Veteran Activist Tom Hayden Speaks in San Diego
Comes Two Days After the Election to Talk About the "Long War"
by MARK GABRISH CONLAN
Copyright (c) 2010 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger's Newsmagazine * All rights reserved
Tom Hayden, veteran activist and former California State Senator, didn't come to the First Unitarian-Universalist Church in Hillcrest November 4 to talk about the midterm elections. One of the key people in starting the so-called "New Left" of the 1960's -- he wrote the Port Huron Statement, the founding document of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) -- he cut his activist teeth in opposition to U.S. military adventurism in general and the Viet Nam war in particular. The announced topic of his talk was "The Long War," the long-term struggle between the U.S. and militant Islam worldwide that America's military leaders anticipate will go on for 60 to 80 years, and in which the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are just "theatres."
But as both a grass-roots activist and a former elected official, Hayden couldn't resist commenting about the election from the point of view of "a proud progressive Democrat from the planet of California." Noting that this state resisted the Republican tide that swept the rest of the country, Hayden pointed out that Democrats came close to a sweep of the statewide offices and may even have elected Kamala Harris, a woman and opponent of capital punishment from San Francisco, over Los Angeles city attorney Steve Cooley as state attorney general. "It's not often that women get to take the keys of the jail from men," Hayden said. "Besides the Deep South, the last bastion of the white male constituency is the police department and D.A.'s offices. It says a lot about this generation and the steady progress of change that she would even have a chance."
Hayden also couldn't help but comment on the re-election of Jerry Brown as governor of California 28 years after he vacated that office and was defeated by future governor Pete Wilson in a U.S. Senate race. "I remember campaigning for [Brown] as a young man," Hayden said. "I entered the California legislature as Jerry Brown was leaving Sacramento. ... I hope Obama called him because Jerry Brown is now the oldest successful Democratic politican, decades ahead of the country on one issue that matters more than any other: where are we going to get energy supplies without going to war? Through energy efficiency, conservation and renewables." Hayden pointed out that in 1979 energy experts were predicting that in order to meet future demand California would have to build "a nuclear reactor every five miles up the California coast and a liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal on sacred Indian ground." The fact that Brown pursued a clean-energy path instead -- at least a decade before Al Gore or any other national politican discovered the issue -- meant, Hayden said, "that California has saved $50-$100 billion on energy from these plants that weren't built, and California temporarily became the world leader in photovoltaics. There are now 1 to 2 million Californians employed in clean energy, and the most capital on clean energy [in the U.S.] is going into California right now. ... [Brown] knew this issue is more important than anything else."
One positive result from the election, Hayden said, was that Barbara Boxer's win over Carly Fiorina and the Democrats' retention of their majority in the U.S. Senate means that she will continue to chair the Senate's energy and environment committee -- and as such will continue to resist attempts to get the federal government to pre-empt energy regulation and prevent California from imposing tougher clean-energy and anti-pollution standards than the rest of the country. Though the Republican-controlled House of Representatives is likely to stop any attempt by the Obama administration to pass climate-control legislation, Hayden explained that Obama "will still be able to make regulations based on California's regulations on alternative energy. It's the one thing we can do something about, so I'm having a hard time joining in the general weeping" from the progressive community about the election outcome.
Though Hayden was personally saddened by some of the results -- notably the defeat of Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold, an iconoclastic Democrat who often voted to the Left of his party, by a cookie-cutter Republican -- he said that most of the House Democrats who lost were members of the so-called "Blue Dog" caucus of conservative Democrats. As far as he's concerned, it's goodbye and good riddance to the "Blue Dogs." He was also glad to see all 19 California Congressional candidates endorsed by the ultra-Right "Tea Party" movement lose. "The Democratic Party in the House is smaller, but porobably more liberal, progressive, compact and ready to fight," Hayden said. "Before Speaker John Boehner and his people start investigating Democrats, there'll still be Senators investigating Republicans."
Hayden also noted that for the last 30 to 40 years, neither the Republican nor the Democratic party has been able to improve the living standards of white men -- with the result, he explained, that "white men have perceived that everyone is getting ahead except them. There are some people who might think that's O.K., but politically that becomes the 23 percent of the electorate who are extremely angry and whose violent tendencies are readily stirred. Remmber when the abortion doctor in the Midwest was murdered in the 1990's? I authored a resolution against violence against abortion providers, and it past but it got no Republican votes. One Republican colleague said, 'I couldn't back you on this because those people are all over my district.' There are a lot of militia people under the Republican umbrella that the party has been unwilling to denounce or defund. It's a dangerous time, full speed ahead."
Turning to his advertised topic, the "Long War," Hayden began his talk with a recollection of his own boyhood during World War II, the son of a Marine stationed in San Diego, who "spent my happy childhood looking for Japanese planes on the horizon." Later, when he got into the discussion of the "Long War" he had come to talk about, he described it as a struggle that's lasted ten times longer than the 50 years he's been politically active. "It's the end days of the oppresswion of women, the Crusades against Muslims and the Industrial Revolution that left the world with so much pollution," Hayden said. "We have to move from the heavy hand of the past, and [change] from being dominant to being small-d democrats. More difficult than aspiring to our goals is giving up the power we're supposed to have."
Hayden called the "Long War" something "that threatens to apprehend our futures and our kids' futures. It's a doctrine that replaces the Cold War and says we are in a fight with Muslim fundamentalists for 60 to 80 years in many countries, often in clandestine settings. That's eight Presidential terms [assuming that each President gets re-elected]. People not yet born will be fighting this war. General Petraeus's aide has written a book about it and Andrew Bacevich [a former Reagan defense official turned critic of war and imperialism] has edited a book about it. We aren't aware of this because no one would vote for a Presidential candidate who promised to keep our kids at war for 80 years. By my calculation,. we're in year 9 of a 60- to 80-year war of which Afghanistan and Iraq are 'theatres' in the war." Hayden also said there are 19 other countries in which U.S. forces are fighting campaigns in the "Long War," either openly through the Special Forces or secretly.
According to Hayden, the Afghanistan and Iraq "theatres" of the Long War are winding down, the current focus is on Pakistan -- an ostensible U.S. ally we are regularly attacking with drone aircraft, ostensibly to kill "terrorists" but actually causing civilian casualties -- " and now it's spreading to Yemen. Then it will spread to the Muslim ghettoes of London and Paris. It's madness. It goes on without our knowledge, and since there isn't a draft there's no reason for young people to be concerned. Since it's not paid for in current dollars, it's paid for by increases in the national debt. It's amazing there's any opposition to it at all, and I think that's a legacy of the 1960's that we need to amplify." Hayden talked about the costs of the war, not only in human lives -- he noted that, unlike in Viet Nam, the U.S. isn't even trying to estimate the number of civilians being killed in the countries unlucky enough to become battlefields in the Long War -- but also in dollars. He said the best figures he's seen on the total cost of the Iraq war estimate its final price tag will be something like $3 trillion -- including the cost of lifetime care for the physically and mentally damaged veterans who come home from it -- and cited President Obama's comment to journalist Bob Woodward that Afghanistan will cost $113 billion this year alone as evidence that its ultimate price, too, will exceed $1 trillion.
According to Hayden, the campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq are not only unaffordable, they are unwinnable. "We delivered Iraq to Iranian interests at a cost of deserts and rivers of blood," he said. "Afghanistan was a civil war in which we were aligned with India against Pakistan. The U.S. is fervently supporting Hindu nationalists against Muslims in India, while Obama goes to Indonesia to speak to the Muslim world. Obama's policy is causing the certainty of terrorist attacks against the U.S. That is treason. The only thing that stopped the last attempted attack on the U.S. was Saudi Arabia tipping us off. The May Day bomb got through all the U.S. defenses. In Detroit a guy came in with a bomb in his underpants. ... Sooner or later, one of these terrorist attacks will succeed." Hayden said that the military has a firm plan that as soon as another successful terrorist attack occurs in the U.S., they will immediately bomb 150 already selected targets in Pakistan. "There's no measure of how these sites were picked, or if any were nuclear," Hayden explained, "but according to Bob Woodward this has already been decided and even the President is powerless to prevent it."
Hayden said that 1,000 Americans have already died in Afghanistan on Obama's watch, and the cost in American lives is going to get much worse than that. "The total death toll from the 'Long War' on his watch will be 5,000 to 6,000 servicemembers and at least 1,000 private contractors, so we're looking at a total of 10,000 U.S. dead. My argument is only partly moral; we need to know this. Second, we cannot afford these wars. Obama flipped when the military gave him false information, and when he was told the wars would cost $1 trillion or more, he said, 'We can't afford these wars.' The cost of these wars absolutely prohibits any discretionary domestic spending. It's a very successful conservative strategy to divert all government money to the military. ... Just as the Viet Nam war ended the Great Society, the Long War is taking the money away from our domestic agenda. We're back once more on familiar ground, and we need to figure out what to do."
So what do we do? According to Hayden, "We have to educate people about the nature of the Long War. We have to oppose escalation and support de-escalation and a diplomatic peace strategy." He said Obama had a "dichotomous strategy" of escalating the war now in order to be able to de-escalate it again and start bringing troops home in time for the 2012 election. Hayden described 2012 in almost apocalyptic terms, stating that there's already a campaign called "Envision Peace and Justice 2012" and it's supported by 75 percent of all Democrats and 55 percent of all independents even without an organized, visible mass peace movement. The only Americans who truly support the Long War, Hayden added, are "67 percent of Republicans ... who also want to get rid of Obama." Criticizing Obama for his continued overtures and offers to work with Republicans even though they've made it clear that they want nothing to do with him -- Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has said at least twice, once before the midterms and once right after, that his main priority for the next two years is making sure Obama is a one-term President -- Hayden said, "Do you want to play up to the people who want to do you in, or do you want to mobilize the people who are on your side?"
Though he acknowledged that there isn't the kind of mass peace movement that arose in the 1960's and ultimately forced the end of the Viet Nam war, Hayden said "there are constituents, grass-roots activists and peace groups in the U.S." that will mobilize either for or against Obama and the Democrats based on what they do about the Long War. "If he thinks the Tea Party is trouble, imagine what will happen with the wars," Hayden said. "If Obama got into trouble with health care, imagine him going into his re-election campaign without his base mobilized. ... We have to focus our minds. The only short-term opportunity we have for peace and social justice is 2012. It's nearer than you think, and it's the one place where what we have of a democracy matters."
Hayden's call to action is essentially for the Left to form Tea Party-like movements of their own and challenge Democrats to become more progressive the way the Tea Parties have successfully moved the Republicans even further to the Right. "It's important that politicians in every district be forced to confront angry people demanding health care, not warfare, and to reserve enough money for our students and our future."