Where is the Anti-War Movement in the Age of Obama?
Sunday, August 23, 2009 7:12 AM
From: “Stephen Sniegoski”
It appears that most liberal opponents of the wars in the Middle
East/ Central Asia have ceased their opposition with the Obama presidency.
The liberal Democrats who abhorred Bush’s war policy (and most grass roots
liberal Democrats did vehemently oppose the Bush war policy although this
was not always the case with liberal politicians and media figures)
apparently were simply opposed to wars led by Republicans. As Byron York, a
conservative, writes in the first article below: “For many liberal
activists, opposing the war was really about opposing George W. Bush. When
Bush disappeared, so did their anti-war passion.” Anti-war protest leader,
Cindy Sheehan, agrees completely, stating: “The ‘anti-war’ ‘left’ was used
by the Democratic Party. I like to call it the ‘anti-Republican War’
Obama is perceived as a liberal, a man of peace, and a charismatic figure,
which enables him to get away with things that had been impossible for Bush
the Younger. Thus Obama can say such things as the war in Afghanistan is
“fundamental to the defense of our people” and not be savaged by the former
critics of the war. This is not to say that the former anti-war people have
become cheerleaders for war. Rather, they have become largely indifferent
to it. Their attention has been largely diverted to the health care issue,
the economy, the environment, or some other liberal cause. This political
indifference has given Obama a virtual freehand in military policy. The
most dangerous possible development is war with Iran, which is sought by
Israel and its Lobby. Escalating American involvement in Afghanistan along
with the continued American occupation of Iraq allows for incidents with
Iran (or incidents blamed on Iran) that could lead to war. If Obama keeps
sagging in the polls–due to the health care reform issue, a continuing
problematic economy, and other domestic difficulties– an aggressive foreign
policy might likely be seen as a necessary political ploy. Even if war is
not the deliberate goal, an aggressive policy, such as a naval blockade of
Iran to enforce an embargo of various supplies (proposed in Congress in
2008), certainly brings a high risk of all-out war.
The liberal Obama would seem to better able to expand the wars than the
conservative Bush. As Justin Raimondo has written: “it occurs to me that
only Barack Obama, who won the White House in large part due to his
opposition to the Iraq war, could take us to war with Iran, and rally
liberals and much of the left behind it.”
This represents the Nixon-goes-to-China analogy. Just as Nixon with his
anti-Communist bona fides had more political leeway to negotiate with
Communist China than a liberal Democrat, the liberal man of peace Obama is
better positioned politically to expand the wars in the Middle East/Central
Asia than Bush the Younger, who was perceived as a warmonger. (To counter
this argument, it might be pointed out that liberal Democrats did attack
Lyndon Johnson over Vietnam. However, despite Johnson’s success in pushing
through liberal domestic legislation, he was never the darling of American
liberals and certainly did not have the charismatic appeal of Obama.)
This scenario will not fully come to pass until Obama actually involves the
US in war with Iran. But while a war with Iran is certainly politically
feasible, the question is whether Obama would actually take such an option
since the national security and foreign policy elites outside the orbit of
the Israel Lobby are against such a risky venture.
For the Left, war without Bush is not war at all
By: Byron York
Chief Political Correspondent
August 18, 2009
Former President George W. Bush addresses a Fourth of July crowd at the Let
Freedom Ring 2009 festival at Crystal Beach Park Arena in Woodward, Okla.,
Saturday, July 4, 2009. (AP Photo)
Remember the anti-war movement? Not too long ago, the Democratic party’s
most loyal voters passionately opposed the war in Iraq. Democratic
presidential candidates argued over who would withdraw American troops the
quickest. Netroots activists regularly denounced President George W. Bush,
and sometimes the U.S. military (“General Betray Us”). Cindy Sheehan, the
woman whose soldier son was killed in Iraq, became a heroine when she led
protests at Bush’s Texas ranch.
That was then. Now, even though the United States still has roughly 130,000
troops in Iraq, and is quickly escalating the war in Afghanistan — 68,000
troops there by the end of this year, and possibly more in 2010 — anti-war
voices on the Left have fallen silent.
No group was more angrily opposed to the war in Iraq than the netroots
activists clustered around the left-wing Web site DailyKos. It’s an
influential site, one of the biggest on the Web, and in the Bush years many
of its devotees took an active role in raising money and campaigning for
In 2006, DailyKos held its first annual convention, called YearlyKos, in Las
Vegas. Amid the slightly discordant surroundings of the Riviera Hotel
casino, the webby activists spent hours discussing and planning strategies
not only to defeat Republicans but also to pressure Democrats to oppose the
war more forcefully. The gathering attracted lots of mainstream press
attention; Internet activism was the hot new thing.
Fast forward to last weekend, when YearlyKos, renamed Netroots Nation, held
its convention in Pittsburgh. The meeting didn’t draw much coverage, but the
views of those who attended are still, as they were in 2006, a pretty good
snapshot of the left wing of the Democratic party.
The news that emerged is that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have
virtually fallen off the liberal radar screen. Kossacks (as fans of DailyKos
like to call themselves) who were consumed by the Iraq war when George W.
Bush was president are now, with Barack Obama in the White House, not so
consumed, either with Iraq or with Obama’s escalation of the conflict in
Afghanistan. In fact, they barely seem to care.
As part of a straw poll done at the convention, the Democratic pollster
Stanley Greenberg presented participants with a list of policy priorities
like health care and the environment. He asked people to list the two
priorities they believed “progressive activists should be focusing their
attention and efforts on the most.” The winner, by far, was “passing
comprehensive health care reform.” In second place was enacting “green
energy policies that address environmental concerns.”
And what about “working to end our military involvement in Iraq and
Afghanistan”? It was way down the list, in eighth place.
Perhaps more tellingly, Greenberg asked activists to name the issue that
“you, personally, spend the most time advancing currently.” The winner,
again, was health care reform. Next came “working to elect progressive
candidates in the 2010 elections.” Then came a bunch of other issues. At the
very bottom — last place, named by just one percent of participants — came
working to end U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.
It’s an extraordinary change in the mindset of the left. I attended the
first YearlyKos convention, and have kept up with later ones, and it’s safe
to say that for many self-styled “progressives,” the war in Iraq was the
animating cause of their activism. They hated the war, and they hated George
W. Bush for starting it. Or maybe they hated the war because George W. Bush
started it. Either way, it was war, war, war.
Now, not so much.
Cindy Sheehan is learning that. She’s still protesting the war, and on
Monday she announced plans to demonstrate at Martha’s Vineyard, where
President Obama will be vacationing.
“We as a movement need to continue calling for an immediate end to the
occupations [in Iraq and Afghanistan] even when there is a Democrat in the
Oval Office,” Sheehan said in a statement. “There is still no Noble Cause no
matter how we examine the policies.”
Give her credit for consistency, if nothing else. But her days are over. The
people who most fervently supported her have moved on.
Not too long ago, some observers worried that Barack Obama would come under
increasing pressure from the Left to leave both Iraq and Afghanistan. Now,
it seems those worries were unfounded. For many liberal activists, opposing
the war was really about opposing George W. Bush. When Bush disappeared, so
did their anti-war passion.
Byron York, The Examiner’s chief political correspondent, can be contacted
at email@example.com. His column appears on Tuesday and Friday,
and his stories and blog posts appears on www.ExaminerPolitics.com
What happened to the antiwar movement? Cindy Sheehan responds.
By: Byron York
Chief Political Correspondent
08/18/09 11:19 PM EDT
After my column, “For the left, war without Bush is not war at all,”
appeared Tuesday, I got a note from Cindy Sheehan, the anti-war activist who
was the subject of so much press coverage when she led a protest against the
Iraq war outside then-President George W. Bush’s ranch in Texas. This is
what the note said:
I read your column about the “anti-war” movement and I can’t believe I am
saying this, but I mostly agree with you.
The “anti-war” “left” was used by the Democratic Party. I like to call it
the “anti-Republican War” movement.
While I agree with you about the hypocrisy of such sites as the DailyKos, I
have known for a long time that the Democrats are equally responsible with
the Republicans. That’s why I left the party in May 2007 and that’s why I
ran for Congress against Nancy Pelosi in 2008.
I have my own radio show, “Cindy Sheehan’s Soapbox,” and I was out on a
four-month book tour promoting the fact that it’s not about Democrats or
Republicans, but it’s about the system.
Even if I am surrounded by a thousand, or no one, I am still working for
After receiving the email, I asked Sheehan to give me a call, so I could
verify that the note in fact came from her. She did, and we discussed her
plans to protest next week in Martha’s Vineyard, where President Obama will
be vacationing. “I think people are starting to wake up to the fact that
even if they supported Obama, he doesn’t represent much change,” Sheehan
said. “There are people still out here who oppose the war and Obama’s
policies, but it seems like the big organizations with the big lists aren’t
I asked Sheehan about the fact that the press seems to have lost interest in
her and her cause. “It’s strange to me that you mention it,” she said. “I
haven’t stopped working. I’ve been protesting every time I can, and it’s
not covered. But the one time I did get a lot of coverage was when I
protested in front of George Bush’s house in Dallas in June. I don’t know
what to make of it. Is the press having a honeymoon with Obama? I know the
After the protests in Massachusetts — Sheehan told me she has no idea how
many people might show up — Sheehan will be in Washington October 5, for a
protest at the White House to mark the eight anniversary of the start of the
war in Afghanistan. Not only is the president escalating the war there, she
said, but he’s not withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq as quickly as he
originally promised. “That’s why I was opposed to him,” she said.