May 2012, Week 4


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Sat, 26 May 2012 15:46:06 -0400
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After Chicago, After Afghanistan: The Complexities

By Tom Hayden
May 22, 2012


The vast outpouring of protest in Chicago last week was
a promising sign of health for progressive social
movements, but still left big uncertainties about the

First and foremost, the US-NATO war in Afghanistan is
ending. Too slowly for the peace movement, but much too
rapidly for the Pentagon, Hamid Karzai and
Afghanistan's Northern Alliance. There is no predicting
what will happen on the ground in 2013-14. But American
troops, American casualties, American budget costs -
and presumably American public interest - will be

Public opinion strongly supports President Obama's
course of phased withdrawal, but chaos is a real
possibility since the Afghan security forces cannot
defend themselves against the insurgency, and Obama's
critics (including mainstream media observers) will
blame him for any coming implosion in Kabul. At least a
majority of House Democrats, led by Barbara Lee, Jim
McGovern and others, have called for an accelerated
troop withdrawal and end of funding, providing Obama a
degree of political cover once again.

Obama is ending the Long War - in terms of deploying
American ground forces - but continuing the same Long
War doctrine via drones and secret operations in
alliance with undependable and corrupt regimes in
places like Pakistan and Yemen, inflaming Muslims
around the globe. While Americans are led to believe
that the Iraq-Afghanistan wars are ending by seeing the
troops coming home, the actual threat of further
terrorist attacks in Europe or the US may be
increasing. It may be possible to keep a war secret
from the American public, but not from Muslims on the
ground who, in the absence of a genuine end to
occupation, will consider suicide attacks their "war of

It is crucial to understand that the US escalation to
drones and secret ops is not a strategic offensive but
more like a strategic retreat for the Pentagon.
Projections of a Big Brother, eye-in-the-sky, and
totalitarian control system ignore the historical fact
that wars are won on the ground. The drones and spies
cannot repair the Humpty-Dumpty despots passing for
Western allies. And if more invasions by American
combat troops are impossible for political reasons, the
Pentagon is left playing defensive war. (See Medea
Benjamin's new book, Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote
Control, an excellent guide to the subject.)

The same political disability hampers Western strategy
in Iran and Syria, despite ardent calls from Israeli
and Saudi hawks for further intervention. The American
and Western capacity for more ground interventions on
behalf of regime-change is near exhaustion.

As this chronic foreign policy crisis continues, it
appears more likely by the day that domestic economic
and social contradictions will be in the forefront for
the American public through this November's election,
and perhaps beyond. There could be another "October
surprise" but that would be, well, surprising.

The peace movement can and will have to merge with the
populist movements opposing austerity budgets and Wall
Street crimes. It seems easy enough to call for ending
the wars, taxing Wall Street, and reinvesting the
savings in health care and education. It is almost as
easy to demand that "wars for oil" be ended and a
transition to energy conservation and renewables
immediately be accelerated.

The coming problem relates to strategic leadership, or
its absence. This may seem to be a non-problem for some
advocates of anarchist horizontal networks and direct
action as performance art. But it is all too obvious
that radical vanguards and hidden agendas find fertile
ground in such horizontal fields, turning off public
opinion. Such was the case in Chicago Saturday when a
small militant cadre managed to secure trophy photo-ops
of fighting with the Chicago police when the mainstream
media images could have been Iraq and Afghanistan
veterans returning their medals. (For a good eyewitness
account of Saturday's demonstrations, see Matt
Reichel's "Protest Roars to Life at Chicago NATO Summit
in Face of Violent Police Crackdowns.")

At the other end of the protest spectrum are more top-
down, bureaucratic, networks like MoveOn.org and
Rebuild the American Dream for the 99 Percent, who seek
to capitalize on Occupy Wall Street and expand its
reach, but whose methods tend toward branding, list-
collecting, fund-raising, and holding amorphous
training workshops. They are accused of "co-opting
Occupy", often bitterly, by many of the original
occupiers who showed up in the beginning and braved the
encampments and police evictions. Simply put, the
MoveOn/Rebuild wing of the movement is searching for a
committed, organized and activist base, while the
original Adbusters/Occupy Wall Street forces are
struggling with how to convey a persuasive message and
expand their movement further into the mainstream
during an election year.

Inevitably, the Occupy movement will struggle and
likely splinter over demands - foreclosures, college
tuitions, global warming (?) - while lacking a
persistent, insistent position towards reforming Wall
Street, partly because they are divided over reform
itself. Many of them will view Barack Obama and the
Democratic Party as diversionary lesser evils -
ignoring the fact that millions of people do not see
Obama as an "evil" at all, and tens of millions more
will be unified against Mitt Romney and Tea Party
Republicans. If Obama loses, and the Democrats lose the
Senate, too, a toxic round of blaming will begin with
adverse consequences for building any progressive
movement in America. On the other hand, should Obama
win, it is difficult to know how Occupy will be
stronger for having been opposed or sidelined.

On the MoveOn/Rebuild the American Dream side of the
equation, so far there is a relative lack of power to
"co-opt" anyone. If their ultimate intention is to
support Obama-Biden, they seem afraid to say so. Their
menu of demands seems like a smorgasbord, especially
compared to Occupy's vacuum of any demands.

Between these polar tendencies are groups representing
labor, women, LGBT communities, environmentalists and
the alternative media struggling day-to-day with the
complexities of what Progressive Democrats of America
calls the "outside-inside strategy."

It's a period of populist pandemonium.


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