There’s no doubt that antiwar activism among the left has declined substantially since Barack Obama became president. That has led many people to claim that the apparent antiwar views of many on the left were not so much antiwar as anti-Bush. I’m sure that there’s something to that, but there’s also a more nuanced explanation. Many on the left probably are still very antiwar, but the fact that they identify with President Obama makes it hard for them to criticize his actions. One of the easiest things to do is oppose a particular policy when you detest both the policy and the policymaker; it’s harder for most people to vocally oppose a policy they don’t like when they like the policymaker.
Yet my own impression of antiwar activism in Monterey County, where I live, is that although it has fallen off since the Bush years, there is still a lot of antiwar sentiment among the antiwar leftists who were so vocal during the Bush years. I gave Exhibit A for my case two years ago in “A Coalition’s Progress: Monterey’s Anti-Afghan War Demonstration.” In that article, I documented how successful the libertarian/left coalition had been at organizing a well-attended October 2009 demonstration against Barack Obama’s favorite war: the one in Afghanistan. Exhibit B is the positive reaction of two prominent local antiwar leftists to my letter published in the Monterey Herald last week.
To understand the context, you need to know two things. The first is that the most prominent local politician in the Monterey area is Leon Panetta, a long-time Democratic congressman, then director of President Clinton’s Office of Management and Budget, then Clinton’s chief of staff, then director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and now secretary of defense. As you can imagine, many people in Monterey County think of him as the local boy who made good. I don’t. I think of him as the local boy who made bad. (I have already written about some of my views on Panetta in “Is Leon Panetta a Saint—Or a War Criminal?”)
The second thing to know is that another Monterey politician, Democratic Assemblyman Bill Monning, has spoken out strongly against the various wars during both the Bush and Obama administrations. In fact, we both spoke at a well-attended local antiwar rally on Nov. 13 last year.
On Sunday, July 10, I opened that day’s Monterey Herald and saw a large ad praising Leon Panetta. The ad states:
Congratulations Leon Panetta. Our new Secretary of Defense.
Mr. Secretary, Thank you for your service to the Monterey Peninsula, the nation, and the world.
You are a great public servant, a great American, and a great friend!
Imagine my surprise when I saw that one of the signers was Bill Monning. I was disappointed.
Bill and I have gotten along well, though, so I thought I owed him a letter to give him a chance to explain himself before I went public. So the next day, after I had cooled off, I wrote the following:
I was very disappointed to see your name on the encomium to Leon Panetta in the Herald the other day. Whatever our other disagreements, you and I have, as long as I’ve known you, been against the wars the United States is now in. What’s even worse is a war without congressional consent, let alone congressional declaration. Leon conducted an illegal war against Pakistan, and, because much of it was conducted by the CIA, that makes him and those under him who were involved war criminals.
Six days later, he still had not responded, so I wrote the following letter to the Monterey Herald:
I was disappointed to see the praising ad for Leon Panetta in the Herald on July 10. I wasn’t surprised that it was paid for by the Democratic Women of Monterey County. I was disappointed that Assembly Member Bill Monning signed it. Monning and I spoke at an end-the-Afghan-war rally in Monterey last November. He was, like me, against that war and critical of the other wars that Bush and Obama have got the United States into. So how can he reconcile his antiwar views with his praise of Leon Panetta?
As head of the CIA, Panetta participated in the drone program that killed many innocent people in Pakistan. Lawyer Philip Crawford and I pointed out in an article in May that under the Geneva Conventions and other international laws, it is a war crime to launch indiscriminate attacks affecting the civilian population with the knowledge that such attacks will cause excessive loss of life, injury to civilians, or damage to civilian objects. Leon Panetta is no friend of peace.
If Bill Monning wants to be serious about his antiwar views, he needs to judge politicians not on whether they are Republicans or Democrats, but on their actual policies.
I e-mailed the letter on July 17. On July 19, I got up early and checked my email. In my inbox was an email titled “Great Letter in Today’s Herald,” in which Hal Ginsberg, the owner of the local left-wing radio station, KRXA, invited me to come on his show that morning. I did and we had a great discussion that lasted about 20 minutes. Hal was on my side of the issue. Like me, he finds Panetta to be “ no man of peace,” and he was also disappointed at Bill Monning’s action. What makes this all the more striking is that Hal has Monning as a guest on his show every Monday morning. Hal also noted, which I hadn’t, the conspicuous absence on the ad of Monterey’s member of the House of Representatives: Democrat Sam Farr. I would bet Sam was asked and said no. I gave Sam his due.
A day or two later, I received a call from an antiwar activist who is thought of as an institution in the Monterey County antiwar movement. She thanked me for my Herald letter and told me to expect something in the mail. In the next day’s mail came a note from her saying, “Thanks for your letter in the paper — right on!”
Has the left part of the antiwar movement been quieter since Barack Obama’s election? Yes, and that’s too bad. But in Monterey County, it is not silent.