During President Barack Obama’s first term, he ramped up the war in Afghanistan and tried to extend the war in Iraq. He kept the Guantanamo Bay detention facility open, expanded the US drone program, and kept Robert Gates, who served as defense secretary under George W. Bush, in his cabinet.
Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) said in an interview this week, “It’s a matter of fact that much of the Obama administration’s foreign policy is a continuation of the Bush administration's foreign policy.”
In 2008, Obama was seen as the anti-war candidate in the Democratic primary race against Hillary Clinton. She had initially supported the war, while Obama had opposed it. However, two years into his first term, President Obama proposed keeping troops in Iraq past the date outlined in the Bush administration’s withdrawal agreement. The Iraqi government declined the proposal.
Yet, despite this and new military operations, which included the targeted killing of an American citizen, the antiwar movement has measurably declined since Obama took office in 2009. Now that Democrats have secured another term in the White House, however, some, like Kucinich, are hopeful the anti-war movement will re-emerge.
“The party and the movement have come to fuel each other,” said Michael Heaney, a political science researcher at the University of Michigan. “The movement grew on this anti-Bush opposition. Once Bush was gone, that really pulled the legs out from the antiwar movement.”
Heaney published a study last year about what he calls the “demobilization of the anti-war movement" in the Obama era. He and co-author Fabio Rojas studied surveys from more than 5,000 demonstrators, as well as interviews with anti-war leaders and found many of the activists were initially driven by anti-Republican sentiment, but withdrew from the movement after Obama took office.
“Why were people opposed to the Iraq war? It wasn’t just that they were opposed to Bush and then opposed to the Iraq war, it’s more that they saw their opposition to the war through the lens of opposing Bush,” Heaney said.
A 2012 Washington Post-ABC News poll showed a majority of self-described “liberal Democrats” supported keeping the Guantanamo Bay detention facility operating and more than three-fourths of them supported the use of armed drones. Those are two issues many Democrats attacked Bush on for years.
Since the election, however, some have signaled they want a harder stance against some of Obama’s anti-terrorism policy. It’s part of a broader narrative about more pressure on Obama from progressives, demonstrated when the president met with a handful of progressive activists and commentators this week, including MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and AOL’s Arianna Huffington. However, there’s antiwar pressure coming from both Democrats and Republicans.
From the left, Rep. Kucinich introduced a bill which would require the White House to produce legal justification for the drone program. From the right, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) makes clear he’ll oppose expanding executive power in the war on terror.
“Left-right analysis fails here because through the president’s obliteration of the differences, what we have now is the requirement that members of Congress in both parties protect the Constitution and that’s what I’m calling on Congress to do. It’s not about left and right, it’s about right and wrong," Kucinich said.
While Kucinich will leave Congress at the end of the year, he said he's hopeful a Republican-Democrat coalition will emerge to bring more scrutiny to the Obama-era wars.