But Why Was Obama Against the War?


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© Jack Cashill

June 19, 2008

Much has been made about the “when” of Barack Obama’s opposition to the war—before his opponents, before the war for that matter--but very little about the “why” or “how” of it.

The “War in Iraq” page on Obama’s official web site leads with a speech he gave in Iowa in September 2007 that purports to answer the “why” question.

“I made a different judgment,” says Obama, contrasting himself with senatorial naifs like Clinton and Edwards, “who took the president at his word.”

Obama tells us that he was keen on “reading the intelligence for himself.” This intelligence led him and him alone to worry “about an occupation of undetermined length, with undetermined costs, and undetermined consequences.”

Obama’s supporters have quoted this now famous “undetermined” riff endlessly, as has Obama himself. It was the most important line in his most important speech, the one that positioned him to beat Hillary Clinton.

The Obama website, however, is purposely vague about the original speech. It boasts of it but only in general terms. “As a candidate for the United States Senate in 2002,” it tells us, “Obama put his political career on the line to oppose going to war in Iraq,”

Of course, he did no such thing because he was no such candidate. In 2002, Obama was an unknown ward healer from Chicago’s notoriously crooked South Side. What he was for or against was irrelevant. He would run for the U.S. Senate in 2004, not 2002.

As elusive as the speech itself is the source of the “intelligence” that enabled an obscure state senator from Chicago to intuit events that the United States Senate could not.

To discover that source, I needed the original speech, which I found after some effort. Obama had delivered it an impromptu rally staged by the Chicagoans Against the War in Iraq (CAWI) in Chicago’s Federal Plaza on October 2, 2002.

His description of Saddam that day as a “man who butchers his own people . . . thwarted UN inspection teams, developed chemical and biological weapons, and coveted nuclear capacity” was Democratic, pre-war boilerplate.

What distinguished Obama from his future Democratic rivals was his cheery confidence that, even without war, Saddam could be contained and ultimately consigned to history’s dustbin “in the way of all petty dictators.”

Why then a war? This is where Obama had access to intelligence that Clintons and Edwards apparently did not.

Nearly six months before the war began, Obama had already sniffed out “a cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz,” the only two officials so named, “to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats.”

Aiding and abetting the neo-cons, of course, was the inevitable Karl Rove. As Obama told it, Rove was banging the war drum to distract America from, among other things, “a stock market that has just gone through the worst month since the Great Depression.”

This is the kind of intelligence that Obama could not have drawn from Jeremiah--“ America’s chickens are coming home to roost”—Wright. As much as Wright might have admired Obama’s newfound moxie, he lacked the sophistication to supply the speech’s central tropes.

For those, Obama would have have turned to his pals in Chicago’s unrepentant radical community. In fact, the key organizers of the anti-war rally were two proud veterans of the militant Students for a Democratic Society, Carl Anderson and Marilyn Katz. This helps explain why the website is silent on the speech’s origins.

As Katz tells it, she was one of a group of five individuals who put the rally together, and they did so on just ten days notice. Left unsaid, of course, is how they so quickly recruited Obama, in Katz’s words, “the most senior elected official at the first popular rally.”

The most likely connection is Bill Ayers, the former Weatherman bomber and fugitive. Ayers and his Weatherwoman bride, Bernadine Dohrn, helped launch Obama’s first campaign for the state senate in the mid-1990s and have stayed close to him since. Katz admittedly had known Ayers since she was seventeen, forty-some years earlier.

One senses the radical contribution to the speech. On his own, Obama would not have made the quietly anti-Semitic reference to Perle and Wolfowitz, two names in common parlance only on the hard left.

As to the “worst month” claim about the stock market, this too rings of hand-me-down Marxist hysteria, given that the Dow Jones had been fairly flat since July 2002 and would gain more than 10 percent in that very October of Obama’s discontent.

And yet for all bones thrown to the progressive masses, there was a calculation in Obama’s style that likely frustrated the Chicago left in 2002 and that clearly frustrates them today.

The CAWI website, for instance, prominently posts a recent article by fellow traveler Tom Hayden headlined, “Nothing New in Obama’s Iraq Speech,” under the column head, “Barack Can Do Better.”

Indeed, in the very first sentence of his 2002 speech, Obama offered the caution that he was “not opposed to war in all circumstances,” a point that he was at pains to reinforce.

Obama promptly cited the American Civil War as a war he could support. That the war led to a bloody, twelve-year insurgency and occupation, which ended only when the U.S. military yielded to the insurgents, was likely something Obama did not know.

There was much in the speech that Obama did not know beforehand, but yet it was this one professionally crafted speech that deftly staked out Obama’s ultimate winning position on Hillary’s vulnerable left flank.

One senses money behind that speech and the subsequent marketing of Obama, serious king-making money, the kind of money less interested in war or peace than in doing business in a Middle East un-policed by the American military.

But more on the Syrian-born Tony Rezko and his Iraqi running mates, Ayham al-Samurai and Nadhmi Auchi in future episodes.

Who is Jack Cashill?


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