Monday, February 25, 2008

The Left Offers Obama a Strategy

Ronald Radosh | 2/25/2008

What is Barack Obama’s foreign policy? As it becomes clear that Obama is likely to win the Democratic nomination, both Hillary Clinton and John McCain are attacking him for a lack of foreign policy experience and for proposals he has made that appear to make him appear rather naïve. Is he going to retreat from confronting our nation’s enemies, or is he going to be tough when he has to be? What advice will he heed? Now, he has been offered advice for his campaign by none other than Tom Hayden, once the young lion of the New Left and the anti-Vietnam War movement. Tom Hayden is, of course, no longer a major public figure with great influence. His words, however, resonate with scores of activists as well as liberal intellectuals, who will take them to heart and seek to up the ante on the Obama campaign. Hayden, who clearly views Iraq as another Vietnam, is seeking to move Obama to adopt the prescriptions of the most left-wing sectors of the Democratic Party constituency.

Pointing to Obama’s victory speech in Houston last week, Hayden has noted that Obama has shifted his position, to one of calling for withdrawal of all American troops in the first year of his administration, not over a lengthier time span. Does Obama mean it? Hayden has one suggestion: the Left and antiwar forces must hold Obama to his word. More importantly, he argues that sentiment among Obama’s base “is running strongly enough to push the candidate forward to a stronger commitment,” strong enough to move him away from the words in his 2006 book The Audacity of Hope, in which Obama wrote that a complete withdrawal was a matter of “imperfect judgment” and “best guesses.”

It is clear from Mr. Hayden that his supposition - and that of the Left he represents - (his comments appear in The Nation magazine website) believe that the United States should not be involved on a “so-called war on terrorism,” a phony concept developed by evil and strong neoconservatives who falsely believe there is something called “Islamofascism.” Obviously believing that there is not such force in the world, he argues that its advocates, including Senator John McCain, favor a “permanent war against Muslim radicals” that is really about one thing: “American access to oil.”

What worries Mr. Hayden is that in a contest between McCain and Obama, John McCain’s war record, combined with his Senate experience, makes him a “formidable” advocate of tough steps to protect American national security, something Mr. Hayden sees as a danger to the antiwar movement. His own prescription for withdrawal of troops are thus threatened by General Petraeus’ forthcoming April testimony before Congress, in which it is expected he will report on the favorable outcome of the surge, and urge the nation to stay the course.

Mr. Hayden thus sees Petraeus not as a honest soldier reporting the truth of what he has accomplished, but as a “de facto surrogate for McCain” that will force Barack Obama to have to respond without retreating from his promise of early withdrawal. He says, rightfully, that those he dubs the neoconservative opposition will oppose Obama by challenging him for wanting “to pull the plug on Iraq just when the tide is turning.” And why shouldn’t McCain do just that? Does Mr. Hayden think that the United States, should in fact, pull the plug precisely when the situation in Iraq is improving?

Ironically, Mr. Hayden condemns William Kristol for arguing in the pages of the New York Times and The Weekly Standard that the Democratic Party has become “the puppet of the antiwar groups.” Clearly, Mr. Kristol may have been premature. Mr. Hayden seems to want now to prove Kristol both prescient and right. Mr. Hayden fears that all of this will lead to McCain successfully forging a new center-Right coalition, leaving the Democrats only with the moderate and antiwar left-wing. The Republicans will have, he notes, the aid of Senator Joe Lieberman working as an ally who would also make inroads among the Jewish community.

Nevertheless, Tom Hayden is optimistic. He believes Americans will also see Afghanistan as a quagmire not susceptible to a military solution; Pakistanis showing they do not want to be pawns in an American war, and that a fight with the Taliban or al-Qaeda is nothing but a “bottomless battle.” His fear: that Obama will ignore all this, and seek to “prove his credentials as a militarist or face being painted as another Democrat too weak to be Commander-in-Chief.” His solution: the forces of the Left and the peace movement wage “open political and intellectual battle” against “the neoconservative agenda.”

Should Barack Obama listen to the Left’s advice, he will only push the Democratic Party back to the age of McGovernite isolationism, and contrary to the assertion of Tom Hayden, make the campaign much easier for John McCain. If the Democrats hope to actually win the presidency, the worst thing they could do is to take advice from Tom Hayden.
Ronald Radosh, Prof. Emeritus of History at the City University of New York, is an Adjunct Fellow at the Hudson Institute.

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