Events in Iraq and Washington, DC, are changing by the day, offering the peace movement and Democrats new dilemmas–and new opportunities to take the antiwar initiative as the midterm elections approach.
It wasn’t so long ago that Washington insiders were advising peace groups to expect no moves toward withdrawal during 2006. Both political parties, the activists were told, were locked into a Beltway consensus against any gestures toward peace. The Senate was particularly frozen, with only Senator Russ Feingold offering a flexible plan for gradual withdrawal. Feingold was unable to stir any sympathy in the Democratic caucus. A seasoned expert in one senior senator’s office predicted the silence would continue. One reason was that unannounced presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Joseph Biden, the ranking Democrat on the foreign relations committee, were posturing as hawks.
In the House of Representatives it appeared that the Out of Iraq Caucus was frozen at seventy members. Even after feisty ex-Marine John Murtha stepped forward with an immediate withdrawal plan in mid-November 2005, he was largely abandoned by his colleagues.
But as the quagmire deepens, peace sentiments are steadily rising. According to a June 16 CNN poll , 53 percent of Americans now favor a timeline for withdrawal of troops. A phenomenal 70 percent of Iraqis are demanding a deadline. A Zogby survey of American troops in Iraq shows the same pattern, with a majority supporting a one-year deadline and 29 percent favoring immediate withdrawal.
How did the political tide begin to change? What impact will this have on the war and the coming elections?
Peace groups began adopting a position articulated in a November 2005 Nation editorial, declaring they would refuse to support any candidate in 2006 or 2008 who did not favor a “speedy end to the war in Iraq.” Progressive Democrats in Southern California supported an insurgent challenge against Democratic hawk Jane Harman, gaining 38 percent of the primary vote for Marcy Winograd. Independent Democrat Ned Lamont went after incumbent Joe Lieberman in Connecticut. Jonathan Tasini campaigned against Hillary Clinton. Angry voters, joined by activists like Code Pink, began to boo Senator Clinton at campaign appearances, climaxing at the recent “Take Back America” liberal gathering in Washington, DC.
At the same time, the Center for American Progress, a think tank led by Clinton Democrats, put together “Strategic Redeployment 2.0,” an effective guidebook substituting the more muscular term “redeployment” for “withdrawal,” which provided significant comfort for Democrats too timid to be associated with the antiwar movement.
The booing of Hillary Clinton, which was covered by all major media outlets, was a harbinger of what lies ahead if she campaigns for President in New Hampshire or Iowa. It was becoming intensely personal, ugly and divisive.