Barack Obama was the first president elected on a platform of withdrawing American troops from an ongoing war. Now, though political pundits and the reporters rarely mention it, Obama’s re-election depends on winning back the peace vote in November. This week the wars will will received a brief “cameo” role, according to the Los Angeles Times, because Mitt Romney is taking his campaign to London, Israel and Poland. The Hollywood analogy is apt: it’s as if the trillion-dollar wars can be cut and pasted from a choreographed script.
Based on what little is known, a Romney presidency would return America to the Bush-era foreign and military policies. Romney’s key advisers include the neoconservatives who championed the Iraq War, resumed hostilities with Russia and at least rhetorical support for an Israeli strike against Iran. The hawks in the Republican wings include John Bolton, Randy Scheunemann and, in the background, the deep-pocketed Sheldon Adelson. Obama’s campaign team has tried for weeks to frame Romney as too willing to go to war, an argument, according to the New York Times, “that could be damaging if it manages to stick, since Americans have grown war-weary after a decade of combat.”
While the election will turn on economic conditions, those have been defined through too narrow a lens. It is dishonest to compartmentalize the economy without totaling the trillions in unfunded war spending that has ballooned the deficit. The same arguments Obama uses against Romney on Bush-era Republican economics—that he promises a return to failed policies—can be made about Romney’s foreign policy; that his administration will recycle the failed policies of the neocons. Obama can link the wars to his economic crisis by noting that taxpayers will save $150 billion per year by winding down two quagmires (the combined direct costs of Iraq and Afghanistan since FY 2008 is in the range of $760 billion). He can accuse the deficit hawks of hypocrisy due to their profligate spending on unfunded wars.
One reason for the disappearance of the wars from the presidential contest so far is the general lack of Beltway recognition of the peace movement as an interest group, especially as one that might sway an election. This is astonishing, since Obama owed his primary victories over Hillary Clinton largely to his stance on Iraq, and the Democrats won the House and Senate in 2006, according to the Gallup poll, because 61 percent of voters named Iraq as their top priority. Not that centrist Democrats took up the issue; it was as if when peace breaks out it should be treated as an allergy (or “syndrome”). More recently, grassroots networks have fortified Representative Barbara Lee and Representative Jim McGovern, who annually produce 100–200 House votes against Afghan funding or softer resolutions demanding accelerated withdrawals. Representative John Conyers, retiring Representative Dennis Kucinich and former Senator. Russ Feingold have relied on grassroots activism as well.
The peace constituency is a discernible voting bloc defined by its pattern of behavior in 2006 and 2008. Its attitude this year could be an invisible margin of difference in battleground states. Certainly Colorado, Florida, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin have thousands of voters yet to be mobilized in the name of peace. If millions of dollars are spent routinely on trying to increase Democratic turnout among blacks, Latinos or union members, it is curious why no such attention is paid to getting out the peace vote.