The Peace Movement: Right Before the War, Right Today

As Cindy Sheehan supporters continue their vigil in Crawford, and Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) plans hearings on her resolution calling on the administration to begin planning an exit strategy for Iraq, it’s useful for the growing number of concerned citizens to recall that their friends, neighbors, and family members opposed to the war were right in their critique of the Bush administration’s case for the invasion, and right in their predictions of what would happen following the invasion.

Not just occasionally right, but on the money across the board. Antiwar people argued that the "big three" reasons put forward directly and indirectly by the Bush administration and its echo chamber in the press were bogus. The movement argued rightly that there was little or no evidence for claims that: (1) the Iraqis were close to possessing nuclear weapons, or still had vast quantities of chemical or biological weapons; (2) Saddam Hussein was allied with al-Qaeda; or (3) Iraq had anything to do with 9/11.

Peace movement activists claimed that terrorism would increase, not decrease, with the invasion of Iraq. They were right, as shown by State Department figures. Opponents of the invasion argued that it would violate the UN Charter and other international legal commitments. They were right, as shown by the assessment of Kofi Annan and many others. Peace groups scoffed at Secretary Rumsfeld’s claim that the invasion would be paid for out of Iraqi oil revenues. With a price tag steadily approaching a trillion dollars – the meter still running – it’s clear who was right.

Antiwar activists claimed that the invasion would worsen, not improve, the prospects for nuclear proliferation around the world. Right again, as developments in North Korea make abundantly clear. Citizens worried that war might deepen ethnic and religious divisions in the country. Growing hostility among Sunnis, Shi’ites, and Kurds shows that they were right. Cautious patriots predicted an unprovoked invasion would damage the country’s international reputation. This was before the torture scandals of Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib.

Why does all this matter now? Because we’re – hopefully – headed into a debate over when to get out of Iraq.

The peace movement is divided. There are two main views: (1) we must wait till the security situation is stabilized, and Iraqi military and police forces can battle the insurgency on their own, but we should (perhaps) discuss an exit strategy now (this is, more or less, the perspective of and other factions and individuals affiliated with the Democratic Party); and (2) bring the troops home immediately.

Keeping red-baiting alive, right-wing television and radio hosts ascribe the second view to people who hold the first without seriously addressing its arguments. Thus, even positions not that distant from Bush and Cheney are dismissed as members of the "loony Left." Of course, the Limbaughs and the O’Reillys have no real response to the solid brief for bringing the troops home now. But have you come across considered analysis of the "troops home now" position anywhere in the mainstream media? This view, it’s important to note, predominates among veteran activists and many activist veterans.

The case for "immediate" withdrawal (which may take several months) is straightforward and robust. Bringing servicemen and women home now will: shrink the insurgency, as its main reason for being would disappear; save U.S. and Iraqi lives (U.S. forces can be replaced by UN peacekeepers should the Iraqis so desire); save money and permit a focus on reconstruction; stop or reduce the flow of foreign fighters to an Iraq no longer the center of the jihadist campaign against the U.S.; permit rehabilitation of nearly broken National Guard, Reserve, and regular military units; enable the U.S. to start rebuilding its shattered international reputation (a long task); and permit the U.S. to replace its "global war on terror" with diplomacy and law enforcement.

The next time you hear some hysterical talk show host or guest ridicule a distorted version of the antiwar movement’s case for an immediate pullout or read some columnist or blogger’s ad hominem putdown of peace activists, pause for a moment. Ask yourself: who supported the war from the start? Who bought the administration’s reed-thin case for the invasion? Who claimed American troops would be widely greeted as liberators? Who still defends the U.S. policy toward "detainees"? Who offers us no firm date for escape from a deepening quagmire? Correct then, the peace movement is right today in its call for a quick withdrawal.