An organization that has made headlines heckling
George W. Bush and other prominent politicians for their support of the Iraq
war has declared "victory" after Barack Obama's election as president
of the United States.
"After almost eight years standing outside the White House with a bullhorn
and screaming at someone who wouldn't listen who's totally impervious to popular
opinion, I think it's going to be great having someone in there who hopefully
will be interested in what we have to say," said Medea Benjamin, co-founder
of the group CODEPINK: Women for Peace.
Since the Sep. 11 attacks seven years ago, members of CODEPINK have been a
regular presence on Capitol Hill opposing the US invasion and occupation
of Iraq, decrying a proposed American attack on Iran, and pushing for the impeachment
of Vice President Dick Cheney for illegally manipulating intelligence reports
to justify the Bush administration's attack on Iraq.
Recently, the group has also organized demonstrations throughout Washington
and the country to protest the $700 billion bailout of financial firms and demand
new regulations on those companies and economic relief for families facing bankruptcy
Their flamboyant tactics showing up in large groups with bright pink outfits
complete with feather boas and other colorful accessories, disrupting government
meetings, and shouting at leading politicians with the cameras rolling have
garnered CODEPINK a great deal of media attention, but also a fair amount of
criticism. Many of their members have been arrested numerous times in acts of
But Benjamin said the election of Obama marks a new era in American politics,
which calls for new tactics from the peace movement.
"We certainly want to start out in a softer tone," she said, "in
terms of trying to get meetings not only with members of Barack Obama's administration,
[but also] trying to influence members of his team who are going to be influential
in his policies in the Middle East. We know a lot of them; they're Clinton leftovers
and they're going to need a lot of pushing, but they'll be a lot more willing
to listen than the folks we have now."
A similar response to Obama's election is coming from the Arab and Muslim worlds,
said Baghdad-born Boston University Professor Shakir Mustafa. "There was
a huge sigh of relief," he told OneWorld, "but it was a lot more muted
than I expected."
Mustafa said Obama's offer to sit down and talk with Iranian leaders without
preconditions and his promise of a phased US troop withdrawal from Iraq have
drawn praise overseas. His statements of support for Israeli military policy
and increased bombing of Pakistan have not.
Mustafa said the first place we are likely to see the impact of a President
Obama is in the negotiation of a Status of Forces Agreement between Washington
and Baghdad governing the US military presence in Iraq. The United Nations
mandate permitting a US military occupation expires Dec. 31, and the Bush
administration has been pushing the Iraqi government to sign a treaty allowing
the occupation to continue.
Iraqi leaders have resisted the Bush administration's terms, demanding that
any such agreement include a time-line for the withdrawal of all American troops.
"Obama promises to get most American forces out of Iraq in a little more
than a year," Mustafa said. "People are very comfortable with this.
In fact they are seeing that if security is improving and if Iraqi forces are
trained by mid-May as predicted, why would the American forces stay beyond that
point? No Sunni party, no Shi'ite party are for the extended stay of American
Longtime peace activist, politician, and writer Tom Hayden says the Obama presidency
puts antiwar advocates in much the same position that the presidency of John
F. Kennedy put the early civil rights movement. He also compares it to the relationship
between Abraham Lincoln and those who wanted to abolish slavery. Both leaders
were in favor of progressive change, Hayden says, but had to be pushed by grassroots
Americans to take significant action.
"The task is ours to build a social movement and create a climate that
organizes the pressure that will enable [Obama] to do the right thing,"
explains Hayden. "I don't know of any political leaders who will go beyond
what their base has made possible."