Can Obama Resist Calls for War?

by on August 26, 2014

As the United States grapples with underfunded schools, rising homelessness, and increased inequality,  the U.S. media elite has a solution: a new war. Not a war to reduce U.S. poverty, homelessness, or inequality, but another war to stop terrorism abroad.

Will this script never change?

Or to put it another way, will Barack Obama become the first president since Eisenhower to rebuff elite media calls for war?

It won’t be easy. And rebuffing war got harder after Hillary Clinton criticized Obama for not arming Syrian rebels.

Clinton’s comments are being used to show Obama is outside the mainstream of his own Party on the issue. As if that would be a bad thing.

The Washington Post wrote last week that Obama is “disconnected” from Senate and House Democrats. Progressives should see this as a good thing. It increases the chances that Obama will withstand Party pressure that he launch a new war.

The Elite Prefers War

There is nothing new about delaying action on America’s internal crises in favor of elite desires for new foreign wars.

LBJ sacrificed War on Poverty resources to the Vietnam War. Bill Clinton steadily increased the military budget and ramped up overseas conflicts in the 1990’s despite promising a peace dividend in his 1992 campaign.

Neither policy was backed by the Democratic Party’s base. Yet in both cases a Democratic President put war spending ahead of domestic needs to the political detriment of the next Democratic Party presidential candidate.

Can Obama defy this trend? Can he rebuff calls for war and instead work with grassroots groups to shift the focus to legalizing undocumented immigrants, making Obamacare work, raising the minimum wage, and otherwise pursuing the agenda for which he was twice elected?

It won’t be easy. But activists cannot be passive observers in this fight.

Activists Hold Key

Of the many issues I come across on my Twitter feed, virtually none is from an activist group questioning the U.S. putting more resources into war instead of toward education, housing, and reducing inequality.

Maybe such an argument sounds too much like something out of “the ‘60s.” Or maybe groups like the AFL-CIO use Twitter to promote specific campaigns as opposed to making larger policy statements in only 140 characters.

Having written a book on activism rather than fighting battles on their opponent’s terms, I fully support groups not diverting attention from ongoing campaigns because elite interests are pounding the drums for war.

But in the absence of activist voices urging Obama to keep the focus on domestic needs, the elite media environment tells only one side of the story. And with conservatives and some Democrats urging war, it has the type of “bipartisan” support that the media frames as a national consensus.

Elizabeth Warren’s Leadership

The only national Democrat I’ve heard urge Obama to not start a new war with ISIS is Elizabeth Warren. Right-wing media is pillorying Warren for suggesting that negotiations are more effective than war, using the same aggressive tactics that led elite media to back Bush’s invasion of Iraq.

Bernie Sanders feels the U.S. should not act alone, but we saw in Iraq how an “international” force can be a slippery slope for what is primarily a U.S. effort. Other than Warren and Sanders, national Democrats may be urging Obama not to start a new war but their voices are not being widely heard.

Activists need to put the cries for war in the broader perspective.

For example, Philadelphia’s schools face an $81 million deficit. The schools’ overwhelmingly African-American student body faces large classes, the elimination of counselors, the loss of free bus service and other problems. Philadelphia is the most high profile school district in crisis, but is one of thousands across the nation.

What would help these kids more, additional public funding to get their schools back in shape or a new war in the Middle East?

 

Randy Shaw is Editor of Beyond Chron. His most recent book is The Activist’s Handbook: Winning Social Change in the 21st Century

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Randy Shaw

Randy Shaw is the Editor of Beyond Chron and the Director of San Francisco’s Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which publishes Beyond Chron. Shaw is the author of four books on activism, including The Activist's Handbook: Winning Social Change in the 21st Century, and Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century. His new book is The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco

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