Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Barack Obama's Antiwar Coalition

I've been researching a post on "paleoconservatism," so I'm intrigued to see Philip Giraldi's new essay over at the Huffington Post, "Obama the Conservative Choice."

Giraldi's highlighting Andrew Bacevich and his endorsement of Barack Obama
at the American Conservative.

This is a very interesting development, holding considerable significance for the fall election if Obama's the nominee.

Here's a bit from Giraldi:

Many traditional conservatives (not the neocon subspecies) are embarrassed by George Bush and are looking for a way out of the foreign and domestic policy nightmare that he has engineered. They also understand that John McCain would be more of the same or even worse. There is a lively discussion of Barack Obama that is taking place both in the blogosphere and in the media directed at a conservative audience, and much of the discourse is surprisingly receptive to the idea that Obama, though a liberal, could bring about genuine change that will benefit the country. A recent article by Boston University professor and former army officer Andrew Bacevich appeared in The American Conservative magazine and is available on the internet at It is entitled "The Case for Obama" and makes the point that Obama is a candidate that is certainly no conservative, but he is the only real hope to get out of Iraq and also avoid wars of choice in the future. Bacevich rightly sees the Iraq war and its consequences as a truly existential issue for the United States, one that should be front and center for voters in November. Any more adventures of the Iraq type will surely bankrupt the country and destroy what remains of the constitution. Bacevich also notes that the election of John McCain, candidate of the neoconservatives and the war party, would guarantee an unending series of preemptive wars as US security doctrine and would validate the disastrous decisions to invade Iraq and wage an interminable global war on "terrorists." Electing Obama instead would be as close as one could come to making a definitive judgment on the folly of Iraq and everything that it represents, a judgment that is long overdue. Many conservatives would agree that the Obama commitment to leave Iraq is the right way to go and long to return to the days when America only went to war when a vital interest was threatened.
Note Giraldi's conclusion:

Obama for president is beginning to look pretty good to many conservatives and that means that a Barack Obama Administration might actually bridge the gap between right and left, finally bringing together American citizens who are intent on righting the foundering ship of state rather than preserving the status quo. Clinton and McCain represent little more than two nightmarish visions of an out-of-touch political reality that has manifestly failed and should be rejected.
The point's left unsaid by Giraldi, but it's Clinton and McCain's Iraq authorization votes that tie them together in this "nightmarish vision" that should be rejected.

But what's key here is
how Bacevich himself describes the agenda of "conservatives for Obama." Notice, for example, how Bacevich demonizes McCain in classic antiwar style:

Social conservatives counting on McCain to return the nation to the path of righteousness are kidding themselves....

Above all, conservatives who think that a McCain presidency would restore a sense of realism and prudence to U.S. foreign policy are setting themselves up for disappointment. On this score, we should take the senator at his word: his commitment to continuing the most disastrous of President Bush’s misadventures is irrevocable. McCain is determined to remain in Iraq as long as it takes. He is the candidate of the War Party. The election of John McCain would provide a new lease on life to American militarism, while perpetuating the U.S. penchant for global interventionism marketed under the guise of liberation.
Noam Chomsky couldn't have issued a stronger antiwar denunciation!

But Bacevich continues by laying out the "conservative" case for Obama:

So why consider Obama? For one reason only: because this liberal Democrat has promised to end the U.S. combat role in Iraq. Contained within that promise, if fulfilled, lies some modest prospect of a conservative revival.

To appreciate that possibility requires seeing the Iraq War in perspective. As an episode in modern military history, Iraq qualifies at best as a very small war....

As part of the larger global war on terrorism, Iraq has provided a pretext for expanding further the already bloated prerogatives of the presidency. To see the Iraq War as anything but misguided, unnecessary, and an abject failure is to play into the hands of the fear-mongers who insist that when it comes to national security all Americans (members of Congress included) should defer to the judgment of the executive branch. Only the president, we are told, can “keep us safe.” Seeing the war as the debacle it has become refutes that notion and provides a first step toward restoring a semblance of balance among the three branches of government.
Now Bacevich is channeling Glenn Greenwald!

You see, the arguments of "conservatives for Obama" aren't so different from "progressives for Obama," which is why Giraldi can argue that "a Barack Obama Administration might actually bridge the gap between right and left.

Actually, there's not much to bridge. Paleoconservatives have become so reactionary in their opposition to Iraq - and the American national security state - that they've simply tied the loop of the ideological continuum, joining the radical left with the reactionary right in common hatred of the Bush administration's war in Iraq, and GOP nominee-in-waiting John McCain.

In fact, the only thing plausibly new about Bacevich's position is that he's openly rooting for the other side of the traditional liberal/conservative split.

David Frum explains the extreme antiwar positions of the paleoconservatives in his article, "
Unpatriotic Conservatives":

From the very beginning of the War on Terror, there has been dissent, and as the war has proceeded to Iraq, the dissent has grown more radical and more vociferous. Perhaps that was to be expected. But here is what never could have been: Some of the leading figures in this antiwar movement call themselves "conservatives."

These conservatives are relatively few in number, but their ambitions are large. They aspire to reinvent conservative ideology: to junk the 50-year-old conservative commitment to defend American interests and values throughout the world — the commitment that inspired the founding of this magazine — in favor of a fearful policy of ignoring threats and appeasing enemies....

The antiwar conservatives aren't satisfied merely to question the wisdom of an Iraq war. Questions are perfectly reasonable, indeed valuable. There is more than one way to wage the war on terror, and thoughtful people will naturally disagree about how best to do it, whether to focus on terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda and Hezbollah or on states like Iraq and Iran; and if states, then which state first?

But the antiwar conservatives have gone far, far beyond the advocacy of alternative strategies. They have made common cause with the left-wing and Islamist antiwar movements in this country and in Europe. They deny and excuse terror. They espouse a potentially self-fulfilling defeatism. They publicize wild conspiracy theories. And some of them explicitly yearn for the victory of their nation's enemies.
Frum does not cite Bacevich in the article, as he was writing shortly after the launch of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

But Bacevich's positions criticizing "the new American militarism" are well known, for example, in his
books and articles appearing at prominent antiwar websites and publications.

far-left bloggers can't get enough of Bacevich's anti-militarist thesis!

Note that Bacevich, a professor of international relations at Boston University, is
a graduate of West Point who served in Vietam. His son, also named Andrew J. Bacevich, was killed in Iraq in 2007. (Bacevich wrote about his son's death in a Washington Post essay.)

Credentials like these give a certain authority or gravitas to Bacevich's views, and his service to country and the loss of his son are to be respected.

Nevertheless, the paleoconservative case for Barack Obama's presidential bid further illustrates how undifferentiated is today's antiwar movement.

The history of antiwar opposition to Iraq includes a diverse array of groups. From radical socialists and anarchists to anti-Semitics and paleocons, contemporary opposition to the Iraq war has united left-right fringe elements like never before.

Victor Davis Hanson indicates:

It is becoming nearly impossible to sort the extreme rhetoric of the antiwar Left from that of the fringe paleo-Right. Both see the Iraqi war through the same lenses: the American effort is bound to fail and is a deep reflection of American pathology.

An anguished Cindy Sheehan calls Bush "the world's biggest terrorist." And she goes on to blame Israel for the death of her son ("Yes, he was killed for lies and for a PNAC Neo-Con agenda to benefit Israel. My son joined the Army to protect America, not Israel").

Her antiwar venom could easily come right out of the mouth of a more calculating David Duke. Perhaps that's why he lauded her anti-Semitism: "Courageously she has gone to Texas near the ranch of President Bush and braved the elements and a hostile Jewish supremacist media."

This odd symbiosis began right after 9/11. Then the lunatic Left mused about the "pure chaos" of the falling "two huge buck teeth" twin towers, lamented that they were more full of Democrats than Republicans, and saw the strike as righteous payback from third-world victims.

The mirror-imaging fundamentalists and censors in turn saw the attack as an angry God's retribution either for an array of our mortal sins or America's tilting toward Israel.

In Iraq, the Left thinks we are unfairly destroying others; the ultra-Right that we are being destroyed ourselves. The former alleges that we are bullying in our global influence, the latter that we are collapsing from our decadence.

But both, in their exasperation at George Bush's insistence on seeing Iraq emerge from the Hussein nightmare years with some sort of constitutional government, have embraced the paranoid style of personal invective.
In other words, when one breaks down all of the various antiwar strains, we see a common denominator of unpatriotic anti-Americanism.

These groups have been explicitly welcomed into the massive multipronged coalition Obama seeks to build, which he sees as nothing less than a full-blown social movement. As
Elizabeth Drew notes:

Obama has a big idea: he believes that in order to change Washington ... and to reduce the power of the lobbies and "special interests," he must first build a large coalition—Democrats, independents, Republicans, whoever—to support him in his effort to change things. He has figured out that he cannot make the kinds of changes he's talking about if he has to fight for 51–49 majorities in Congress. Therefore, he's trying to build a broader coalition, and enlist the people who have come out to see him and are getting involved in politics for the first time because of him. If he can hold that force together, members of Congress, including the "old bulls," according to a campaign aide, "will look back home and see that there is a mandate for change." Thus, Obama talks about working "from the bottom up" to bring about change. When he says he will take on the special interests and the lobbies, to him it's not as far-fetched as most jaded Washingtonians think: he intends to do that with the army he's building.
To stress Drew's point once more: Obama seeks mobilize the support of whoever he can get, drawing all factions into his mass political coalition for change.

This coalition, as we can see from this analysis, includes progressives and paleoconservatives, and while different individuals may float in and out of the various factional groupings, the fundamental radical basis of Barack Obama's support is undeniable.

See also, "No Enemies on the Left? Progressives for Barack Obama."

Hat tip: Memeorandum