How the Peace Movement Can Win
January-February 2008: presidential primaries. The Democratic candidates have been at least shopping for the peace vote in the early primaries, if only to differentiate their brands from the others. Voting for Kucinich, Richardson or Gravel is a legitimate choice to support an important voice--but not a nominee. Joe Biden's proposal for partitioning Iraq is the most dangerous of any of the Democratic candidates' positions and should be rejected. John Edwards's proposal is the best of the front-runners', though it leaves a gaping loophole for "sufficient" US troops to continue fighting terrorists and training the Iraqi police. Barack Obama has been sharpening and improving his position somewhat, defining a more limited role for trainers and counterterrorism. Obama (and Edwards) also have toughened their stand against bombing Iran. That leaves Hillary Clinton struggling in the center, promising she will "end the war" while leaving a scaled-down force to fight Al Qaeda, train the Iraqis, resist Iranian encroachment and demonstrate her awareness that Iraq is "right in the heart of the oil region." What she means is anyone's guess, leaving her with little more than an anti-Bush "trust me" platform. These Democratic positions may underestimate the passionate demands of peace voters, potentially driving a significant fraction of those voters into apathy or toward third-party alternatives. All these candidate positions can be drawn out further in the heat of the early primaries by sharp questioning and selective voting by peace activists. The "bird-dogging" of candidates by New Hampshire Peace Action is an example.
April 2008: the Bush deadline for withdrawing 25,000 troops (by not extending their tours of duty). Unless the Administration has bombed Iran, Bush will use this deadline to promote the Nixon-like theme that the war is "winding down." The Democratic candidate will have to insist that 25,000 is far too small a number of troops. This risks a Republican attack that the Democratic position is "too extreme"; there is also the risk that Democratic candidates would fall into Bush's trap by calling a 25,000-troop withdrawal a "positive first step."
Summer 2008: convention protests and platforms. The time is now for advocates and insiders to write and propose platform language that promises to truly end the war, without the usual ambiguity that drives activists to despair. Both conventions will be held in protest-friendly cities, offering an outside strategy to highlight the differences and deficiencies in the two-party debate.
Fall 2008: House and Senate races. It is perhaps here that groups like MoveOn and Progressive Democrats of America can have the greatest effect, by bolstering the numbers of antiwar senators and representatives who favor terminating the war in 2009. Think: Senator Al Franken.
November 2008-January 2009. This will be a test of whether the peace movement will hit the streets and pressure the incoming Administration to promptly end the war or face four more years of deepening confrontation.
If a one-year campaign seems too long, consider Vietnam for perspective. After the McGovern Democrats took over the Democratic Party in 1972 only to lose the presidency, it took three long years before Nixon's "Vietnamization" policies ended in debacle and in a cutoff of Congressional funding. Along the way, a young Senate staffer named Tom Daschle spearheaded a campaign to block Nixon's funding for a secret gulag of "tiger cage" torture chambers. Like Baghdad today, Saigon was a US-backed police state, a hideous system abetted by 10,000 American "civilian contractors." American activists were arrested outside the US Embassy in Saigon for distributing leaflets against the torturers. Another 1 million educational pamphlets were passed out in fall 1972 by local organizers in a hundred cities. Those local groups demanded that candidates sign a peace pledge or face the loss of critical votes.
It all seemed too little, but the pillars of the policy kept crumbling in Vietnam and at home. In May 1973, in response to Indochina and the Watergate impeachment crises, both houses of Congress voted a deadline of August 15 for further funding of American combat forces. Henry Kissinger refused to comply with any deadlines, and his position was defeated on a tie 204-204 House vote that allowed only a last extension of the bombing until that August. The country was so divided that a small, determined faction was able to tip the scales.
We are approaching a similar chasm in public opinion today. The neoconservatives, conservatives and liberal hawks have been discredited for their foolish 2002 belief in a quick and easy invasion of Iraq. A beleaguered neocon minority is pressing to strike Iran and stay the course in Iraq. Democrats, despite their electoral majority, have not proven to be as tenacious about Iraq as the neocons. Nor are progressive activists always as educated and focused for battle as their adversaries. With a majority of Americans wanting and expecting a withdrawal from Iraq, the outcome of 2008 may depend on who has the greater will to win.