US liberals express anger over Obama's decision to raise troop levels
Deployment of 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan causes most ardent supporters to become disillusioned
Ewen MacAskill in Washington
Wednesday 2 December 2009
Barack Obama's escalation of the Afghanistan war brought a vehement reaction today from Americans who only a year ago had been among his most ardent supporters and are now disillusioned.
One of the leaders of the anti-war movement, Paul Kawika Martin, disclosed today that there had been a lot of angry comments aimed at Obama during a conference call with progressives from around the US today to discuss the Afghan move.
"I heard a woman say 'Obama can go to hell'. That was from someone who had campaigned for him."
Martin, political director of Peace Action, added: "I am hearing a visceral reaction among the grassroots who are very disappointed. People are feeling disillusioned. People did want to give Obama a chance but that honeymoon period is clearly ending."
The reaction Martin found today mirrors a wider liberal backlash against Obama that has been growing for the last few months over the watering down of the health bill, the failure to make a significant move on climate change and, above all else, the deployment of more US troops to Afghanistan, firstly 21,000 in March and now a further 30,000.
Such sentiments can be heard at social gatherings round Washington where liberals meet and can be seen in the daily debates on liberal blog sites such as the Huffington Post, Daily Kos, Firedoglake and Talking Points Memo.
David Kurtz of Talking Points Memo defended Obama's new Afghanistan policy but acknowledged liberal disillusionment: "I know many progressives are disenchanted with this decision."
The liberal grassroots group, MoveOn.org, whose members campaigned hard for Obama last year, helped raise funds for him and continued to defend him throughout the early stages of his administration, today turned on him and unequivocally denounced the Afghanistan escalation.
MoveOn, which has been credited by political analysts as having helped get many Democrats elected to Congress in 2006, a turning point for the party, today called on its members to call the White House to protest the Afghanistan decision.
"President Obama has ordered about 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan - escalating the war. But escalation only deepens our involvement in a quagmire. The president needs to hear that we want to bring the troops home, not send more to Afghanistan," MoveOn said on its website.
Opposition to the escalation reaches deep inside the Democratic party, with liberal members of Congress opposed to the war making their resistance felt even before Obama had completed his speech. They pose a danger for Obama, threatening to block his request for the $30bn extra he needs Congress to approve to fund the 30,000 new troops.
Reflecting liberal unease in Congress, New York Democratic representative Louise Slaughter said: "I see no good reason for us to send another 30,000 or more troops to Afghanistan when we have so many pressing issues like our economy to deal with in this country."
Another Democrat, Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, echoed the sentiment: "It's an expensive gamble to undertake armed nation-building on behalf of a corrupt government of questionable legitimacy. Sending more troops could further destabilise Afghanistan and, more importantly, Pakistan, a nuclear-armed state where al-Qaida is headquartered."
Anti-war Democrats are pushing for an early vote on funding before troops are sent into action.
The White House is extremely conscious that part of the base that helped get Obama elected last year is in danger of being eroded. The decision to put in a date for the beginning of withdrawal of US troops was primarily a political one, designed to try to placate not only a US public sceptical about the war but the liberal, anti-war wing of the coalition that Obama built. It did not appear to have worked, with some liberal commentators noting that it was only the start of the process and large numbers of US troops come remain in Afghanistan for years to come.
Public opinion polls show that support for the war has gradually waned since the start of the year, with hostility higher among Democratic supporters than Republicans.
The anti-war protests that were a feature of the Bush presidency have been in little evidence this year but that could change. A new coalition has been formed in response to Obama's decision, the Emergency Anti-Escalation Rally, and announced today it is to protest in front of the White House on 12 December.
VoteVets.org, which represents progressive American veterans reports its members are ambivalent about the Obama plan. Jon Soltz, the chairman of VoteVets, said:
"We have been supportive of every move the president has made since he was elected, and have supported an increased focus on Afghanistan since our inception, but given the serious questions that are unresolved, we aren't ready to support what he's laid out."
The tone among liberal bloggers was more outspoken. Typical of the comments today was KathyinBlacksburgh, who is an editor on the Virginia-based Blue Commonwealth site. She wrote: "So, not one single life is worth it …. It has become clear you do not care what the majority of Americans think. By the way, we, the majority, think it's wrong. We think it's unsupportable. We think it's unaffordable. And we think it's a huge mistake from a security perspective."