Restarting the Antiwar Movement

Political movements require momentum; they need to constantly build and aggregate. When they take a lengthy break from organizing and stop the momentum, it is difficult to restart.

During the Vietnam War, there was a consistent expansion of antiwar efforts. Every year, the movement built and grew. Antiwar activists did not take breaks during election years. In fact, they targeted members of both political parties for their support for the war. Indeed, their work led to a sitting president, Lyndon Johnson, dropping out during the primaries as it became evident the Vietnam War would destroy his chances of reelection. This occurred even though Johnson was elected in what was the largest landslide ever in his previous 1964 campaign. And when that election year was over, even Richard Nixon was pressured to announce a withdrawal plan.

The anti-Iraq-war movement showed its power before the war, putting millions of people in the streets. We were years ahead of the growth of the antiwar movement of the Vietnam era. Now that the Iraq war and occupation have unfolded, all of the predictions of the antiwar movement have come true – Iraq is a quagmire. It has led to the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians and more than 1,500 U.S. troops, and hundreds of billions of tax dollars are being spent, resulting in cuts of many stateside domestic programs. U.S. corporate interests have invaded Iraq, and the widespread corruption related to corporate business is being exposed. Yet the antiwar movement with few exceptions chose not to have a demanding impact on the presidential election and John Kerry.

The Iraq war and occupation have made the United States less secure. CIA Director Porter Goss testified before Congress this February that Iraq has become a training ground for terrorists: “Those jihadists who survive will leave Iraq experienced in and focused on acts of urban terrorism. They represent a potential pool of contacts to build transitional terrorist cells, groups, and networks.” This analysis is consistent with the findings of government reports and the comments of intelligence officials. Yet the antiwar movement failed to make this point during the election, giving both major parties a free ride for their support of a war that makes us less secure.

Military intelligence personnel, active and retired, and repeated documentary exposés have found no WMD, no Saddam-al-Qaeda or 9/11 connections, and no threat to his more powerful neighbors from his tottering dictatorship with a dilapidated army unwilling to fight for him. Yet the silence of the antiwar movement during the election allowed both parties to avoid criticism for their support of the war based on false information.

The U.S. is poorer, less safe, and less respected because of the Iraq War.

If the peace movement had continued to advocate an end to the war during the presidential election year rather than remaining silent, where would it be today? We would have built on the successes of our beginnings rather than having to start anew. We’d be nearer the end of the war/occupation, not farther from it. President Bush would be on the defensive, not on the offensive. Iraqis would be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, when they would get their country and economy back, rather than the darkness of continued occupation.

How does the antiwar movement recover from this lost momentum? There is much work to do to respond to this question; but it can be done because the people can have the power to make it happen.

This column was published as the beginning of a Nader blog on Democracy Rising. You can respond by visiting the blog.