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The Beginning of the End? | The Nation

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Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Politics, current affairs and riffs and reflections on the news.

The Beginning of the End?

"We see this as the beginning of the end," said Tom Andrews, a former Democratic representative from Maine who is executive director of the antiwar group Win Without War. "It's the very beginning of a new wave of activism on this war. There's a real sense that something is beginning to move."--Los Angeles Times, Friday June 17, 2005

Earlier that day, a friend and longtime antiwar activist left me a voice mail message. Just ten days earlier he told me that he was more depressed about our politics than at anytime in the last 40 years. "Hello, this is..." he said. "I was in Washington yesterday at the rally and at the Conyers hearings. And since I laid a heavy statement on you last week, I just wanted to make a correction. It's finally over. My despair is over. Something has happened these last ten days that has revived the antiwar issue. It has to do with public opinion polls and casualties and Republicans like Walter Jones and more Democrats standing up. I won't say how optimistic I am. But something is coming together--you can feel it."

You can feel it.

*Every day brings news of public opinion turning against the occupation--and the President's conduct of the war. Last week, a Washington Post-ABC News poll showed that for the first time since the war began, more than half of the public believes the US invasion has not made the US more secure; and nearly 40 percent described the situation there now as analagous to the Vietnam War. A new Gallup survey finds that almost 60 percent of Americans say the US should withdraw some or all of its troops from Iraq, the largest number in that category ever. And for the first time, most Americans say they would be "upset" if President Bush sent more troops. Gallup also found that 56 percent now feel the war was "not worth it," and 73 percent consider the number of casualties unacceptable.

* Every day brings news of more Democrats coming forward, standing up and introducing "exit strategy" resolutions. (Though, as of yet, leadership isn't coming from the leadership.) Lynn Woolsey forced a Congressional vote on bipartisan legislation that would have asked Bush to submit a plan to Congress explaining the outlines of an exit strategy from Iraq. Senator Russell Feingold has introduced a nonbinding resolution calling on the Bush Administration to set specific goals for leaving Iraq.

In the House, the International Relations Committee last week voted overwhelmingly, 32 to 9, to call on the White House to develop and submit a plan to Congress for establishing a stable government and military in Iraq that would "permit a decreased US presence" in the country. Congresswomen Maxine Waters (D/CA)--along with 41 Congressional progressives, including Woolsey, John Lewis, Charles Rangel, Jim McGovern, Rush Holt, Marcy Kaptur and Jan Schakowsky--has just formed the "Out of Iraq Congressional Caucus." Its sole purpose, Waters says, "is to be the main agitators in the movement to bring our troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan." And Rep John Conyers' impassioned efforts to bring attention to the Downing Street Memo--on Thursday he held hearings on Capitol Hill and then delivered to the White House letters that contained the names of more than 560,000 Americans demanding answers to questions raised by the British memo--has reenergized and refocused opposition to the war.

While the Administration and its allies in Congress are trying to make it seem as if these new initiatives merely reflect Democrats' reading of the polls, I say--bring it on. Let's welcome more Democrats--and sane Republicans--giving legislative expression and voice to the majority of Americans who want to see our Iraq policy changed. (In fact, according to the recent Gallup poll, Congress appears to be lagging behind the public on the issue: Some 72 percent of Democrats, 65 percent of independents and 41 percent of Republicans say they favor a partial or complete withdrawal.)

*Every day brings news of another Republican signing on to the bipartisan resolution introduced last Thursday by Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC)--the man who brought us "Freedom Fries"--and Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii). That resolution calls for the Bush Administration to announce a plan for the withdrawal of all US forces from Iraq by the end of the year and to initiate the plan as soon as possible. Maverick Congressman Ron Paul (R/Texas) is already a sponsor, Jim Leach (R/ Iowa) signed on Friday and Howard Coble (R/North Carolina) is considering adding his signature. (With 2006 midterms fast approaching, more Republicans will be hearing from constituents who are growing uneasy about the war. And more GOP members up for reelection may start sounding like Jones, who said in an interview with ABC's George Stephanopolous last weekend that he votes his conscience first, his constituents second, and his party third.)

But much hard and grinding organizing work remains ahead.

On Monday afternoon, Abercrombie and others are going to sit down with Congressman Jones and other House members to discuss options to advance the resolution and build activism against the war.

They'll be supported by a national coalition, that includes Win Without War, MoveOn.org, The National Council of Churches, True Majority, Sojourners, Working Assets and the National Organization of Women, which is planning a grassroots outreach campaign encouraging Members of Congress to sign onto the newly introduced bipartisan resolution.

These organizations are going to be concentrating on those members of Congress who should be particularly susceptible to constituent demand about the war. (As Tom Andrews of the invaluable Win Without War group says, "Take it from one who has been there, in Congress loyalty to one's party leaders and president stops at the 'waters edge' of the voters at home.")

"A prairie fire of activism has started," Andrews argues. "Our job now is to fan these flames and get a conflagration of opposition spreading across the country. We are working with our member groups as well as others on a range of action options to build momentum over the next several months. These will include a major action in Washington in September with what I hope will include a complementary Internet based component. Between those marching in DC and those joining through the Internet around the country I am certain that we could have a million Americans demonstrating against the Bush war in September."

The combination of dropping poll numbers, the grinding images of chaos and violence in Iraq, the daily news of young Americans dying in what seems a senseless war and the increasingly active and visible opposition of constituents is bad news for the president and his Congressional allies.

This really can be the beginning of the end of a disastrous war and a bankrupt national security strategy.

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