx.]

  4. Selucha said

    Jak, thanks for responding. I didn’t see the other forum and I’d like to hear more of what you think on the subject. I feel, I think for good reason, that there is more to your ideas than was captured in the small quote.

  5. We do indeed need to think deeply.

    As I pointed out here and many times in ‘Progressives for Obama’ missives during the campaign, Obama’s election included a faction of imperialism ruling in the White House, but we weren’t indifferent to which one. We pointed out then he wasn’t for ‘Out Now,’ even in regard to Iraq, or a consistent progressive. He was a liberal speaking to the center. I still think we were correct to take part in the campaign and vote for him, even as we opposed the wars at the same time.

    Now we do indeed face complex tasks, but in different circumstances, and a different relation of forces.

    First, we have to continue mobilizing a mass struggle around ‘Out Now,’ with as many allies as we can and with a wide array of tactics.

    Second, we have to recognize the new situation with the economic crisis taking center stage, and mass action starting to develop around it. I think we have to find the tactics to develop antiwar contingents within the ranks of those protests, rather than simply thinking better outreach or slogans will bring them to the usual antiwar events.

    Third, we do indeed have to build up forces, within and without the Democratic party, that will split it strategically. The difficult and complex nature of that battle is to do it in a way that strengthens the left rather than rightwing populism, which also wants to wreck the Dems and split the GOP. That doesn’t mean we’re hamstrung, but that we proceed wisely.

    Fourth, in situations like this, the ‘best laid plans of mice and men’ often meet with wild cards and spanners in the works. So flexibility and creativity is going to be demanded of us.

    So get ready for some tough battles on a very bump road.

  6. lunita said

    a bumpy road, indeed. what gives me the willies even more than this predictable escalation and the lack of opposition to it is the complicity of obamamaniacs (i.e. loyal opposition) in the whole murderous enterprise.

    but, given this terrain – of lack of any meaningful opposition cohered whatsoever – what are those of us who align ourselves with the oppressed and who understand that this is all about empire to DO?

  7. Gary said

    I think we have to talk to the Obama base carefully, pointing out the contradictions in their man’s own arguments, showing how he’s a tool of the system. This is what I’m TRYING to do anyway.




  8. @6 – Not really who you mean when you say “Obama maniacs” are complicit in the escalation of the war against Afghanistan. Plenty of sections of the blogosphere and even some of the liberal media have been outraged, though in fairness we’ve all known this one was coming from the get-go. What I’m particularly looking forward to see is how Obama manages to pay for it, and the sort of opposition he faces when the appropriations are re-upped with mid-terms approaching next year (something that will break a campaign promise not to seek extra funds, but which will be necessary if the amount of money required comes to the estimated $30bn).

    I foresee a lot of members of Congress being none too pleased that this could threaten their seats. So that’s something to build activism around. On a local level, what you do depends on where you live and what you do for a living. Small scale stuff like bringing speakers, or showing a video, to your town or campus to gather together the anti-war crowd; a rally perhaps. Run stalls in your high st and talk to people about why you want the war to end. And if support seems solid enough, try for something bigger. A protest demanding your mayor / representative condemn the war. Go to local workplaces and point out that the money being spent in Afghanistan is money not being spent on the American people. Basically make the issue matter to everyone and then find out where they want to take it: campaign of civil disobedience? A march on Washington? Strikes? You can bet if you’re doing this, plenty of other people will too, via the organisations of the anti-war movement, and when linked together new tactics will present themselves.

    @5 What different circumstances and different relation of forces do you imagine the American Left faces at the moment? In Honduras, the US has endorsed a military coup, on healthcare the Dems are re-running 1993 almost perfectly and now we have the deployment of still more troops to Afghanistan, with an announced end date and the virtual certainty of handing the country and a working military over to a bunch of religious fundamentalists little better than the people who were (not quite, actually) ousted from power in 2001.

    Indeed things may be worse now than they were, because the ‘alternative’ of voting in the Democrats, who were expected to oppose the war by millions of their constituents, is gone and right-wing populism is the likely beneficiary. All of which is now hog tied to the economic situation; as the economy begins to recover, cut spending and let the private sector pick up the slack, while troop levels are massively reduced and the budget is balanced, or continue with this new chapter in American foreign policy as an attempt to create a market for capitalist exploitation overseas (textbook example being Iraq under the US Consul), risking the need for further inroads into welfare spending etc?

    Either way, it doesn’t seem like the Parties in Congress are going to escape from being relatively unpopular in the near future, and neither offer a way out of this bind.

  9. Koba said

    Absent Cause offered their own approach worth discussing (and promotion of a national march) – http://absent-cause.blogspot.com/2009/12/obama-between-rock-and-hard-place.html

    “Obama knows that if he steps out of line, at best he will be ruined and disgraced – at worst, killed. These are his only options – within the framework of U.S. two-party capitalist politics.

    There is something else Obama could do. But it would require him to step out of that framework.

    He could call upon the masses to take the streets and assist him in pushing back the right wing.

    He could urge them to come to Washington and surround the Capitol until Congress passes legislation enacting a new comprehensive jobs program and laws guaranteeing the right to a job or income, healthcare and housing for all.

    He could order the troops to come home and, as Commander In Chief, empower rank and file soldiers to enforce the order on their superiors.

    He could call out the fascists, war-mongers and racists by name and ask the masses to protect him and his family.

    Whether or not Obama would ever do such things isn’t really the issue.

    The masses of people – unemployed, organized, unorganized, queer and straight, of all nationalities – need to enter the arena of struggle. Until that happens, there will be no reason for the ruling class to grant concessions to the workers, even if Obama was inclined to ask for them.

    To raise these ideas – to point out what someone in Obama’s position could do with mass support – is a way to mobilize people around positive demands and empower them to raise their voices, without putting the Left in the position of seeming to attack the first Black president as the racist right-wing is doing.

    It is also an educational process to expose the limits of what is possible under capitalism and help people transcend Obama altogether.”

  10. lunita said

    koba: obama would *never* do any of those things because they are not the imperial interests he is serving!

    dave: the complicity is in the opposition rolling over. i guess that’s why the liberal left is called “loyal opposition.” while there may be chatter against the surge, there is no meaningful force opposing it. what ely refers to is that revolutionaries need to cut deeper than the protest as usual (ho hum!) to actually have an impact.

    this is my question: how can we effectively do that?

  11. I think there’s a difference between protest *as usual*, i.e. turning demonstrations into a repeated thing until all momentum has died away and nothing has been achieved, and only the students and hard-core radicals are left, and protest as the pinnacle of a campaign, a means whereby to bring people together and rather than having high profile figures talking to them, actually get people involved in deciding what the next step is. Are they prepared to break the law, for example, to bring the troops home?

    Similarly, instead of the usual tactic of descending upon Washington or London, with sporadic protests elsewhere, why not resolve to bring New York to a halt? Can you imagine how fast they’d call out the national guard if that happened?

  12. jp said

    Disrupting business-as-usual in DC, on an ongoing basis, is Cindy Sheehan’s plan; see: http://peaceoftheaction.org/

    Sheehan is moving to DC to camp at the Washington monument and is calling on anyone available to participate in “clogging up government business.”

  13. Obama knows that if he steps out of line, at best he will be ruined and disgraced – at worst, killed. These are his only options – within the framework of U.S. two-party capitalist politics

    I’m not sure if this is true or not.

    Truman fired MacCarthur. Charles DeGualle defied the right in the French military and wrenched France out of Algeria. So there are examples within capitalist imperialist countries where a head of state, even a relatively unpopular one, has defied the military industrial complex.

    Had he wanted to Obama could have fired Stanley McCrystal and flooded the media with stories about how McCrystal lied about Pat Tillman.

    I think there’s a difference between protest *as usual*, i.e. turning demonstrations into a repeated thing until all momentum has died away and nothing has been achieved, and only the students and hard-core radicals are left, and protest as the pinnacle of a campaign, a means whereby to bring people together and rather than having high profile figures talking to them, actually get people involved in deciding what the next step is. Are they prepared to break the law, for example, to bring the troops home?

    I think that the anti-war movement (or what’s left of it) really has to confront the fact that it crested and shattered in the Summer of 2004 when Bloomberg showed that the NYPD could successfully corral and manage a week long mobilization of close to a million people. It didn’t shatter in 2007 when Obama and Hillary jumped into the race. That seems a convenient excuse.

    Even considering what they did in the 1960s, the state still has a vastly larger and more sophisticated infrasture for containing dissent these days.

    I think what Obama’s election is preventing is the kind of large protest UPFJ mobilized under Bush, huge crowds of people gathering on the mall in DC, chanting and holding up signs for a few hours, then going back home. But so what? Those protests marches were useless, boring, and demoralizing.

    Once you find a way to break the “Miami model” and have a series of very militant, unpermitted marches in the big cities, young people will come out to them.

  14. Speaking of Obama’s base, I snatched this from the comments section of my local newspaper’s website. The paper is very sympathetic to the Teabagger movement and will publicize any rally, however small.


    That’s funny neonrat. I thought you were a liberal and these trials are supposed to be an example of the “rule of law”. Hang him in Times Square, huh? Presumption of Iinnocence????

    This is a SHOW TRIAL. BO talks about the “rule of law” and then has 5 tried in federal court in NY, another 5 before a military tribunal and says they will be “found guilty”. So much for the rule of law. You liberals are really deranged. Oh, and the NYPD wants a minimum of $70 million for this trial in NY. Thousands of families could be saved from eviction with this kind of money.

    BO is a disgrace. This is what happens when you elect a POTUS who culturally isn’t even an American. Lying scum traitor, that’s what he is.

    But what do you make of someone like this? Is this guy right wing? Left wing? Or just a typically confused American?

    How do you reach these kinds of people, people who hate Obama because he’s black but also seem to be made uncomfortable by show trials and permanent war?

  15. lunita said

    why do we want to waste our time reaching racists? there are enough progressives out there whose heart is in the right place yet who do not see — or want to see– the class based nature of what obama represents, why should we waste our time winning over reactionaries? when push comes to shove, the masses will take care of them.

  16. Dave said

    I doubt very much that the racist Stan quoted cared much about “Presumption of Iinnocence” when Bush was president. I agree with Lunita – it is a complete waste of time to attempt to “reach” such people. Their thinking is fundamentally non-rational, and attempting to analyze it along rational lines is an exercise in futility.

  17. He confuses the c#@@#P out of me, at first he said that bush was evil and we should stop the war, now he sends troops ?

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