The California Democratic Party speaks with an loud voice in national politics. It is, by any reasonable measure, the biggest party in the biggest state in the nation. And it is a well-organized, forward-looking organization that since the 1950s has had a tradition of delivering vital messages from the base to national Democratic leaders. Indeed, in the 1960s, California Democrats were among the first and loudest critics of President Lyndon Johnson’s decision to expand the war in Vietnam. They were not merely opposed to the war; they were worried, wisely, that committing resources, governing energy and political capital to an unwise and unnecessary war would undermine the ability of an otherwise popular Democratic president to deliver on his ambitious domestic agenda.
With their history and their heft in mind, it is reasonable to say that when California Democrats take a strong stand on a contentious issues, it matters — both as a signal with regard to popular sentiment within the party and as an indicator of the issues that could cause political headaches for a Democratic president.
So what does the California Democratic Party have to say about the global conflict that many believe could be for Barack Obama’s presidency what Vietnam was for Lyndon Johnson’s?
“End the U.S. Occupation and Air War in Afghanistan.” That’s the title of a resolution endorsed over the weekend by the 300-member executive board of the California party. The resolution calls for establishing “a timetable for withdrawal of our military personnel” and seeks “an end to the use of mercenary contractors as well as an end to air strikes that cause heavy civilian casualties.”
In place of a continuing U.S. military presence, the California Democrats are urging Obama “to oversee a redirection of our funding and resources to include an increase in humanitarian and developmental aid.” That’s sound advice for a president who is wrestling with the issue of how to respond to a request from some military commanders for a surge of more troops into what looks to a many savvy observers like a quagmire.
Among those speaking for the resolution was former Marine Corporal Rick Reyes, who described how his experience in Afghanistan led him to the conclusion that the U.S. occupation was illegitimate. “There is no military solution in Afghanistan,” said Reyes, a Los Angeles native. “The problems in Afghanistan are social problems that a military cannot fix.” An Afghanistan and Iraq veteran, Reyes was particularly blunt in his criticism of the corrupt regime of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
The veteran told members of the California party’s executive board that: “We dishonor the patriotism and the sense of justice of our brave men and women by sending them to fight, proclaiming that they sacrifice for democracy and national security when really they struggle and die in support of nothing more than a proven criminal regime.”
In addition to bringing Reyes to the executive committee session, proponents of the resolution showed clips of Robert Greenwald’s groundbreaking documentary “Rethink Afghanistan” to drive home their points.
The resolution was co-authored by writer and filmmaker Norman Solomon, key player in the “Health Care Not Warfare” campaign of Progressive Democrats of America who was an Obama delegate to the 2008 Democratic National Convention, along with Karen Bernal, who chairs the party’s Progressive Caucus, and congressional candidate Marcy Winograd
Winograd, who is challenging Democratic Congresswoman Jane Harman, a war supporter, in a 2010 primary in a Los Angeles area district, called on state parties across the country to send similar anti-war messages.
“We need progressives in every state Democratic Party to pass a similar resolution calling for an end to the U.S. occupation and air war in Afghanistan,” said Winograd. “Bring the veterans to the table, bring our young into the room, and demand an end to this occupation that only destabilizes the region. There is no military solution, only a diplomatic one that requires we cease our role as occupiers if we want our voices to be heard. Yes, this is about Afghanistan — but it’s also about our role in the world at large. Do we want to be global occupiers seizing scarce resources or global partners in shared prosperity? I would argue a partnership is not only the humane choice, but also the choice that grants us the greatest security.”