Losing hope

The Afghanistan escalation has angered many Obama voters. But can the antiwar movement revive itself against a Democratic president?


In the back room of Tommy's Joynt, more than a dozen members of the antiwar group Code Pink gathered Dec. 1 to watch television coverage of President Barack Obama's speech announcing that 30,000 more U.S. troops would be sent to fight in Afghanistan, his second major escalation of that war this year.

"This is not the hope you voted for!" read a flyer distributed at the event.

Yet even among Code Pink's militant members, reactions ranged from feeling disappointed and betrayed to feeling validated in never believing Obama was the agent of change that he pretended to be.

Jennifer Teguia seemed an example of former, while Cecile Pineda embodied the latter. "Right down the line, it's been the corporate line," Pineda told us, citing as examples Obama's support for Wall Street bailouts and insiders and his abandonment of single-payer health reform in favor of an insurance-based system. "For serious politicos, hope is a fantasy."

Throughout the speech, Pineda let out audible groans at Obama lines such as "We did not ask for this fight" and "A place that had known decades of fear now has reason to hope." When the president promised a quick exit date, Pineda labeled it "the old in and out." And when Obama made one too many references to 9/11, she blurted out, "Ha! 9/11!" and "He sounds just like Bush!"

But Teguia just looked saddened by the speech, and maybe a little weary that after nearly eight years of fruitlessly fighting Bush's wars, the movement will now need to reignite to resist Obama's escalation, which will put more U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan than Bush ever deployed.

"People are feeling tired and overwhelmed. We've been doing this year after year, and it's endless. People are feeling dispirited," Teguia told me just before the speech began.

She and other Obama supporters were willing to be patient and hopeful that Obama would eventually make good on his progressive campaign rhetoric. "But people are starting to feel like this window is closing," Teguia said. "Now it's at the tipping point."

Obama has always tried to walk a fine line between his progressive ideals and his more pragmatic, centrist governing style. But in a conservative and often jingoistic country, Obama's "center" isn't where the antiwar movement thinks it ought to be.

"Obama is trying to unite the establishment instead of uniting the people against the establishment," Teguia said.

That grim perspective was voiced by everyone in the room.

"Not only is he not clearing up the mess in Iraq, he's escautf8g in Afghanistan," said Rae Abileah, a Code Pink staff member who coordinates local campaigns. "I think people are outraged and frustrated and they've had enough."

Perhaps, but the antiwar movement just isn't what it was in 2003, when it shut down San Francisco on the first full day of war in Iraq. And the fact that Obama is a Democrat who opposed the Iraq War presents a real challenge for those who don't support his Afghanistan policy and fear that it will be a disaster.

Democratic dilemma

Obama's announcement — more then anything Bush ever said or did — is dividing the Democratic Party establishment, and the epicenter of that division is in San Francisco.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi is the Speaker of the House, second in command of the Democratic Party, essentially the person most responsible for the success or failure of a Democratic president's agenda in Congress. She also represents a city where antiwar sentiment is among the strongest in the nation — and many of her Bay Area Democratic colleagues have already spoken out strongly against the Afghanistan troop surge.

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