Sunday, December 20, 2009

Anti-War Activists Losing Patience with Obama

by Anna M. Tinsley

Abby Tomlinson voted for President Barack Obama, hoping that he would help end the war in Iraq quickly.

But the Lubbock woman said she's disappointed in what the "peace" candidate has accomplished along those lines, nearly a year after taking office.

Two wars continue. The Iraqi war may soon wind down but the Afghanistan war is escalating, with Obama's recent decision to send in 30,000 more troops.

"One of the major platforms of the Obama campaign was the move to end the war in Iraq. Many voters chose him because of that fact alone," said Tomlinson, who works in communications and marketing at Texas Tech University's College of Outreach and Distance Education. "He ran, whether he meant to or not, on a platform of peace.

"I guess we probably did put too much hope in him. I know that I did. I feel disappointed and a bit betrayed by Obama's choice to send more troops anywhere overseas. I feel like he has turned his back to those that voted him into office."

Now anti-war protesters - who have been somewhat subdued since Obama took office - are ramping up protests, bluntly reminding Obama that they expect him to fulfill his campaign promises.

They are sending letters, holding marches, even planning to set up an anti-war camp on the lawn of the Washington Monument.

"Our goal is to remind people that we still have two wars going on," said Joshua Mayer of Denton, a member of the Campus Anti-War Network at the University of North Texas. "Perhaps the anti-war movement maybe thought they could rest with Obama getting elected. A lot of people thought a Democrat would be the answer.

"But it's more important than ever to keep the movement going."

Troop status

Obama signed off on a controversial decision to send about 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, raising the total to about 100,000.

Government officials say those troops, who will increase efforts against al Qaeda militants and the Taliban, should be in place by next summer.

Obama said the troops "will increase our ability to train competent Afghan security forces, and to partner with them so that more Afghans can get into the fight. And they will help create the conditions for the United States to transfer responsibility to the Afghans." Defense Secretary Robert Gates is among those defending Obama's strategy.

"What the president has announced is the beginning of a process, not the end of a process," Gates said. "And it is clear that this will be a gradual process and, as he said . . . based on conditions on the ground."

In a recent New York Times/CBS News poll, 51 percent of respondents support Obama's troop surge and 55 percent say it's not a good idea to set a date to remove troops. Almost 60 percent say they don't want these troops to stay there for more than two years, and just over 30 percent say troops should come home within a year.

"Up through his public statements [this month], people wanted to believe, they wanted to be hopeful, that he would not escalate the war in Afghanistan," said state Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, and director of the Dallas Peace Center. "Peace activists are going to become increasingly critical of Obama now."

'Dismayed, disheartened'

Mayer didn't vote for Obama, but he said he did have hope that Obama would bring about change.

"He didn't start those wars," he said. "But he is responsible for ending them."

Some anti-war advocates say they never let up - not when President George W. Bush was in the White House and not now that Obama is there. They have been lobbying, e-mailing and visiting legislators, said Desiree Fairooz, 53, who left her family and home in Arlington in 2007 to dedicate herself to the cause in Washington, D.C.

Fairooz, a member of the anti-war group Code Pink, which formed ahead of the war in Iraq, said she voted for Obama and is disappointed in what he has done.

"We're dismayed, disheartened and disappointed," Fairooz said. "We don't feel he is doing too much different than Bush. He didn't start these wars, but he's continuing them."

Texas-size protests

Cindy Sheehan has long been a larger-than-life anti-war protester, first with Bush and now with Obama.

The California mother drew national attention in recent years with protests near Bush's Crawford ranch as she demanded to speak to him about her son's death in Baghdad. She continued, marching with protesters this year outside Bush's Dallas home, calling on the former president and his administration to be investigated and prosecuted for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Now she's planning to set up the anti-war camp near the Washington Monument to get Obama's attention.

"My protests have always been against the policies," Sheehan told the Star-Telegram in an e-mail. "At first I believed that the Republicans were the war party, but it became increasingly clear to me that it doesn't matter what party a president is - the policies of war continue on."

Sheehan said she thinks the war situation would be worse if Sen. John McCain were president. But now is the time for Obama to take clear action, she said.

"He should devise a plan for troop withdrawal that is as speedy as safely possible and combine economic growth and democracy building in our occupied countries with a speedy withdrawal," Sheehan said. "No occupations will save billions of dollars a month and maybe our economy could start to improve, too."

Looking ahead

As the Afghanistan war stretches out longer than World War I or World War II, anti-war activists say it's time to bring the troops home.

"If U.S. planners weren't able to get it right in eight years, what makes them think they will get it right in the next 18 months?" asked Hadi Jawad, a member of the Dallas Peace Center.

Mayer said he and others just want to call attention to the wars and ask people for their support to end them.

"There's a stigma that if you don't support the wars, you're somehow unpatriotic and un-American," he said. "I think the opposite is true.

"My greatest fear in Afghanistan . . . because it's impossible to avoid casualties . . . is that for every civilian we kill, I'm afraid it's going to breed another generation of people who hate our country."

© 2009 Star-Telegram

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