Wednesday, December 5, 2007

How the Peace Movement can win.

How the Peace Movement Can Win: A Field Guide

[from the December 17, 2007 issue]

This article can be found on the web at

The Republicans, led by George W. Bush, Rudy Giuliani
and their hard-core neoconservative hit squads, have
spent millions on television messages supporting the
military surge in Iraq. They mounted a major campaign
to demonize in order to derail the group's
proven ability to raise funds for antiwar messages and
Democratic candidates. During the election year,
pro-war Republicans are poised to promote staying the
course in Iraq while threatening or even instigating a
war on Iran. The Democrats will have to respond with
more than an echo.

But at this point the leading Democratic contenders are
reluctant to say they would pull out all the troops
from a war they claim to oppose. In sharp contrast to
Republicans, Democrats at least support withdrawing
most or all American combat troops on a twelve- to
eighteen-month deadline. Asked for exact timelines,
however, the top contenders indicate that they would
put off the withdrawal of all troops until sometime in
their second term. The platform of "out by 2013" may be
a sufficient difference from the Republicans for some,
but it won't satisfy the most committed antiwar voters.
Asked about the five-year estimate, Senator Hillary
Clinton's spokesman on Iraq policy, Philippe Reines,
expressed surprise, but his formulation of her views
did not conflict with the idea of a long US presence:
that she wants substantial troop reductions starting
immediately, without a deadline for completion, and
with a smaller American force left behind dedicated to
training Iraqis and counter-terrorism.

"It's beginning to feel like 2004," says one Washington
insider at the Center for American Progress, a think
tank led by former Clinton Chief of Staff John Podesta.
CAP issued a key memo on October 31 complaining about a
"strategic drift" setting in among security strategists
and the Democratic leaders they advise. The
schizophrenia consists of wanting to end the war as
painlessly as possible while running away from their
anti-Vietnam past. In the triangulating phrase of
Barack Obama, one can't be seen as a "Tom Hayden
Democrat" on Iraq.

The leading Democratic contenders buy the line of a
more hawkish think tank, the Center for a New American
Security, a mostly Democratic cast of auditioning
future national security advisers. They propose the
gradual, multiyear withdrawal of combat troops and an
increase in the number of Special Forces and trainers,
who are somehow supposed to train the Iraqi army and
chase Al Qaeda from Iraq. A similar proposal was made
at the beginning of this year by the Iraq Study Group,
based on a December 2006 report. The dangerous, even
irrational, assumption of this thinking is that a small
number of American trainers and Special Forces can
accomplish what 160,000 troops have failed to do.

Nevertheless, the proposal has understandable appeal.
Bush plans to withdraw 25,000 to 30,000 troops this
spring to salvage an army at the breaking point. If the
next President withdraws another 75,000 troops in 2009,
the peace movement will face the challenge of opposing
a war that appears to be slowly ending. Iraq would then
likely evolve into either an Algerian- or
Salvadoran-style dirty war or tumble toward a South
Vietnam-style fiasco with American advisers trapped in
the cross-fire. But it would be mostly invisible until
the endgame if managed successfully, with American
casualties declining in a low-profile war.

Can anything be done to avert this scenario? Actually,
yes. The peace movement does have an opportunity to
solidify public opinion behind a more rapid
withdrawal--regardless of what the national security
advisers think.

Peace advocates will likely have the best-funded
antiwar message in history during the coming election
year. Tens of millions of dollars will be raised for
voter education and registration and get-out-the-vote
campaigns through the 527 committees, which disseminate
election messages independent of partisan candidates.
The Democrats defaulted on their opportunity to use
these independent committees for a peace message in
2004, when they muted and muddled their antiwar
position. But this time they will have to contend with
the frustration of millions of antiwar voters, and
their nominee will be pledged, in rhetoric at least, to
end the war.

Backed by real resources, skilled organizers and
volunteers across the electoral battlegrounds of 2008
will be able to identify, register and turn out voters
through door-to-door work combined with radio and
television spots. Already, former MoveOn political
director Tom Matzzie is being entrusted with a $100
million fund for independent expenditures during the
2008 electoral cycle, a significant portion of which
will go to antiwar messages. The money will come from
antiwar unions like the Service Employees International
and big-money donors like investor George Soros and
Hollywood producer Steve Bing. Podesta is personally
involved in the independent campaign as well, through a
527 entity called Fund for America.

This plan poses enormous challenges. Who will make the
decisions, what will be the Iraq/Iran message, who will
deliver it and by what means? The independence of the
527 committees is based on an organizational separation
from the political parties. But the message will likely
be consistent with, if not identical to, the
candidates' message, influenced by the same hawkish
consultants. Yet the peace movement has an opening to
exert its influence: it can demand a role in the
independent campaign as a condition of enlisting its
legions of local peace activists. The challenge will be
to draft an antiwar formula that unites the peace
forces and progressive Democrats rather than one that
depresses vast numbers of antiwar voters.

Beyond the issue of message, there's the question of
whether the independent campaign is controlled from the
top or is open to the thousands of volunteers already
devoted to antiwar efforts in their local communities.
Matzzie is a brilliant field organizer in his early
30s, trained in the post-1960s staff-driven methods of
groups like USAction. Most of these organizers have
little knowledge of Iraq, foreign policy or peaceful
alternatives to the "war on terror." Their backgrounds
tend to be in labor or consumer organizing or
door-to-door canvassing for donations. Typically, they
are results-oriented (number of phone calls made,
voters identified, "hits," etc.) rather than
community-oriented. Ideally, Matzzie will map out a
battle plan calling for cooperation where local groups
already have strong track records (like New Hampshire,
Iowa and northern Illinois, to take three examples) and
new initiatives in areas lacking an active base. A
final question to be finessed is whether the
independent campaigns will invest in a long-term local
strategy, including simple things like leaving contact
lists behind with local groups, or whether they will
pull up stakes and vanish on election day.

The peace movement can succeed only by applying people
pressure against the pillars of the war policy--public
opinion, military recruitment and an ample war
budget--through marching, confronting military
recruiters and civil disobedience. The pillars have
been eroding since 2004. The tactics that are most
likely to accelerate the process are greater efforts at
persuading the ambivalent voters. This is where the
interests of the peace movement converge with Matzzie's

A massively funded voter-identification and
-registration drive and a get-out-the vote campaign
have enormous potential to tip not only the
presidential election but also the scales of public
opinion. Rather than merely pounding away at a
simplistic message--Republicans dangerous, Democrats
better--such an effort would require, as a foundation,
resources to educate voters and involve them in house
meetings. The house-meeting approach allows for voter
education and participation on a scale that cannot be
achieved by hit pieces or TV spots. It is also critical
for cultivating grassroots leadership capacity for
election day turnout and beyond. Voters may be
persuaded by a narrow end-the-war message, especially
if Giuliani is the Republican candidate, but they will
also need the ability to answer questions about the
interconnected issues of Iraq, Iran, energy, healthcare
and the threat posed by neoconservatives.

Only in this way will the peace movement succeed in
expanding and intensifying antiwar feeling to a degree
that will compel the politicians to abandon their
six-year timetable for a far shorter one. In the
worst-case alternatives, Giuliani and the neocons will
roll to a narrow victory despite a platform of
promising war, or the centrist Democrats will prevail
without a mandate for rapid withdrawal of troops from
Iraq and negotiations plus containment toward Iran.

The coming war is a political one, to be fought at
home. There will be a yearlong showdown that will
determine the presidency and the climate of opinion. If
the Republicans succeed in electing the next President,
the Iraq War will continue and probably expand. If they
lose the presidency, they are already positioning
themselves to charge the Democrats with "losing" Iraq
and ride that theme to a comeback in 2012.

The key dates in this coming domestic war will be:

January 2008 onward: the budget. There will be attempts
to limit or reverse Bush's supplemental demand of $200
billion for a war that has already cost more than $470
billion. CAP recommends a goal of cutting the request
in half. Two-thirds of Americans favor a reduction of
some kind, and 46 percent favor sharp reductions. It
appears that the best that can be hoped for in this
battle is to rebuke Bush, reduce funding for the war
and make the budget vote so painful that Congress
members will never want to cast one again. There is no
reason to support $5 billion to $10 billion for the
sectarian torturers operating under cover of the
Interior Ministry, for example. Already a high-level
military commission has called on Congress to scrap the
Iraqi police service as hopelessly corrupt, a position
reflected in HR 3134 put forward by Representatives
Maxine Waters, Barbara Lee and Lynne Woolsey. This
simple focus on the Frankenstein monster fostered in
Baghdad might generate a movement against using taxes
for torture and thus begin to unravel the occupation.

January-February 2008: presidential primaries. The
Democratic candidates have been at least shopping for
the peace vote in the early primaries, if only to
differentiate their brands from the others. Voting for
Kucinich, Richardson or Gravel is a legitimate choice
to support an important voice--but not a nominee. Joe
Biden's proposal for partitioning Iraq is the most
dangerous of any of the Democratic candidates'
positions and should be rejected. John Edwards's
proposal is the best of the front-runners', though it
leaves a gaping loophole for "sufficient" US troops to
continue fighting terrorists and training the Iraqi
police. Barack Obama has been sharpening and improving
his position somewhat, defining a more limited role for
trainers and counterterrorism. Obama (and Edwards) also
have toughened their stand against bombing Iran. That
leaves Hillary Clinton struggling in the center,
promising she will "end the war" while leaving a
scaled-down force to fight Al Qaeda, train the Iraqis,
resist Iranian encroachment and demonstrate her
awareness that Iraq is "right in the heart of the oil
region." What she means is anyone's guess, leaving her
with little more than an anti-Bush "trust me" platform.
These Democratic positions may underestimate the
passionate demands of peace voters, potentially driving
a significant fraction of those voters into apathy or
toward third-party alternatives. All these candidate
positions can be drawn out further in the heat of the
early primaries by sharp questioning and selective
voting by peace activists. The "bird-dogging" of
candidates by New Hampshire Peace Action is an example.

April 2008: the Bush deadline for withdrawing 25,000
troops (by not extending their tours of duty). Unless
the Administration has bombed Iran, Bush will use this
deadline to promote the Nixon-like theme that the war
is "winding down." The Democratic candidate will have
to insist that 25,000 is far too small a number of
troops. This risks a Republican attack that the
Democratic position is "too extreme"; there is also the
risk that Democratic candidates would fall into Bush's
trap by calling a 25,000-troop withdrawal a "positive
first step."

Summer 2008: convention protests and platforms. The
time is now for advocates and insiders to write and
propose platform language that promises to truly end
the war, without the usual ambiguity that drives
activists to despair. Both conventions will be held in
protest-friendly cities, offering an outside strategy
to highlight the differences and deficiencies in the
two-party debate.

Fall 2008: House and Senate races. It is perhaps here
that groups like MoveOn and Progressive Democrats of
America can have the greatest effect, by bolstering the
numbers of antiwar senators and representatives who
favor terminating the war in 2009. Think: Senator Al

November 2008-January 2009. This will be a test of
whether the peace movement will hit the streets and
pressure the incoming Administration to promptly end
the war or face four more years of deepening

If a one-year campaign seems too long, consider Vietnam
for perspective. After the McGovern Democrats took over
the Democratic Party in 1972 only to lose the
presidency, it took three long years before Nixon's
"Vietnamization" policies ended in debacle and in a
cutoff of Congressional funding. Along the way, a young
Senate staffer named Tom Daschle spearheaded a campaign
to block Nixon's funding for a secret gulag of "tiger
cage" torture chambers. Like Baghdad today, Saigon was
a US-backed police state, a hideous system abetted by
10,000 American "civilian contractors." American
activists were arrested outside the US Embassy in
Saigon for distributing leaflets against the torturers.
Another 1 million educational pamphlets were passed out
in fall 1972 by local organizers in a hundred cities.
Those local groups demanded that candidates sign a
peace pledge or face the loss of critical votes.

It all seemed too little, but the pillars of the policy
kept crumbling in Vietnam and at home. In May 1973, in
response to Indochina and the Watergate impeachment
crises, both houses of Congress voted a deadline of
August 15 for further funding of American combat
forces. Henry Kissinger refused to comply with any
deadlines, and his position was defeated on a tie
204-204 House vote that allowed only a last extension
of the bombing until that August. The country was so
divided that a small, determined faction was able to
tip the scales.

We are approaching a similar chasm in public opinion
today. The neoconservatives, conservatives and liberal
hawks have been discredited for their foolish 2002
belief in a quick and easy invasion of Iraq. A
beleaguered neocon minority is pressing to strike Iran
and stay the course in Iraq. Democrats, despite their
electoral majority, have not proven to be as tenacious
about Iraq as the neocons. Nor are progressive
activists always as educated and focused for battle as
their adversaries. With a majority of Americans wanting
and expecting a withdrawal from Iraq, the outcome of
2008 may depend on who has the greater will to win.


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