In This Era of Hope, Obama Must Embrace a Genuine Agenda of Peace
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To those who would tear this world down -- we will defeat you. To those who seek peace and security -- we support you ... tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity and unyielding hope.
-- Barack Obama, Nov. 4, 2008
Dramatic new opportunities for international peace have opened with the election of Barack Obama. Whether these hopes will be realized, however, depends upon the continued commitment of those of us who helped to elect him. An unprecedented grassroots mobilization of millions of people propelled Obama into office. That same movement must now remain engaged to promote a more peaceful, less militarized U.S. foreign policy.
While economic issues dominated the campaign in the final weeks and clinched Obama’s victory, his improbable candidacy was rooted from the beginning in opposition to the Iraq war. Obama’s declared determination to end the war inspired millions of people to support the campaign and gave his candidacy a critical advantage when it was most needed in the Democratic primaries. His election was in substantial part a mandate for ending the war.
This is true despite the fact that Obama’s views on foreign policy generally conform with conventional thinking. His selections for secretary of defense and national security adviser suggest continuity with current policies rather than change. Yet core elements of Obama’s agenda reflect a genuine peace agenda. Three stances are particularly important -- the commitment to military withdrawal from Iraq, his promise of diplomatic engagement with Iran and support for the goal of a world without nuclear weapons. These positions can serve as the basis for reorienting U.S. foreign policy away from military unilateralism and toward a more cooperative approach to international affairs.
Precisely because of this, attempts to implement these positions will be resisted by powerful vested interests. The war system is deeply entrenched in Washington and will not be uprooted by the results of a single election. Conservative and right-wing political forces are down but not out, and they have wasted no time strategizing on how to return to power. They are likely to challenge the new administration on national security issues. Progressives must be prepared to defend the new administration as it pursues a peace agenda. Citizen activism remains as necessary after the election as it was before.
The top priority will be bringing the war in Iraq to a responsible end. Candidate Obama called for the withdrawal of combat forces, but his plan would leave in place tens of thousands of American troops and bases. The Baghdad government and the Bush administration have trumped this position by adopting a security agreement that calls for all U.S. forces to leave the country within three years. The pact, described officially as the withdrawal agreement, gives Iraqi officials greater control over U.S. operations and forbids the use of Iraqi territory or airspace for attacks against other countries. The exact legal status of the security pact is uncertain, but its political significance is undeniable. A timetable for the removal of U.S. troops and bases is now official policy in Baghdad and Washington, and can be rightly portrayed as fulfilling the wishes of both American voters and the elected leaders of Iraq.
Opponents of the war must insist that the process of military withdrawal begin immediately and that the new administration commit itself to removing all troops and bases. The exact timeline for withdrawal is less important than the necessity of early action and an unequivocal commitment to begin an irreversible process of military disengagement. If the president adopts such an agenda, we should mobilize to support him. If the administration fails to act, or offers only a limited withdrawal, we must be prepared to exert pressure.