You won’t find it in his memoir or any of the oodles of words written about him during the campaign, but this reporter has discovered a strikingly naive article Barack Obama wrote about the anti-war movement as a Columbia University senior in 1983.
If Obama still has this sensibility, he could be poised to take American foreign policy sharply to the left, notwithstanding the centrist foreign policy team he has assembled. Moreover, since Obama didn’t recognize the Soviet menace during the Cold War and blamed the possibility of war entirely on the United States, there’s good reason to think that today he could lack the moral clarity needed to fight radical Islam.
The article, “Breaking the War Mentality,” published by the Columbia magazine Sundial, is a wholesale endorsement of all sorts of leftist claptrap fashionable at the time.
Obama deems the Reagan era defense buildup a “distorted priority” and “dead end track.”
Writing in the midst of the Cold War, Obama was nevertheless oblivious to the threat the Soviet Union then posed to the United States. Indeed, he does not even mention the Soviet Union in his article. Instead, Obama blames — you guessed it — America and its “twisted” world view for the “growing threat of war.”
If only Americans would change their thinking, he argues, the threat would subside. Give re-education a chance.
“Most students at Columbia do not have first hand knowledge of war,” he begins. “Military violence has been a vicarious experience, channeled into our minds through television film, and print . . . We know that wars have occurred, will occur, are occurring, but bringing such experiences down into our hearts and taking continual, tangible steps to prevent war, becomes a difficult task.”
That’s why campus peaceniks are so important. “Two groups on campus, Arms Race Alternatives (ARA) and Students Against Militarism (SAM) work within these mental limits to foster awareness and practical action necessary to counter the growing threat of war. Though the emphasis of the two groups differ, they share an aversion to current government policy.
“These groups, visualizing the possibilities of destruction and grasping the tendencies of distorted national priorities, are throwing their weight into shifting America off the dead end track.”
“The thrust of ARA is towards generating dialogue which will give people a rational handle [on the threat of war]. . . this includes bringing speakers like Daniel Ellsberg to campus.’’
Note here for Obama that rational means liberal. It’s a safe bet the ARA’s endeavors to foster dialogue in 1983 didn’t involve bringing Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger to campus.
The group, much to Obama’s delight, also agitated in favor of the Nuclear Freeze movement and opposed the deployment of Pershing II and Cruise Missiles. These positions, of course, put them against the Reagan Administration and in favor of policies congruent with Soviet interests.
Sounds very leftist, but Obama says the group is actually non-political. Like other party line liberals Obama thinks have ideology, everyone else is just working for the common good. “By taking an almost apolitical approach to the problem ARA hopes to get the university to take nuclear arms issues seriously.”
For Obama, the only thing wrong with the nuclear freeze movement is that it’s not ambitious enough. One “is forced to wonder whether disarmament or arms control issues, severed from economic and political issues, might be another instance of focusing on the symptoms of a problem instead of the disease itself.
Turning to the other group, Obama casts his lot with draft dodgers. “Students Against Militarism was formed in response to the passage of registration laws in 1980 [that required 18-year-olds to register for the draft].”
“At this time the current major issue [for SAM] is the Solomon Bill, the latest legislation from Congress to obtain compliance to registration. The law requires all male students applying for federal financial aid to submit proof of registration” or be denied financial aid.
So Obama sided with a group that wanted students to not register for the draft with impunity. That would strike a blow against warmongers. “By organizing and educating the Columbia community, such activities lay the foundation for future mobilization against the relentless, often silent spread of militarism…by observing the SAM meeting last Thursday night, with its solid turnout and enthusiasm, one might be persuaded that manifestations of our better instincts at least match the bad ones.”
Obama concludes by placing the two anti-war groups in the tradition of America’s greatest thinkers. “Indeed the most pervasive malady of the collegiate system specifically and the American experience generally, is that elaborate patterns of knowledge and theory have been disembodied from individual choices and government policy. What the members of ARA and SAM try to do is infuse that they have learned about the current situation, bring the words of that formidable roster on the face of Butler Library, names like Thoreau, Jeffferson and Whitman to bear on the twisted logic of which we are today a part.”
The twisted logic of these right-wing meanies who pushed for the deployment of missiles and implemented an arms buildup is widely credited with playing a role in bringing about the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Obama was on the wrong side of history. Does Obama still hold to the views he expressed in his essay? If not, when did he change his opinion?
During his presidential bid, Obama seemed to echo some of the themes of the article. College student Obama believed war could be avoided through better understanding. Candidate Obama promised to restore America’s image in the world that supposedly suffered because of the Iraq War.
Both formulations disregard the threat posed by our country’s enemies — the Soviet Union when Obama was a Columbia undergraduate and radical Islam today. Anti-American sentiment does not turn on the nuances of foreign policy; it’s a function of fundamental moral differences between America and its detractors or enemies. Lots of nations and people hated us long before the Iraq War.
In any event, it remains to be seen if the “change” Obama has promised includes a sharp departure from the morally obtuse and simplistic left-wing views he espoused at Columbia 25 years ago.