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      Elections a Setback for Peace

      A version of this article appeared at The Nation on November 4, 2010.

      The November election was a setback for the peace movement, not only because of the defeat of Sen. Russ Feingold but for deeper reasons.

      Both parties collaborated in keeping Afghanistan out of the national election debate and media coverage – while during the period June-November alone, 274 American soldiers were killed and 2,911 were wounded on the battlefield.  
      [The official American toll under Obama in Afghanistan has reached 732 deaths and 6,480 wounded; monthly projections for taxpayer costs are currently $12.5 billion per month, while the President estimates $113 billion in direct costs for this year at current U.S. troop levels of 100,000.]
      Democratic candidates this year chose not to use Afghanistan-Iraq as an issue perhaps because they have become Obama’s wars. According to the New York Times, the US even plans to orchestrate an invitation to remain in Iraq after the current 2011 deadline, but desperately wanted to keep the controversy out of the election debates. [NYT, Aug. 18]
      With Republican control of the House, antiwar Democrats will have little room to hold hearings or maneuver against the wars. There were 162 House members, nearly all Democrats, who voted against funding the war or in favor of an exit strategy earlier this year, over one-third of the House. In the Senate, Feingold authored similar legislation that obtained 18 votes, a number not likely to increase either.
      The notion among some that ultra-right fiscally conservative Republicans will vote with the peace Democrats is largely a fantasy. Republicans like Karl Rove did not want to advertise their support for Obama’s troop escalation this fall while they prepare to blast him for drawing down short of “victory” next July. For example, Sen. John McCain, who is planning a trip to Afghanistan, told Reuters that “this date for withdrawal that the president announced without any military advice or counsel has caused us enormous problems in our operations in Afghanistan, because our enemies are encouraged and our friends are confused over there.” [Reuters, Nov. 3]
      McCain’s comment was a huge lie, an indicator of the campaign rhetoric to come. As McCain well knows, Obama has not given a “date for withdrawal”, only a date to “begin” a phase-out. Obama had months of military advice and counsel, as reported in Bob Woodward’s most recent book.  In fact, according to Woodward and Jonathan Alter, Obama had Petraeus’ word that they would have no complaints about the July 2011 deadline. In August, however, Petraeus declared, “the president didn’t send me over here to seek a graceful exit.”
      Obama’s pledge to begin a July withdrawal may draw little or no peace movement support unless he includes a timeline and substantial numbers, and shows progress in diplomacy and talks with the Taliban. The president’s situation is similar to his problems with health care when he appeared to over-promise and under-deliver, leaving his base dispirited once again. [It should be noted that Obama took the strongest exit strategy position among his internal advisers, according to Woodward, with Hillary Clinton immediately supporting whatever troop escalation Petraeus wanted.]
      The next test for Obama will be whether his December review of Afghanistan policy results in only another ratification of Afghanistan  status quo. Then comes another budget battle, with antiwar forces in Congress at a greater tactical disadvantage than last year. By then Obama’s actual Afghan drawdown numbers will be publicly known, with Republicans, the military and most of the media opposed or skeptical.  
      The 2012 national election predictably will be fought over Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and the Long War favored by the Republicans and the generals, with Obama positioned as favoring gradual troop drawdowns in order to invest in his domestic agenda.
      The wars will continue in any event, with increasing risks of terrorist attacks on the US, bloody quagmires on the battlefields, and the US propping up unpopular regimes in Kabul, Baghdad, Islamabad and Yemen. The wars are unwinnable and unaffordable, but no one in power dares say it.
      The peace bloc – activist groups, anti-war Congress members, writers and artists, here and across the NATO – can exercise a massive drag against the war-making machine through 2012 as long as the wars remain deeply unpopular. But in the absence of political statesmanship, Petraeus need not worry, because the final stage will be anything but graceful.

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      Reader Comments (10)

      The election results are pro-peace, but anti-weakness in defense and international relations. Until the so called "peace movement" understands that a large percentage of the global population--many of them from Iraq and Afghanistan--see peace as weakness, something to be exploited, something that places the lives of Americans in jeopardy, it will remain a fringe group.

      In its efforts to see American foreign policy from international eyes--frequently socialistic eyes--the group loses credibility. All it can, as evidenced by many of the comments on this site, is make personal attacks. Americans fight wars because they save lives, not because they cause deaths. That's the point the peaceniks never discuss because they have no meaningful answer for it.

      They know it's true, so it's hard to defend.

      November 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRobert Lansky

      "It became necessary to destroy the village in order to save it," concluded an American officer in the Vietnam War. Robert Lansky's comment is straight out of Orwell: War is Peace; Peace is War. And so the murder continues -- endlessly. Bush and now Obama have become Osama bin Laden's best recruiters. As Tom points out, the retaliation attacks will only escalate.
      I served in the 88th Infantry Division in Italy in World War II. The American flag meant something very different then. During our Victory Parade in Milan in May, 1945, Italians were shouting encouragement — laughing and weeping with joy — from balconies, lamp posts, trees, roof tops.Today the Afghans and Iraqis and people all over the world curse the USA.
      We should be sending doctors and engineers abroad, not killers.

      November 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMarvin Mandell

      Marvin Mandell is right. Robert Lansky's comment is totally feckless. Yes, the election is a setback to the peace movement. Hayden's explanation for the dispirited and apathetic base is instructive. The young and minorities voted at significantly lower levels than in 2008. The politically unsophisticated blocs needed much more effective leadership than they received this year. Who is to blame for that? Obama? David Plouffe? The DNC? Corporate Democrats led by Rahm Emanuel? All of the above? How about the Peace Movement, itself? A Movement so unsophisticated as to permit a howling crazy and fascist political Party, the Republican-Tea Party, to seize power on this level should have its collective head examined.

      November 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMalleus Maleficarum

      Many Democrats are wondering why so many young voters were absent from the voting booths yesterday: I believe that the lack of vision on the part of our leaders played a significant part. The word "peace" was notable by its absence in the campaigns. Barbara Boxer, one of the few Senators who cast a vote not to invade Iraq, was a bright exception! Senator Boxer won her race, in the face of a multimillion-dollar campaign against her. Is there not a lesson for Dems going forward?
      - Celia Carroll

      November 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCelia Carroll

      It is inaccurate at best, and disingenuous at worse, to pretend that anyone is proposing "to destroy the village in order to save it."

      The benefit of a speak softly but carry a big stick approach is that terrorists are less likely to strike. Rogue nations with weapons are less likely to use them. Appeasement did not save Europe nor did it prevent the deaths of millions of people--including U.S. servicemen.

      The left has made it a point of pride to paint every war, every entanglement as another Vietnam. That is short-sided, condescending nonsense. Strength is about saving lives, not leaving innocent people in a position to be killed, so elitist members of the peace movement can hold hands, sing songs, and sip red wine.

      Thanks for your service in defense of your country and the world, but how dare you raise your World War 11 service to support your position--without mentioning the role of weak, appeasers that encouraged Hitler--and was a first step to the death of millions of people.

      November 6, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterted reichberg

      Cowards like Ted Reichberg and Robert Lansky have no compunction about sending other people abroad to fight an endless war. Reichberg's contention that I am an appeaser is ludicrous. I did not suggest sending doctors and engineers to help Osama bin Laden and his criminal band. I suggested sending them to help the poor of the world. (If Reichberg is at war with the poor, then, indeed, that suggestion would be appeasement). By sending aid workers, we would be isolating bin Laden and his gang. Without support from the community, they would die out.
      Ask yourself: After ten years of fighting — more than twice the time it took to defeat Nazi Germany — are we safer? Just the contrary: for every family that the US drones kill, for ever home they destroy, new suicide bombers are recruited.

      November 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMarvin Mandell

      If you wish to receive a response, please provide an email address or submit your comments to Thank you.

      EDIT: Celia, Marvin, and atheist, your comments have been submitted.

      November 7, 2010 | Registered CommenterTom Hayden

      Yes, Marvin we are safer.

      Peace movement people like you pretend that appeasement works. Just send a few doctors, a few educators. It does not.

      By the way, once we got into the WWII every pacifist with an once of brain matter saw the light-- just read a bit about Albert Einstein. Aid workers do not isolate anyone--they merely provide targets for terrorists. We went all out in WWII to save ourselves and the West.

      That's what's needed in Afghanistan and Iraq--but has not happened. if we pull every troop out of there tomorrow, how does that make the U. S. safer?

      The terrorists are not pursuing their aims because of our response; they pursue the killing of innocent men and women because they like it. That's why anything that looks weak leads to more killing.

      We may not like that fact--but ignore we ignore it at our own peril.

      We have not been attacked in 10 years. That's because of the war on terror.

      Last, you claim you suggested sending aid to help the poor of the world, but that is not what you wrote. Here are your words: "Today the Afghans and Iraqis and people all over the world curse the USA. We should be sending doctors and engineers abroad, not killers." The word "poor" is no where to be found.

      November 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTed Reichberg

      Ted and Robert, If the Chinese (as an example) occupied us, would you not fight to expel them? However, you have no problem sitting back and letting the youth of your country occupy other people's countries. The civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan are 150,000 at the very lowest of estimates. So when 3,000 of our citizens die for no reason, that means that hundreds of thousands of civilians must also die for no reason by our hands? That is rational to you? How is slaughtering hundreds of thousands of innocents justifiable in any way? Do you honestly think their families aren't enraged, some to the point of wanting revenge?

      November 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAdam Chase

      It's post like yours that make me want to stop reading blogs like this. These muslim terrorists don't hate us for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; they hate us because we are an easy target, a convenient scapegoat.

      That's the "honest" truth you prefer to ignore, so you can pursue your progressive agenda with peace of mind.

      Before we entered Iraq, Saddam killed killed 100,000 citizens a year; that's an important number because it means we are savings lives. Therefore these wars are righteous achievements that should be applauded--and we should take pride in them.

      November 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBob Rowe

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