Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Campaign, Iraq, Vietnam and "Ordinary Racism"

by Norman Markowitz

Senator Obama spoke today as as a "realist." Not necessarily a progressive, but someone who said simply that "George Bush and John McCain don't have a strategy for success in Iraq, they have a strategy for staying in Iraq."

Senator Obama went on to say that that the U.S. has global interests beyond Iraq, in Europe, South and East Asia. that the Iraq occupation was undermining. This reminded me of old line cold warriors Dean Acheson and Clark Clifford telling Lyndon Johnson in the aftermath of the Tet offensive that Vietnam wasn't that high on U.S. priorities, i.e., fighting the cold war, as against Europe, the Near East with its oil, and et al (Acheson even through in the "home front" which was the scene of mass protests, to argue for de-escalation).

Clifford, who had helped Harry Truman win the presidency in 1948 by crafting a campaign strategy in which he de-emphasized cold war issues and took left New Deal positions on domestic issues, was brought in by Johnson to replace Robert McNamara as Secretary of Defense. He talked to the generals who kept on talking about winning in Vietnam and when he asked them what winning meant(beyond staying there and fighting an endless counter-insurgent war), the only repeated themselves about the necessity of "winning" and the continuation of counter-insurgency as if that were a way to win. He concluded that they had no way to win, there was no way to win, and that de escalation was the only solution.

I am mentioning Vietnam at length not because I think that Obama is simply an old fashioned "cold war liberal" Democrat advocating a more selective and sophisticated use of military power. He has stressed non-military solutions to international problems, including economic aid and development programs for poor countries and multi-lateral diplomatic solutions connected to those policies as a way to advance U.S. security in the world. He has also, as a realist (and there are those on the left who will respond very negatively to this) made the point that the Iraq disaster has detracted from the anti Al Qaeda, anti-Taliban policy in Afghanistan, and Pakistan where the forces which did perpetrate the 9/11 are centered, are carrying out increased attacks against the multilateral occupation force supporting the weak Kabul government and are clearly better organized and more dangerous than the divided insurgents in Iraq.

But John McCain it seems has never gotten behind the Vietnam War in his thinking. John McCain's answer to Obama was very much like the generals answer to Clark Clifford in 1968.

McCain, as he has for months, hailed the "surge" and said " I told you so." "I called for a comprehensive new strategy--a surge of troops and counter insurgency to win the war. Senator Obama disagreed. He opposed the surge, predicted it would increase sectarian violence, and called for retreat as quickly as possible. Today we know Senator Obama was wrong."He was? Based on what (reverse body counts, meaning that the official violence statistics have dropped so that victory is at hand)? The body counts and the "kill ratios" in Vietnam as against the "low" casualties for U.S. troops were cited as examples of the triumph of "search and destroy" counter insurgency until the TET offensive blow that out of the water. Clark Clifford and the smarter Generals in 1968 knew that guerrilla war was not about winning open battles but about winning the war over a long course, lying low, building strength and taking advantage of the political errors of your enemies. The generals somehow thought that if they kept on fighting and occupying somehow they would have a "viable" South Vietnamese client state (how they couldn't say).

McCain spent more than five years as a prisoner of an undeclared war because of the escalation in Vietnam that he praises in Iraq as successful. His fixation on counter-insurgency as a set of narrow military option is more than wrong. It is a prescription for bigger wars and greater isolation for the U.S. from the world community.

There is no end in sight to the Bush McCain occupation because there is no viable Iraqi government and no possibility given the present policies of establishing one. McCain has no one to bomb in Iraq save the Iraqis who are in hiding largely from all sides and he will find it difficult to bomb Pakistan in order to fight against the Pakistani supported Taliban- Al Qaeda forces who all observers across the political spectrum contend, have grown significantly stronger, have important support from Pakistan, and also have regained support among the traditionally dominant Pashtun ethnic population of Afghanistan, who have a long history of fierce fighting against both internal enemies and foreign powers.

Senator Obama is planning an international tour in which he will hopefully begin to articulate to the world community his substantial differences with the Bush administration. McCain no doubt will keep on talking about "victory," "counter insurgency," and of course "the surge," a word that is part of both insurgency and counter-insurgency.

A final point, a short postscript about racism, or "ordinary racism". The media is filled with talk about the New Yorker cover, not the serious points Senator Obama is making about domestic and foreign policy and the contrast with McCain.

As I see it, the cover which put together all of the big and little lies about Obama and many of the fears about African-Americans which reactionary political forces have long promulgated. Was it satire? Perhaps that is what its producers thought, but satire is usually directed against those who have such twisted views, who think that Obama is a radical "Muslim," who will be soft on Osama, who see him as a flag burning anti-war protester of the 1960s and his wife as a gun toting radical black nationalist of the 1960s. That was what the caricature portrayed. If tthe caricature showed all this on a giant TV Screen with Karl Rove on the side saying to Republicans "This is the way we will market Obama" it would have been clear satire. If Rush Limbaugh was with Rove and added, "maybe we can put a marijuana joint in Obama mouth and put in some more women to show he will start a harem in the White House" it would have been satire. As I saw it, it came across like the crude rightwing political cartoons I read as a boy in
the New York Daily News and Hearst's New York Daily Mirror, that is portrayals of certain progressive political figures with the Hammer and Sickle on their back, destructive crazy people, etc.

I guess the New Yorker isn't as sophisticated as it was in the 1930s, when it published a classic cartoon of two very rich old people saying "Let's go down to the Trans Lux (a newsreel theater in New York) and hiss Roosevelt." Or the 1960s when it published a classic cartoon of a man
looking up at the World Trade Center, seeing King Kong, and saying "that does it, I am going to vote for Procaccino." Instead of "not being for the little old lady from Dubuque," its new motto might be it is for Archie Bunkers with MBA's.