Let's be clear about the nature and meaning of
the mandate we're going to be hearing so much about: President-elect Barack
Obama has a clear mandate to end
the Iraq war as expeditiously as possible. His campaign was energized by
and differentiated from Hillary Clinton's by his emphasis on correcting that
horrific mistake. Hillary equivocated, refused
to recant her vote for war, and coyly
suggested that we might withdraw only as far as Kurdistan. Obama, on the other
hand, pledged to get us out in a year, albeit adding weasel
words about "residual" forces guarding our bigger-than-the-Vatican
ambassadorial compound. He gained his initial momentum by grabbing on to this
issue and holding on for dear life, as the Clintons self-destructed and the
economy did, too. Obama arrived at this moment not only on the strength of his
pledge to end the present war, but also the implicit
promise to refrain from involving us in any further hostilities.
The defeat of the GOP was easily predicted:
I've been doing it for years, here,
for example, and here.
This election was a referendum on John
McCain's brand of enthusiastic
interventionism and his volcanically
it was a stunning repudiation of both. Iraq,
the wilds of the
Caucasus – what was distinctive about the McCainiac foreign policy was the
wide range of his potential targets. Al-Qaeda often seemed to take second or
even third place on his enemies list, with the Iranians and the Russians taking
first and second respectively.
Here was a campaign run by the hardest
of the hardcore neocons, and the weight of this bone-crushing defeat will settle
heavily on their shoulders. Saddled with the
neocons' war and the central theme of the McCain campaign – "victory"
in Iraq and intervention around the world – Republicans all
across the nation have been dragged down to defeat: the neocons have proven
a heavier albatross
than the party can bear. What we may be witnessing is the end of the GOP as
an effective political force, at least on a national level.
We know what the American people voted against: they voted to end not only
this war but the grim
prospect of perpetual war, the "generational" conflict that served
as a cover for the politics
of fear and an unprecedented
on our constitutional rights.
They voted to punish the hubris of that top White House official who told
journalist Ron Suskind:
"The aide said that guys like me were 'in what we call the reality-based
community,' which he defined as people who 'believe that solutions emerge from
your judicious study of discernible reality.' … 'That's not the way the world
really works anymore,' he continued. 'We're an empire now, and when we act,
we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality – judiciously,
as you will – we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can
study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors… and
you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.'"
It's possible to evade reality, to believe it is self-created, and to persist
in this delusion for quite some time. In the end, however, reality has a nasty
habit of catching up with us. The day of reckoning for "history's actors"
has arrived, and not a moment too soon. The nation breathes a sigh of relief,
as a long-festering carbuncle is sloughed off and falls away.
The scar it leaves, however, will long remain. Certainly it will disfigure
the face of the GOP for decades to come. Ron
Paul warned them,
and they didn't listen. Now they are paying for their arrogance, and in spades.
Paul, the leader of the party's anti-interventionist wing, predicted
that the burden of empire would cause the economy to fail – and, with it, the
GOP's electoral prospects. His reward was to be refused
entry to the national convention, where they didn't even do him the courtesy
of counting his votes. The party rejected a
million enthusiastic Republican and independent voters, and did their
best to shrink rather than grow their pool of voter support. As ye sow,
so shall ye reap.
This election will make many of our supporters and contributors very happy.
At last, the War Party, which they see as synonymous
with the Republican Party, has been driven out of the White House, and peace
is about to break out all over. A word to the wise: don't bet on it. The War
Party, as I've explained often
and at length,
is hardly limited to the GOP. Its Democratic proxies are influential and often
have a decisive influence; witness the legions
who voted "aye" on the Iraq war resolution.
As I pointed out yesterday,
the War Party has already launched its campaign to capture the Obama administration
– and, given his pledge
to escalate the Afghan war, they haven't got far to go. Now is the time when
the antiwar movement must rely on its own institutions and exert maximum leverage.
We must put pressure on the administration to keep its promise to get us out
of Iraq – and guard against a possible confrontation with Iran.
Joe Biden predicted Obama would soon be "tested"
in the foreign policy realm, and when the time comes, one has to wonder: will
he take the opportunity to prove his "toughness" and overreact, or
will he fulfill the promise of his campaign – the promise of a meaningful change
in our foreign policy of relentless aggression?
Obama has promised
to talk to our alleged enemies, but one has to question whether this will merely
amount to an elaborate series of ultimatums delivered to Tehran's doorstep or
left at the gates of the
Kremlin. If so, these extended "negotiations" are likely to culminate
in conflict, giving us more of a pretext to lure our European "partners"
into going along with the program.
From the perspective of the antiwar activist, there are many dangers that lurk
just around the corner, and the most insidious and least obvious is the consolidation
of economic power in the state. This centralization will make it easier for
the federal government to mobilize all the resources of the country for military
purposes: indeed, the economic crisis will give the government cover to further
consolidate and rationalize its growing power and increase its ability to punish
"anti-government" critics. From what we have seen so far, the Obama
administration is almost
certain to abuse its power in this way.
Another danger that looms large on the horizon of Obama World is the prospect
of a lovesick
media corps, one so enamored of their Messiah-in-the-White-House that, while
failing to examine his policies overseas, they swallow his explanations too
readily. It is all too easy to imagine our besotted press corps capitulating
to a new era of political correctness in Washington, where all criticism of
the Dear Leader is deemed "reactionary" and implicitly racist. When
the Obama administration assures us Iran is building "weapons of mass destruction,"
how many in the mainstream media will be inclined to question them? I'm very
much afraid of the answer to that question.
The Obama campaign was supposedly born as a grassroots movement, an online
phenomenon that went viral and created a new majority. This myth is belied,
of course, by the huge
amount of corporate dollars that went into the campaign. McCain was outspent
by an incredible
margin. The Money Power is heavily invested in Obama, and they fully expect
their generosity to be repaid – with interest.
In the international arena, this means the protection of corporate interests
abroad, with the U.S. military being used as a private
police force to protect American business interests – you know, the sort
of enterprises that are "too big to fail" and have to be succored
by the U.S. Treasury. Obama, like McCain, signed
onto the Wall Street bailout, and he'll be just as willing to send in the Marines
to secure their interests abroad.
The more years I accumulate observing American policymakers in action, the
more I'm struck by the essential continuity of U.S. foreign policy. Since
the end of World War II, our course has been set: straight for the same
mausoleum that houses the remains of the British, the Soviet, the Roman, and
all other would-be global empires of the past. It will take more than mere "change"
to turn this around. It will take a Herculean effort, one that is now possible
– but only if we remain vigilant, and relentless in our exertions.