The antiwar movement must rise again. Now

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Anti-Iraq war protest. February 15, 2003 (Photo: REUTERS/Peter Macdiarmid)

For the last month there has been a rather heated discussion on this site and others about Ron Paul and to what extent his candidacy for the Presidency should be viewed as a positive vehicle for raising the issues of war, occupation, America’s military footprint (including bases) apoad, interventionism and civil liberties. Having watched Ron Paul the other night in the first Florida Primary debate, I can only conclude that his participation in these debates is helpful to those issues. His arguments were reasonable and plausible, and should not have been taken as extreme by the average viewer. Moreover, Paul faced three other individuals on the stage who presented polar opposite views to himself. On the issue of Iran specifically, Romney, Gingrich and Santorum had a contest to see who could sound more determined about going to war with Iran. Sadly, it is highly unlikely that we will hear such contrasting viewpoints in the future debates involving President Obama.

In the South Carolina Republican primary last Saturday Ron Paul received 13% of the vote and the nod from only 10% of the voters who identified themselves as Republicans in the exit polling. He received 14% to 15% of the Republican vote in Iowa and New Hampshire. Paul polls better among declared Independents, and will achieve higher numbers in states that have open primaries. In open states Independents will vote for him out of conviction and some Democrats will vote for him tactically. With a current ceiling of about 15% of the Republican vote, there is no realistic path for Ron Paul to the Republican nomination.

More importantly, to what extent are Paul voters motivated by his positions on international issues and civil liberties? The readily available polling date on this question is not extensive, but based on what I have found, even the most optimistic interpretation of the data would indicate only a small minority of Paul voters are primarily driven to vote for him based on these issues. In the Florida debate, Gingrich went out of his way to associate himself with Ron Paul’s FED and monetary recommendations. Of course, Gingrich wouldn’t go near Paul’s anti-war message.

To those readers who are convinced that Ron Paul is the answer – and maybe the only answer – to changing US policy, I say, “Keep on Truckin,” no need to read further. To the rest of us, and particularly those people who call themselves Progressives, I argue we should look back a year and ask what went wrong, and how did Ron Paul end up the only anti-war candidate of 2012.

I contend that the Democratic base is more inclined towards anti-war positions than the Republican base, and that no anti-war movement will succeed without getting the support of that Democratic base. Hence, the first question is: “how did we end up with no significant challenger to President Obama in the Democratic primaries?” Going back in modern American history, there have been two major primary challenges to existing Democratic Presidents, McCarthy vs Johnson in 1968, and Kennedy vs Carter in 1980. The latter contest revolved around Kennedy himself, so I will concentrate on the challenge to Lyndon Johnson.

Allard K  Lowenstein
Allard K Lowenstein

The Dump Johnson Movement arose in 1967 around opposition to the Vietnam War. Two individuals, Allard Lowenstein and Curtis Gans, were the main drivers behind the movement. Lowenstein, in particular, actively spoke at numerous university forums to kick-start the effort. He tried to convince Robert Kennedy and then others to run, but all refused. Finally, in October 1967 Senator Eugene McCarthy accepted the long-shot challenge. McCarthy did so well against Johnson in the initial primaries, the President suddenly decided to withdraw from the race.  The Movement succeeded beyond all expectations. Unfortunately, Robert Kennedy was assassinated after he too entered the race as an anti-war candidate. Chaos followed within the Democratic Party, which led to the election of Richard Nixon that November. But the seeds were planted for a major reform of the Presidential nomination process four years later. Rules that basically remain in tack to this day.

My point is that despite all the advances in social networking and public communications that have occurred in 44 years, no major individual or group has persistently attempted an organized primary challenge to President Obama as Lowenstein did in 1967. And no major Democratic politician has shown a willingness to run. No profiles in courage this year. I will not deny that the Vietnam War was a larger issue in 1967 than the Mideast wars are today, and that asking Democrats to challenge the first African-American President presents a special problem, but I suspect not putting up a primary challenger to President Obama is going to be judged by history as a mistake. What is clear is that our views are not getting a proper airing in the 2012 Presidential discussions.

It is now too late for a primary challenge. Moving on, “Why is there no organized anti-war movement in 2012?” Before George Bush’s Iraq war there actually were massive global anti-war protests. True, those protests only aided in keeping some countries from entering the war rather than preventing the war itself. Hence, many probably believe that an effort today would be as hopeless as in 2003.  On the other hand, we now have global and American publics that generally views the Iraq war as a monumental mistake, publics that are reluctant to see yet another war in the Middle East, publics that are hurting economically, and perhaps most importantly, a US military that is exhausted and wants to stay home for some years.

Therefore, I strongly recommend that publishers, pundits and bloggers such as Glenn Greenwald, Andrew Sullivan, Katha Pollitt, Katrina vanden Heuvel, Matt Stoller, Cenk Uygur, folks at this site, and whoever else you want to name, put aside their differences and call a meeting to initiate the organization of a single-focused “No More Middle East War” movement. Sirota can negotiate to bring along the Ron Paul people. If organized and positioned correctly, it should be again able to gain broad public support. Even significant support from our soldiers and their families should be possible. We need an American Spring.

Phil has stated that the Iraq war motivated his starting Mondoweiss. His number one concern is that we not go down the same road with Iran. In one comment, Phil even called for a clean-Gene effort, putting on ties and dressing up to convince middle America to stop an (impending) war. If nobody else will lead the effort, then maybe Phil should suspend the other activities of the site and use Mondoweiss as a vehicle solely to initiate a movement to prevent armed conflict with Iran. After all, there is not going to be any near or medium-term progress on the I/P front if the US and Europe continues to escalate their conflict with Iran.

My only caveat against what I just proposed is the worry that a more visible anti-war movement might actually be used as a foil to gather support for military action. Recall how quickly the mainstream media helped turn around public support for the Occupy Movement by picturing the activists as DFHs and freeloaders. At the moment, it is impossible to figure out with certainty what is happening inside our government with respect to Iran. Even on this site, quite opposite theories are being offered. Is Obama engaged in some opaque effort to outflank the Israeli government, the pro-Israeli lobbies, our Congress and the Republican Party? Is our military the only significant power in Washington preventing another war? Segments of the US military and the CIA were the only forces able to stop Bush-Cheney from bombing Iran during the second term of that administration. Would a large public anti-war movement compel the military to side with the hawks? I cannot answer that question.

Based on what I do know, I advocate for a massive, public effort.   

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Well, I’m skeptical for several reasons. Let me delve into the matter: First, there is a blessing on war with Iran in the media. It’s not the preferred choice, but it’s seen as acceptable, even preferable if sanctions don’t bring immediate results and Israel would attack. There was no such… Read more »

I’d love to see some kind of evaluation of United for Peace and Justice. But not one of those ‘if it weren’t for us even worse things would have happened.’ More like, ‘we failed and you should learn from our mistakes.’

Well said Bruce. “I will not deny that the Vietnam War was a larger issue in 1967 than the Mideast wars are today” — Well, yea, no one is getting drafted into the service “”Why is there no organized anti-war movement in 2012?” Before George Bush’s Iraq war there actually… Read more »

Here’s a recent article about the current campaign for the next POTUS in Florida: Judging by the thrust, tenor, and conclusions of referenced and hot-linked article, the Jews in the key early primary voter state of Florida (a bell weather state), numerically more than in any other state except… Read more »

If Israel attacks Iran it’s going to be very different to 2003 and the assault on Iraq . The Jewish influence then was hidden but an attack on Iran wil bring it right out into the open and it will be seen by Shia all over the world as a… Read more »