publisher's note
December 04, 2009



Admire, yes, support, no
by Bruce Rodgers

It’s reached the point where liberals and progressives may continue to admire and like President Obama but no longer can support him. As some feared early on, the change-agent elected a year ago has become captive to the forces of money and power against change. Nothing points to this entrenched inertia against reform of American policy, both internationally and domestically, than Obama’s decision to expand the war in Afghanistan.

There’s even a growing feeling of having been duped. That a young, vibrant, smart and gifted African American knew somehow — because of his experience as a U.S. Senator and limited success as a community organizer — he could use his gifts of oratory and insight to ride to victory in an historic election, given a mandate from people aching for change, while realizing within himself that a real transformation — fundamental change away from corporate domination of the political system — was not possible.

The signs came early, starting with Obama’s choice to bring in many government operatives from the Clinton presidency into his administration and transition to governing. Next, Obama’s decision to keep in place most of President Bush’s policies on domestic spying, warrant-less searches, open-ended detention, rendition and the failure to mount a determined effort to close Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba. Also, early on in his administration Obama backed away from vetoing spending bills laden with earmarks — like Guantanamo, a core campaign promise.

Obama essentially carried on Bush’s template on the bank bailout and along with stimulus bill relied on Wall Street insiders for advice to craft legislation and implement bailout policies. Promised regulatory reform remains off in the distance as bank bonuses reemerge for the upper income types and unemployment saddles the lower and middle class. For health care reform, Obama turned to Congress to formulate the legislation, which, in essence, meant health care lobbyists would have the greatest hand in crafting reform. Most recently, Obama turned to corporate leaders to come up with suggestions for the creation of jobs, surprising many supporters who had patiently waited for a FDR-type government jobs program, one that Obama had hinted at on the campaign trail.

With the decision to send more soldiers to Afghanistan, Obama looked to the military and to a lesser extent the State Department to make a decision that surprised no one. In keeping on Bush appointee Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense, the military-industrial complex has nothing to fear from Obama.

Does Obama have an original idea? Or is his nature to accommodate all with a vested interest in an issue so engrained that he falls to contemplate a decision alone, one relying only on his experience and intelligence to guide him? Does the United States have a leader or are we governed by a committee chairman?

The Afghanistan decision glaringly points to Obama’s inability to look beyond the Beltway or the Pentagon for options other than war to fight terrorism.

In a brilliant essay in the November 2009 issue of Harper’s, Andrew J. Bacevich, author of The Limits of Power, asks, “What is it about Afghanistan, possessing next to nothing that the United States requires, that justifies such lavish attention? In Washington, this question goes not only unanswered but unasked.”

Obama didn’t talk with Bacevich, a former Army officer and professor of international relations at Boston University. Neither did Obama meet with Matthew Hoh. The former Marine and top U.S. civilian official in Afghanistan resigned his post in October. In his letter of resignation, Hoh wrote:

“I fail to see the value or the worth in continuous U.S. casualties or expenditures of resources in support of the Afghan government in what is, truly, a 35-year-old civil war.”

The December 2009 issue of Extra! cites Hoh in an article by Robert Naiman, policy director for the group Just Foreign Policy, as a introduction to how the mainstream media ignores the realities of a civil war between majority Pushtuns and Tajiks raging in Afghanistan when the media “had no trouble using the phrase ‘civil war’ in reference to Afghanistan’s situation prior to the U.S. invasion in October 2001 …”

“Yet the political and ethnic configuration of the conflict today bears strong similarities to the situation that existed before the U.S. invasion,” continues Naiman, “the main difference being who is in the ‘government’ and who is in the ‘insurgency,’ and which side the U.S. is on.”

One has to wonder if Obama read Nicholas Kristof’s Dec. 3, 2009 New York Times op-ed where he quotes Greg Mortenson, builder of schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan and author of Three Cups of Tea. In it, Mortenson says, “It was all decided on the basis of congressmen and generals speaking up, with nobody consulting Afghan elders. One of the elder’s messages is we don’t need firepower, we need brainpower. They want schools, health facilities, but not necessarily more physical troops.”

Mortenson was not consulted by Obama. Gen. Stanley McChrystal was. In his August 2009 report to Gates warning of failure in Afghanistan, McChrystal lifted a philosophy right out of the Vietnam rationale: “Many describe the conflict in Afghanistan as a war of ideas, which I believe to be true.”

Going to war over ideas instead of facts usually means failure. One wonders if Obama considered that.

Bruce Rodgers can be contacted at