President Barack Obama still remains a very popular figure in Hollywood. Showbiz names have lined up for his service initiatives, donors fill Democratic Party coffers and even some of his likely critics from the left, such as Michael Moore, have softened their bite. But perhaps more than any other issue, his pending decision on Afghanistan threatens to create lasting fissures in his support.
The prospect of a troop buildup, as Obama is pondering now, is likely to harden an anti-war contingent within the industry. During the height of the war in Iraq, it’s one that proved to be, at the very least, an irritant to the Bush administration and, at the very most, influential in the culture in shaping popular opinion.
An indicator of the mood in some circles came recently when Arianna Huffington, at the nexus of Hollywood and D.C., wrote on The Huffington Post that Vice President Joe Biden should resign if Obama decides to escalate.
Just a month after the Inauguration, producer Robert Greenwald and his Brave New Films unveiled the first of a series of videos called “Rethink Afghanistan,” questioning the wisdom of sending more troops to the country. Upset that he had posted a video so skeptical of the president’s policy, some supporters pulled their names from his e-mail list, and some key funders dropped out. But last month, MoveOn.org, a big champion of the president’s, sent out a call to millions of its members to host screenings of Greenwald’s film, now in six installments on its website.
“The combination of Iraq fatigue, plus the hope that Obama would not lead us here, kept people on the sidelines,” Greenwald says. “That is starting to change.”
Other views are more tentative, as the entertainment industry reflects the attitude of the population as a whole: aware that Obama, during the campaign, characterized Afghanistan as the right war to fight but wary of the deteriorating situation and the prospect of the United States backing a corrupt government.
Robert Greenwald, producer of the documentary Rethink Afghanistan, discusses the false premise used to justify the war in Afghanistan, the usefulness of breaking down war costs into broadly understandable terms, why war opponents need to speak out to their Congressional Representatives and the failure of the occupying forces in their mission (some would say) to liberate Afghan women.
MP3 here. (17:22)
Robert Greenwald is a producer, director and political activist. He is the founder and president of Brave New Films, a new media company that uses moving images to educate, influence, and empower viewers to take action around issues that matter. Greenwald’s Brave New Foundation is currently producing Rethink Afghanistan, a groundbreaking documentary being released online in real-time; the film features experts from Afghanistan, Pakistan and the U.S. discussing the United States’ flawed strategy in Afghanistan.
Under Greenwald’s direction, Brave New Films has produced a series of short political videos, including the Fox Attacks and Real McCain campaigns. One of the more notable Real McCain videos focused on McCain’s Mansions; after Brave New Films produced this video, McCain notoriously said he was not sure how many houses he owned and a media firestorm ensued. In total, Brave New Film’s short videos have been viewed over 45 million times in the past two years, inspired hundreds of thousands of people to take action and forced pressing issues into the mainstream media.
By Peter Dreier at The Nation
Social movements are messy, so it is often difficult to know, in the midst of the battle, which side is winning. But in the past month, momentum on healthcare reform has unmistakably shifted as liberals and progressives have taken to the streets, the Internet, the airwaves and the halls of Congress to push for a bold public option, strong regulations on insurance abuses and a progressive tax plan to finance reform.
The Obama administration and its allies in Congress now understand that permitting the unholy alliance of insurance industry muscle, conservative Democratic obfuscation and right-wing mob tactics to defeat the president’s healthcare proposal would write the conservative playbook for blocking other key components of his agenda–including action on climate change, immigration reform and labor laws. So in just the past few weeks, we’ve seen a change in strategy, a strong grassroots movement and markedly firmer resolve by the White House and liberal Democrats in Congress.
MoveOn.org has created a new ad in support of the public option that features a fit Heather Graham in running clothes, sprinting against overindulgent insurance company representatives.
The ad will appear on national cable television and on the Internet, although the organization says it does not know yet in what markets.
MoveOn says the ad is part of a week-long campaign to counter messages from insurance companies and its lobbying group, AHIP, against the public option. “It reinforces the message that the public option is the best way to lower costs for American families and keep private insurance companies honest,” MoveOn said in a statement.
In the Heather Graham ad, several insurance representatives are standing at a running track, one of them stuffing his face with a huge sandwich, and another one pouring champagne from a bottle into his mouth. Ms. Graham, the only one in running clothes, stretches at the starting line before twisting her body into what appear to be some serious yoga poses, and then she takes off running down the track, with the startled looking insurance people soon taking off after her.
A voiceover says about the public option:
Some in Washington say this is unfair competition. But competition is as American as apple pie.
MoveOn joins a list of other organizations taking to the airwaves on cable and the Internet to encourage more public support for the public option.
As Congress starts to pare down what will be in the final health bill, several groups have been creating ads that feature well-known people. One, by Brave New Films, features Robert Reich, secretary of labor in the Clinton administration, who says the public option plan is “not very scary or complicated.”
As anyone who knows me knows, I’ve always had at best an ambivalent relationship with the military. Coming of age as I did during the tail end of the war in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, like many of my generation I have always been highly skeptical of military speak and assertions by the American military leadership that its missions are noble and grand. And to miss the irony of President Obama receiving the Nobel Peace Prize as he pours more troops onto the fire in Afghanistan would be like missing the coverage of Michael Jackson’s funeral or Roman Polanski’s current digs in Switzerland.
Admittedly, I have lived a charmed life as far as military service goes. But as those who have driven with me know, I’m no pacifist and if called to serve, I would. The fact is, I’ve never been asked and now that my skin is wrinkled and my hair is turning gray I doubt I’d be much use on the battlefield anyhow, except perhaps behind the wheel of a tank.
While some may resent that I make no apologies for not volunteering for the armed forces it’s who I am and I sleep just fine in the bed I’ve made. When registration for the draft was reinstituted during my college years I reluctantly signed on, waiting until I’d received a thoughtful reminder from the boys at the Selective Service. If you looked at my lineage, I guess you could say it’s hereditary. The last male in my direct line to serve in the military was my maternal grandfather who proudly served his country in Brooklyn while attending engineering school at Pratt Institute. His honorable discharge sits framed in my home. Another ancestor cut off his trigger finger rather than serve in the Czar’s army, while legitimate medical dispensations kept my father and his father out of the service, though I suspect my grandmother would have found another way to keep her son out of harm’s way if she needed to.
“The argument we make in the film is that there are a lot of unanswered questions about the war: How many troops? What’s the cost in lives and treasure?” says Greenwald. “In the film, we try to ask these fundamental core questions. It’s not just 10,000 troops there, or 12,000 there, it’s why troops at all?” He added, “Those are the questions we need to ask, and those are the questions you need to ask in a democracy.”
While the Journal got it right, the New York Times reviewer apparently wants no truck with either such questions – or with a film that reminds us that:
Military engagements, it seems, are messy and claim innocent lives.
In fact, she was upset that the film did not allow time for an opposing view – yet, as Greenwald shows us throughout Rethink Afghanistan, the messiness and loss of innocent lives is precisely at the core of this (or any) war and is the central reason we need to look more closely and ask our own questions about our government’s decision to continue into a 9th year in Afghanistan.
But the film also does much more.
Rethink Afghanistan combines footage from Greenwald’s own trip to Afghanistan earlier this year with interviews with key experts like Robert Grenier, former CIA station chief in Islamabad, Pakistan, former CIA operative Robert Baer, Graham Fuller, the former CIA station chief in Kabul, Anand Gopal, the Afghanistan correspondent of The Wall Street Journal and Steve Coll, author of the Pulitzer winning book on Al Qaeda, Ghost Wars.
Such expertise provides us with important insights, insights lacking in the spotty coverage of this war in the standard media which rarely strays beyond the usual footage of American soldiers to ask the question why they are there and if it is the “right war” after all.
Last week I debated writing about serious local, state, national and international world issues, but frankly they were too depressing. Take California for instance (before the state goes in a big garage sale). Since Arnold has been Governator, we’ve slowly gone bankrupt. Actually, not so slowly.
Given that I couldn’t solve any world problems, I wrote about a possible Dodgers-Angels Freeway World Series. (I know, I’m just too deep.)
Today’s column will be the exact opposite. I’m not going to elaborate but for the first time in 47 years the Dodgers and Angels are in their respective league championships. Both swept playoff opponents that had previously tormented them (to quote Jackie Gleason, “How sweet it is!”).
But last week also marked the eighth anniversary of the war in Afghanistan. This means that we’ve spent 50 percent more time there than in all of WWI and WWII combined! According to Pentagon figures, in the last three months 136 GI’s died and 771 were injured. And conditions appear more unstable now than ever.
Seemingly the reaction in the U.S. to this inglorious anniversary was a collective yawn. But not so for filmmaker Robert Greenwald, whose powerful documentary “Rethink Afghanistan” is free online. (After viewing it, I couldn’t bring myself to write about baseball this week.)
Eight years ago I was in favor of the invasion. Having provided al-Qaida a stronghold, clearly we had to drive the Taliban out of Afghanistan and capture Osama Bin Laden in the process.
On Nov. 12, 2001, we apparently had Bin Laden surrounded at Tora Bora. But, for some inexplicable reason, Bush and Co. delegated his capture to Afghani warlords. Predictably they were promptly bribed by Bin Laden, allowing him to escape into Pakistan. How convenient.
Then, in 2003, instead of securing Afghanistan, once and for all, we pretty much dropped everything and invaded Iraq, a country that had nothing to do with 9/11. Then, after first threatening Bin Laden with “wanted dead or alive,” Bush would soon be saying, “I really don’t think about him that much anymore.” (Bush certainly had a unique way with words, like “Mission Accomplished.”)
Today I no longer believe in the Afghan war. And neither does archconservative George Will (also an avid baseball fan). On Sept. 1, Will’s column in the Washington Post was entitled, “Time to Get Out of Afghanistan.”
Will makes the comparison between Afghanistan and Vietnam and there are undeniable similarities. In Vietnam, the “Gulf of Tonkin” incident was the motivation to escalate from 16,000 “advisors” to 536,000 troops.
But there was one slight problem. The Gulf of Tonkin, a supposed attack on U.S. warships by North Vietnam, never happened. At best it was incompetence (misinterpreting radar signals) and at worst, a blatant manipulation of the intelligence. The same could be said for invading Iraq. The motivating force was WMDs, which were also non-existent.
If you think Alan Grayson was tough on Republicans over health care, wait until you hear him talk about Afghanistan.
The freshman Florida congressman, who represents a moderate district that includes parts of Orlando, rode into office on Barack Obama’s coattails last year—and has generally supported the president’s domestic agenda. But his loyalty does not extend to military matters—on which he’s shown a fiercely independent streak. Grayson is one of 51 House Democrats who have voted against funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—and favors withdrawing all troops from the latter theater, as soon as possible.
“There is no need to occupy other countries against their will,” Grayson told The Daily Beast in an interview. “The British gave up on that 60 years ago. The Soviet Union gave up on that 20 years ago. What are we waiting for?”
“Grayson has been very strong from Day One on this issue, when there were very few of us talking about it,” says filmmaker Robert Greenwald. “First of all, he’s got a huge amount of relevant knowledge. Second of all, he’s fearless.”
Grayson, who became a Democratic hero overnight for his bare-knuckled assault on the GOP’s health-care opposition, is rapidly emerging as one of the leading voices of the anti-war left. He brings a certain authority to the cause; a defense lawyer in his previous life, he hauled Iraq War defense contractors into court, and racked up huge settlements—giving him both a substantive expertise and the kind of financial cushion that allows him to speak his mind with impunity.
He’s arriving at a crucial juncture in the Afghanistan debate. From his right, the president faces pressure to ramp up troop strength, as recommended by Gen. Stanley McChrystal and endorsed by lawmakers like Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). From the left, Obama has been lobbied to leave the force size alone or even begin drawing it down in favor of devoting more resources to chasing al Qaeda in Pakistan. The debate threatens to split Obama’s progressive base and undercut whatever boost the president might receive from a health-care victory.
Grayson is hardly alone. Recently, online juggernaut MoveOn.org, one of the most important players in the health-care debate on the left, began lending its weight to the anti-war effort, pushing for an exit strategy in Afghanistan. Activist filmmaker Robert Greenwald, who built a liberal following by taking on Fox News in years past, has been steadily promoting his antiwar film, Rethink Afghanistan. This month, Grayson attended a screening of Rethink Afghanistan, then delivered a speech to the audience warning that aid to that country was “the fig leaf to try and make Congress and the American people feel better about war and about killing”—arguing that any nation-building efforts there are “fatally flawed.”
According to Greenwald, Grayson has helped galvanize the burgeoning movement.
“Grayson has been very strong from Day One on this issue, when there were very few of us talking about it,” Greenwald told The Daily Beast. “First of all, he’s got a huge amount of relevant knowledge. Second of all, he’s fearless to say it like it is: [The war] doesn’t make any sense and it’s not going to make us more secure.”
Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) is another anti-war freshman joining Grayson on the barricades. She made headlines this year by voting against funding for the war to protest what she said was a lack of strategy in the region. According to Edwards, who visited Afghanistan before her vote, the war needs significant civilian aid rather than more combat troops—as well as a much clearer long-term strategy.