When I first met Barack Obama on the stage at the first of the presidential debates he was a bit put off by my challenging his morality with respect to his commitment to the AIPAC lobby to use nukes against Iran if need be.
Apparently his moral shallowness toward the use of violence then didn’t seem to register with others, probably because he was making the main thrust of his campaign opposition to the Iraq war, a politically advantageous stance vis-a-vis Hillary Clinton and the others for their faux pas in giving President Bush the power to invade Iraq.
Obama was able to maintain his anti-war veneer up until his recent Afghanistan decision. Getting the endorsement of 19 admirals and generals in the campaign should have been a tip off. The anti-war rally in Lafayette Square near the White House on Dec. 12, though sparsely attended, is the first of ritual protests around that country and abroad that will hound Obama from office.
Unlike like the Vietnam era where the media sided with the youth in opposing President Johnson’s war, the media, particularly the nation’s flagships, the New York Times and the Washington Post, are now the Greek chorus behind Obama intellectual pontifications and will shelter and sustain him in this moral tragedy of a foolish war for some time. Nevertheless, the moral weight of the useless killing like that set in motion by Lyndon Johnson eventually haunted him from office and to his death with the refrain: “Hey, hey, LBJ, who did you kill today?”
Obama may seem regal, smug and secure today but the moral weight of the useless killing and suffering that he has set in motion will come to haunt him till the day he dies with this refrain: “Hey, hey, Obama say, how many AfPak kids did you kill today?”
The personal loss for Obama, so ambitious to become great, is the lost opportunity to do in this century what Gorbachev did in the 20th. Unlike the Vietnam War, a slight majority of Americans is already opposed to the war and that’s without the support of the media. With his command of the teleprompter, Obama could turn that support of the American people into a super majority empowering him to take on what no president since Eisenhower has even acknowledged as a problem: the democracy-eclipsing military industrial complex.
He already has the base of his own party to take on the Republicans and the neocons with their phony security arguments and prevail. Obama could drive home the national idiocy that our nation spends more on defense than all the rest of the world put together and there is no nation that is a threat to our security. Obama forsook this colossal opportunity to provide real leadership; instead, he whimped out to a couple of ruthless generals who will turn on him at the first ill wind. The only conclusion: we have a president who is a cautious coward.
The loss opportunity to the nation is even more egregious. Money saved in Afghanistan could have gone for jobs, education and rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure on a sound environmental footing — all lost. Instead we have a president playing Peter Pan to the war mongers and war profiteers. He has bought into the Bush rhetoric that Afghanistan is vital to American interests and that of NATO countries. As our credibility unravels and the Taliban continue to succeed, our leadership role in the world will plummet back to the Bush level and no amount of sonorous teleprompter rhetoric will retrieve it.
Obama’s credibility will concurrently suffer a similar fate at home as people begin to examine his policies and compare them to his promises, whether it’s the economy, healthcare or the environment. A case in point is the hypocrisy Obama has shown with respect to the policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” affecting the ability of gay, lesbian and bisexual Americans wishing to serve in and needed in the military.
In the campaign he promised to correct this injustice, but Obama has not used his “stop loss” authority nor weighed in with Congress to secure corrective legislation. Again we have a president who cannot stand up to the military and obviously abdicates any meaningful role as the commander-in-chief.
Up until his decision to enlarge the war in Afghanistan we merely had a politician interested in image and politics; by taking us to war in earnest the American people are now made guilty to the immorality of violence and killing without justification in a far off land and the wasting of treasure so vitally needed at home. Like with the Clinton euphemism “collateral damage” referring to the 500,000 children who died as a result of his sanctions in Iraq in the 1990s, we must not accept the hundreds of thousands of children, like Obama’s two daughters, and innocents who will die as a result of his decision to continue the war in Afghanistan, as collateral damage or the logic that they must be hostage to America’s vital interest. No!
The crime is Barack Obama’s alone. He made it personally as president, it is now personal to anyone of conscience.
Mike Gravel is a former U.S. senator from Alaska and a 2008 Democratic candidate for president. Reach him via mikegravel.us.