Peace Games: Part of the way with... oh, never mind.

"You all are combat troops not doing a combat mission, although it looks, smells and feels and hurts a lot like combat." -- Lt. Col. Andy Ulrich, Hawija, Iraq (August 31, 2010).
You may remember a time when Barack Obama was widely admired for a speaking style that was compelling and forthright. Even when you disagreed with him, as I did during his late run for the White House, you admired the clarity, directness and emotional uplift of his addresses. So you had to be disappointed with his uninspiring performance last Tuesday, even as you sympathized with the spot he's in. The chasm between the American self-image as the defender of freedom and justice and its true role as the enforcer of class and property rights around the globe has become so vast that no U.S. politician can be clear and forthright about anything.

The president's immediate problem Tuesday was that he was trying to paint the lipstick of withdrawal on the pig of our continuing occupation of Iraq. Mark Twain's U.S. flag - Obabam could have said...from Chattanooga to Wounded Knee, from Mindanao to, oh, GranadaHowever you describe the actions of the 50,000 plus troops and many more thousands of "security contractors" who remain in Iraq, "it looks, smells and feels and hurts a lot like combat."

A mission statement is a form of marketing: it is meaningless without action. The new mission statement for Iraq can't alter reality; as Matthew Yglesias wrote yesterday on American Prospect, "there's simply no redeeming an irredeemable mission." All Obama's version of "mission accomplished" really offered was another opportunity for George Orwell to roll over in his grave.

The most chilling aspect of the speech was its unequivocal embrace of American militarism (the expenditure of "vast resources abroad at a time of tight budgets at home," as he accurately put it). Even as he admitted that "our most urgent task is to restore our economy, and put the millions of Americans who have lost their jobs back to work," the president had no concrete proposals to take us from making war to creating jobs.

Somehow in the past two years the Iraq war has mutated in Obama's mind from something illegal and "dumb" to the penultimate stop in an unbroken line of heroic actions "that stretches from Lexington to Gettysburg; from Iwo Jima to Inchon; from Khe Sanh to Kandahar," an "unbroken line" that the president presumably knows includes a barbarous civil war and almost continuous episodes of territorial expansion, genocide, colonial brutality, war crimes and unprovoked aggression. Khe Sanh, for pete's sake (along with the Tet Offensive, it was Khe Sanh that turned the tide of public opinion against the war in Vietnam).

Ultimately the speech was less about the conclusion of military operations in Iraq than it was a billboard for American militarism in general ("the steel in our ship of state") and in particular this Democratic administration's embrace of permanent war in Afghanistan ("As we speak, al Qaeda continues to plot against us" -- all four or five dozen of them). The peace movement and the left in general have some tough decisions ahead. It is clear by now that taking sides reflexively with the Democrats in every fight ends with being taken for granted by the party's leaders on every front. There may be times when supporting a pro-military Democrat makes sense -- because he or she has been a reliable ally (in the fight for affordable, universal health care, say, or for equal rights under the law), but it is becoming increasingly difficult to take seriously on economic justice issues those Democrats that support aggressive militarism and runaway DOD spending.

The Democratic Party needs to learn that progressives are serious about change.

Are we?

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