Would Have Obama Voted for the War and Lied About?
What Would Obama Have Done? Voted for the War and Lied About It - Just Like Hillary
by Paul Street
Barack Obama's sole claim to being an "anti-war" candidate is an October, 2002, speech he delivered in Chicago, opposing the congressional vote to give George Bush Iraq War Powers. No sooner had Obama's U.S. Senate campaign been declared "viable" by the corporate media, than the speech disappeared from Obama's web site. Ever since, the presidential candidate has been fully as much a warmonger as his top-tier rivals, calling for a bigger military and refusing to rule out the "nuclear option" in an attack against Iraq. Obama's five-year-old speech is no more than a fig leaf to hide a hawkishness every bit as dangerous as Hillary Clinton's.
What Would Obama Have Done?
Voted for the War and Lied About It - Just Like
by Paul Street
"He would have gone along with Lieberman, Edwards, Clinton, Kerry, and the rest of the pro-war crowd."
This article was originally published in Znet.
It pains me to concur with corporate-neoliberal war Democrats like Bill and Hillary Clinton about anything, but Barack Obama really should tone down his campaign rhetoric about "opposing the Iraq War from the start."
On October 2, 2007, the Obama campaign made an obnoxious point of celebrating the "fifth anniversary" of the Chicago speech then State Senator Barack Obama gave in the fall of 2002. That's the Daley Plaza oration where Obama said that "even a successful war against Iraq will require a U.S. occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences"
"What would I have done? I don't know."
But, as Democratic presidential candidate Chris Dodd accurately noted, Team Obama "forgot to celebrate another anniversary. Last July 26th marked the third anniversary of the New York Times story in which Obama admitted that he did not know how he would have voted on the Iraq resolution had he been serving in the United States Senate at the time of the vote." Dodd quoted directly from the Times story:
"In a recent interview, [Obama] declined to criticize Senators Kerry and Edwards for voting to authorize the war, although he said he would not have done the same based on the information he had at the time. 'But, I'm not privy to Senate intelligence reports,' Mr. Obama said. 'WHAT WOULD I HAVE DONE? I DON'T KNOW.' What I know is that from my vantage point the case was not made'" (New York Times, 26 July, 2004).
Interesting. Seeking to exploit majority antiwar sentiment that he has repeatedly defied (see below), Obama hammers away again and again at Clinton and Edwards for making a terrible war-authorization vote that (he confessed) he might well have made if he'd had access to the same "Senate intelligence reports" Clinton, Kerry and Edwards possessed to such great effect.
"Absolute Faith in Our Country and Its Leaders"
The New York Times interview came one day before Obama delivered the speech that is widely credited for creating his overnight national notoriety - his famous Keynote Address to the 2004 Democratic Convention. That's the speech where Obama referred to Americans as "one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America." He said that Americans have "a righteous wind at our backs" and praised "a young man" named Seamus who "told me he'd joined the Marines and was heading to Iraq the following week." Seamus' most endearing quality, Obama told the 2004 Democratic Convention, was "absolute faith in our country and its leaders, his devotion to duty and service." Reflecting on Seamus' supposed blind and unquestioning devotion to the American fatherland, Obama "thought this young man was all that any of us might hope for in a child."
"Never Go to War Without Enough Troops to Win"
The national narcissism and militarism that lay at the heart of Obama's Keynote Address was more quietly evident when Obama discussed the terrible blood costs of the Iraq occupation purely in terms of "the more than nine hundred [U.S.] men and women - sons and daughters, husbands and wives, friends and neighbors - who won't be returning to their hometowns. I think," Obama said, "of the families I've met who were struggling to get by without a loved one's full income, or whose loved ones had returned with a limb missing or nerves shattered, but who still lacked long-term health benefits because they were reservists."
In the part of The Speech that came closest to directly criticizing the Iraq invasion, Obama suggested that the Bush administration had "fudged the numbers" and "shad[ed] the truth" about why "our young men and women" were "sent into harm's way." He added that the U.S. must "care for [soldiers'] families while they're gone, tend to the soldiers upon their return, and never go to war without enough troops to win the war, secure the peace, and earn the respect of the world."
What, morally cognizant listeners were left to wonder, about the considerably larger quantity (well into the tens of thousands) of Iraqis who had been killed and maimed and who lost income as a result of the criminal U.S. invasion of their country by the summer of 2004? What about the massive harm U.S. forces were ordered to inflict on Iraqis, considerably greater than the damage they experienced?
It is hardly a "war," moreover, when the most powerful military state in history attacks and colonially occupies a weak nation it has already devastated over decades of military assault and even deadlier "economic sanctions."
"Securing the peace" was a morally impoverished and nationally arrogant, self-serving way for Obama to describe the real White House objective in Iraq by the summer of 2004: to pacify, by force when (quite) necessary, the outraged populace of a nation that understandably resented a brazenly imperial invasion it saw (with good reason) as driven by the United States' desire to deepen its control of Iraqi and Middle Eastern oil.
And "shade the truth" didn't come close to doing justice to the high-state deception - the savage, sinister, and sophisticated lying - that the Bush administration used and is still using to cover their real agenda, understood with no small accuracy by the people of Iraq.
Obama's comment about never "going to war" without the resources to "win" and to keep the world's "respect" evaded the critical question of the invasion's unjust nature. What, after all, was the leading problem with Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union ? Was it that he we went in without the capacity to "win" and thereby lost global esteem or was it that he launched a monumentally criminal, racist and mass-murderous war of imperial aggression that killed millions of Russians, Germans and other Eastern and Central Europeans?!
Obama's great speech followed dutifully in accord with the Democratic "leadership's" determination to downplay war dissent and to portray their party's elites as the most competent managers of war and empire. The 2004 Democratic Party Convention's managers were selling their presidential candidate - John F. Kerry - as a more effective imperial administrator. They relied heavily on their standard bearer's "heroic" Vietnam War record. Unlike the incumbent George W. Bush, the party insistently repeated, Kerry had "answered the call" to "national duty" during the 1960s. Kerry accepted his nomination with a salute and the statement that he was "Reporting for Duty," surrounded by fellow veterans who had joined him in a previous illegal invasion. Delegates on the floor were instructed to muzzle their opposition to Bush's terrible war.
Obama was happy to play along, given his longstanding lust - going back to childhood, according to his close friend Valerie Jarrett (see David Mendell, Obama: From Promise to Power [New York: HarperCollins, 2007], p. 7) - for the presidency.
The "Dumb War" Speech: Removed and Reborn
So what about that earlier speech, presented at a protest organized by elite Chicago "Lakefront liberals" (Mendell, Obama, pp. 172-175)in the fall of 2002? In that address, given when he could afford to be more reckless - before he had been tapped to join the national power elite - Obama said he was "not opposed to all wars; I'm opposed to dumb wars." He criticized "the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other armchair, weekend warriors in this administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne."
Obama was accurate and forthright about critical matters. His speech rightly (consistent with elementary common sense and the counsel of much of the U.S. foreign policy establishment) predicted that invading Iraq would exacerbate Islamic anger and terrorist threats. It correctly criticized the politically motivated nature and the potentially long duration and high (U.S.) costs of the planned "war." It struck a progressive chord when it related the administration's military ambitions to Bush's desire to turn public attention away from pressing domestic problems like poverty and corporate corruption.
"Obama argued that invading Iraq would be a foreign policy mistake - something that would likely not work for American power - but NOT that it would be a brazenly imperialist transgression."
It was not a Left oration. Calling Bush's imminent war "dumb" but not criminal or immoral, it deleted the illegal and petro-imperialist ambitions behind the Iraq invasion being planned in Washington . It said nothing about the racist nature of the administration's determination to conflate Iraq with 9/11 and al Qaeda. It argued that invading Iraq would be a foreign policy mistake - something that would likely not work for American power - but NOT that it would be a brazenly imperialist transgression certain to kill untold masses of innocent Iraqis.
Still, the speech was strong enough to be quietly taken off Obama's campaign Web site by the summer of 2004. Even his relatively tepid 2002 objections to the forthcoming mass-murderous invasion - actual Left voices within and beyond the U.S. were (quite accurately) describing Bush's plans as racist, oil-driven, imperialist, and criminal - were deemed too truthful for public viewing when he was running for the U.S. Senate and had been selected to give an important, nationally televised address for an "opposition" party that was muting its delegates' criticism of a radically interventionist foreign policy its own leaders helped create.
Two and a half years later, things had changed. Now that the Iraq "fiasco" had become the leading black mark on the Republicans' record and "opposing the war from the beginning" had become a great political plus, Obama referred to his 2002 speech on a regular and even ritual basis. He told his biographer, Chicago Tribune reporter David Mendell, that it was "the speech I'm most proud of" (Mendell, p.176). He routinely cited it as an example of his foreign policy superiority over his chief rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination (Hillary Clinton and John Edwards), both of whom voted for authorize Bush to use force against Iraq in early October of 2002. He has used his 2002 speech again and again to burnish his image as an antiwar candidate, encouraging desperate and deluded peace and justice progressives to bring their antiwar signs and symbols to his rallies and speeches.
Heckuva "Antiwar" Record, Barry
Never mind that he has repeatedly voted to fund the illegal, racist, mass-murderous and brazenly petro-imperialist occupation of Iraq since his arrival in the U.S. Senate. Never mind that he voted to confirm the mendacious war criminal Condoleezza Rice as Secretary of State, who played a critical role in advancing the preposterous Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) claims Bush used to invade Iraq - the same ridiculous claims Obama admitted he might have played along with if only he'd had Hillary Clinton's "intelligence" access. Or that he distanced himself from fellow Illinois U.S. Senator Dick Durbin when Durbin faced vicious right-wing attacks after daring to tell some basic truths about U.S. torture practices in Iraq. Or that Obama used his considerable political and campaign finance muscle to back centrist Democrats against antiwar progressives in numerous Congressional primaries in 2006 (he even supported the neoconservative Joe Lieberman - his self-chosen Senate mentor - against the antiwar insurgent Ned Lamont in Connecticut). Or that he has repeatedly and absurdly argued that the illegal invasion was launched with the best of democratic intentions and praised U.S. military personnel for their "unquestioning" "service" in Iraq and (despite numerous U.S. atrocities there) for "doing everything we could ever ask of them."
Never mind that his belated calls for withdrawal are hedged by numerous statements indicating that an Obama White House would maintain a significant military presence in and around Iraq for an indefinite period of time. Or that he refuses to support taking a reckless (possibly even nuclear) U.S. military assault on Iran off the table of acceptable U.S. foreign policy options.
A recent high point in Obama's "antiwar" record came when he couldn't bother to be present on the Senate floor to vote against the Bush's administration's provocative, saber-rattling effort to define Iran's Revolutionary Guard as "an international terrorist organization." That chilling step was supported by Hillary Clinton, a former Iraq War Hawk (to the right of even Lieberman on the invasion through at least late 2005) who continues to make the contemptible claim that she would not have voted to authorize Bush for invasion if she'd "known then what we know now." The measure is strongly opposed by John Edwards, who has shown the common decency to own his horrid Iraq War vote and to call it "the biggest mistake of my life."
How would Obama have decided on Iraq in the fall of 2002 if he'd been in the U.S. Senate? Let's "stop and think for a minute," as my fellow Obama antagonist Mike Gravel likes to say. Looking at Obama's subsequent record, the likely direction of his vote seems clear: he would have gone along with Lieberman, Edwards (who has apologized profusely for his vote), Clinton (no remorse), Kerry (who cares?), and the rest of the pro-war crowd.
A more interesting question is this: what would Obama be saying about his (hypothetical 2002 pro-war) vote today?
That's easy. He'd be lying and deceiving just like Hillary. He wouldn't be accepting blame for "a terrible decision" like Edwards.
Humility is not one of Obama's most noticeable qualities.
Antiwar peace and justice types supporting Obama need to get a clue about their candidate and his real record and nature.
It's getting a little late in the game for them to keep playing along with this shifty and slimy political disease that is the Obama phenomenon.
Paul Street is a writer, speaker and activist based in Iowa City, IA and Chicago, IL. He is the author of Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11 (Boulder, CO: Paradigm); Racial Oppression in the Global Metropolis (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007); and Segregated Schools: Educational Apartheid in Post-Civil Rights America (New York: Routledge, 2005. Paul can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .