I have to say — along with the Inauguration, the president’s first speech to the nation on Haiti and the passage of healthcare reform, this is probably going to be one of my favorite moments to date of Barack Obama’s presidency, reminding me why we all worked so very hard to get a brother elected in the first place. Congratulations on another promise kept.

80% of African-Americans thought before the war in Iraq started that it was a bad idea. That’s partly because 25% of the Armed Forces are black — at twice the percentage of our population. It means if you’re black, you’re more likely than most Americans to know someone who might be put in harm’s way in active combat — a relative, a friend or a co-worker. In my case, I know people personally in each of those categories who were sent to Iraq, their lives disrupted and endangered for an unnecessary mission. What’s left behind — friends and loved ones who pray for their safe and sane return. You don’t always get both of those, I’ve learned. You can see that yourself on the mean streets of America — too many of our cities’ homeless are military veterans, shamefully treated by the society they risked their lives to protect. If you know someone who’s going to have to go to war, it means you’re more likely to take that burden a bit more seriously. Our people are not toy soldiers, but flesh-and-blood men and women. From the Boston Globe:

Before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, major polls showed that African-American support for the invasion was as low as 19 percent, according to the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, while white support ran between 58 percent and 73 percent in major polls.

Even today African-Americans by far lead the way in calling the war a mistake. According to Gallup, 85 percent of African Americans say it was a mistake, compared to 53 percent of white Americans. According to Pew, a plurality of white Americans, 49 percent, still say it was the right decision to invade Iraq, compared to 21 percent of African-Americans.

Our opinion matters as a people because without us, the military is starving for new recruits. Culturally speaking, it’s not just younger black folks who thought the war was wack but their parents, preachers and teachers. Here’s more from this excellent, must-read Boston Globe piece offering the African-American perspective on the war and why it’s so important given our history supplying the military with recruits:

Gregory Black, a retired Navy diver who last year started the website BlackMilitaryWorld.com, said that quote sums up what he too hears from African-American veterans of Iraq.

“African-Americans detest this war,” Black said yesterday in a phone interview. “Everybody kind of knows the truth behind this war. It’s a cash cow for the military defense industry, when you look at the money these contractors are making. African-Americans saw this at the beginning of the war and now the rest of the country has figured it out. It’s not benefiting us in the least.”

Asked about the reference to an “oilman’s war,” Black said, “It’s basically about oil, basically about money. It’s an economic war.” He said veterans are saying they are tired and burned out. “Guys are saying we’re halfway around the world fighting people of color under the guise of democracy and we can’t see how it’s benefited anyone,” Black said. “It’s hard to fight halfway around the world for people’s freedom when you’re not sure you have it at home.”

Today, we must turn our attention to the war in Afghanistan. It’s gone badly and is likely to take a nasty turn given the floods in neighboring Pakistan near the region in conflict. Desperate people are often targets for demagogues such as the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Black people in my experience at least tend to be more ambivalent about Afghanistan in contrast to Iraq which was just a crazy idea on the face of it.

Al Qaeda was based in Afghanistan when they attacked the U.S. on 9/11/2001. Busting some ass over there made sense at the time, but nowadays, it’s not clear if our presence is doing more harm than good while putting Team America in danger’s way. I hope the President will address his vision for peace in that area of the world in his speech tonight…

Photo credit: American soldiers salute while the national anthem is played during a ceremony marking Veterans Day at the U.S. Camp Eggers in Kabul, Afghanistan (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus)

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