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An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Elliot BenjaminElliot Benjamin is a philosopher, mathematician, musician, counselor, writer, with Ph.Ds in mathematics and psychology and the author of over 230 published articles in the fields of humanistic and transpersonal psychology, pure mathematics, mathematics education, spirituality & the awareness of cult dangers, art & mental disturbance, and progressive politics. He has also written a number of self-published books, such as: The Creative Artist, Mental Disturbance, and Mental Health. See also:



Further Reflections

Elliot Benjamin

I concluded my previous Obama and the War in Afghanistan essay in Integral World with the following remark:

“If I had heard no exit plan tonight to get us out of Afghanistan by transferring the battle to the Afghanistan soldiers themselves as quickly as possible, then I would be as opposed to Obama's war policies as I was opposed to those of Bush. But from what I heard Obama commit to tonight, I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and put my reservations on hold….The bottom line for me is that I believe he is sincerely trying to end this war in a way that will not jeopardize our national security, and at this time I am willing to support him in this effort.” (Benjamin, 2009, p. 4).

Well, “this time” has not endured for me. In the past week since Obama's Afghanistan war escalation speech I have thought and read much about this whole issue, and my thinking has changed. Or rather, my thinking has returned to what it originally was before I heard and watched Obama speak on 12/1/09. I had actually already written a first draft of my previous essay on Obama and the war in Afghanistan before his speech, but after his speech I decided to change the parts of my essay that were most critical of Obama, giving him the benefit of the doubt as I have described above. But as I continuously read the intelligent and informed analyses of the particular arguments Obama made use of in his speech, and I learned more about the actual current political situation in Afghanistan in regard to Al Qaeda and the Taliban, my concerns and disappointment about Obama have returned to me in full force. I therefore feel obligated to not leave my previous essay as my final Integral World thoughts on Obama and the war in Afghanistan, and to convey my present outlook and perspective.

There is no shortage of brilliant analyses one can read in regard to Obama's war escalation in Afghanistan, ranging from liberal political magazines such as The Nation ( and The Progressive (, to humanistic antiwar websites and organizations such as Tikkun ( and the Socialist Worker (socialistworker), to prominent anti-war historians and politicians such as Howard Zinn ( and Dennis Kucinich ( To give just a glimpse of some of the counter-arguments given to Obama's recent Afghanistan speech, the following is an extract from an article by Eric Ruder in the Socialist Worker entitled "Answering Obama's Afghanistan Deceptions",:

Deception No. 1: 'We did not ask for this fight….The United Nations Security Council endorsed the use of all necessary steps to respond to the 9/11 attacks….and only after the Taliban refused to turn over Osama bin Laden we sent our troops to Afghanistan.' ... Countless Western newspapers reported on the Taliban's offers to hand over Osama bin Laden, so long as the Bush administration provided Afghan government officials with evidence of bin Laden's involvement in the September 11 attacks--something that any sovereign nation, like the U.S., would require before agreeing to an extradition.

As the Washington Post reported on October3, 2001: 'In Afghanistan leaders of the ruling Taliban militia, which as been harboring bin Laden, urged the United States to share its evidence with them, saying they hoped for a negotiated settlement instead of a military conflict. The Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeff, said his government would be willing to talk to the United States about bin Laden, but 'we don't want to surrender without any proof, any evidence.'

The Bush administration refused to provide any evidence, insisting there would be 'no negotiations.'….

On October 17, 2001, 10 days after the U.S. bombardment of Afghanistan began, Britain's Guardian newspaper reported that theTaliban dropped even this one condition: 'For the first time, the Taliban offered to hand over bin Laden for trial in a country other than the U.S. without asking to see evidence first, in return for a halt to the bombing, a source close to Pakistan's military leadership said.'” (Ruder, 2009, pp. 1-2).

Ruder goes on to analyze Obama's speech in detail, countering a number of different points that Obama made. But for me, the most obvious red flag is that it is now acknowledged by everyone that Al Qaeda is virtually no longer in Afghanistan, as our own military estimates are that there are perhaps 100 Al Qaeda members in Afghanistan. Obama's war speech was based upon preventive actions, and the techniques Obama utilized to convey his decision were very much based upon the same kinds of fear tactics that his predecessor Bush had repeatedly used. But Obama's speech delivery compared to those of Bush was impeccable, and it was this combination of charm, wit, intelligence, and appeal to the fear factor that I believe temporarily influenced me to conclude my previous essay with a willingness to support Obama in his military escalation in Afghanistan. It is very sad to have to come to the conclusion that Obama is a bitter disappointment, and that his continued and extended war escalation in Afghanistan is going to create many more terrorists and suicide bombers who hate our country, and result in much unnecessary death and bloodshed.

The part of Obama's plan that initially reached me, in regard to his promised beginning of troop withdrawals in 18 months, was watered down the next day in the press conference given by Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates, to reassure Republicans that this withdrawal timetable was “flexible,” depending upon “conditions on the ground,” etc. Even if the troop withdrawal were to occur as scheduled after 18 months, in my opinion the amount of time it would take to get back to the number of troops we had in Afghanistan before Obama took office would likely take far longer than the end of Obama's four year term as president.

There are so many red flags one can focus upon in Obama's Afghanistan war escalation decision, inclusive of numerous additional Afghanistan civilian deaths as well as American and Afghanistan soldier deaths, massive additional spending while we are still in the midst of economic danger, the creation of many new terrorists and suicide bombers who will dedicate their lives to killing Americans, the strengthening of the present corrupt Afghanistan government, the increasing popularity of the Taliban as defenders of their people against “U.S. invaders,” etc. I originally wrote the following in the first draft of my previous article but decided to not include it in the version I sent to Integral World:

“But what disturbs me the most is that this new debacle is happening under the auspices of the person who was elected by many who thought they were electing a “peace candidate.” Obama is no peace candidate….his war policy is essentially no different in substance than that of Bush and the near president and vice-president McCain and Palin. The only difference appears to be "where” we send out troops to war and bomb innocent civilians: Iraq or Afghanistan….Is Obama better than Bush, McCain, or God Forbid Sarah Palin? Of course he is; I would feel obligated to vote for him again in 2012 if this were the only kind of real choice for the presidency that I had. But I hope with all my heart that we have a different choice in 2012. I hope we have a genuine peace candidate for the Democratic presidential candidate in 2012. This may not be as unfeasible or unrealistic as some people think, since Obama was supposedly the “peace candidate” that millions of Americans thought they were voting for in 2008. But Mr. Obama has disappointed many people and is intent upon continuing a foreign policy that I'm afraid I do not really see much difference in from that of Bush….The whole world got taken in by Obama, as he will soon be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize while in the midst of being immersed in two wars, and he bears responsibility for significantly escalating one of them. This is a horribly ludicrous situation, and one that will wreak further havoc on both our country and the world.”

Obama's ambivalent views about war and peace, aside from being clearly formulated in his book The Audacity of Hope (Obama, 2006) and his election campaign book Change We Can Believe In (Obama for America, 2008), are clearly portrayed in the following extract from an article by Howard Zinn:

“From the beginning, I liked Obama. But the first time it suddenly struck me that he was a politician was early on, when Joe Lieberman was running for the Democratic nomination for the Senate seat in 2006. Lieberman--who, as you know, was and is a war lover--was running for the Democratic nomination, and his opponent was a man named Ned Lamont, who was the peace candidate. And Obama went to Conneticut to support Lieberman against Lamont.” (Zinn, 2009).

I would like to end this essay in the same context that I began my previous Obama and the War in Afghanistan essay, with a reference to my good rural Maine friend Stevie, who as I described in my previous essay (Benjamin, 2009), had felt tremendously inspired and moved by Obama from his 2004 speech at the Democratic National Convention. I believe that my friend Stevies' recent e-mail to me reflects, in Stevie's own natural language, the crux of the humanitarian and political concerns about Obama's Afghanistan war escalation that I have been trying to convey in this essay:

“The way to peace is not through war. The death ante has been up, since the first increase in troops, now he is putting forty thousand more in. More troops more death, on both sides. It seems to me that if you want to negotiate a peace with anyone, you first have to stop killing each other. To my simple mind, no one has asked the one question that began this whole fuckin mess. That question is, why is the Islamic world angry at us??? And what can we do to address any wrongs. Again, my simple guess is to not answer the question with a bullet in the head!!!!”


Benjamin, E. (2009). "Obama and the War in Afghanistan: A Psychological, Philosophical, and Political Integrated Perspective". Retrieved 12/8/09, from

Obama, B. (2006). The Audacity of Hope. New York: Crown.

Obama for America (2008). Change We Can Believe In: Barack Obama's Plan to Renew American Promise. New York: Three Rivers Press.

Ruder, E;. (2009). "Answering Obama's Afghanistan Deceptions". Retrieved 12/8/09, from

Zinn, H. (2009). "Changing Obama's Mindset". Retrieved 12/8/09, from .

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