Antiwar Group Collapses

Antiwar Group Collapses

Tom Matzzie, leader of Americans Against Escalation in Iraq, has resigned his position and dissolved a major and well-funded coalition of anti-war groups.

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Tom Matzzie, leader of Americas most well-financed anti-Iraq organization, has resigned his position and dissolved the organization, Americans Against Escalation in Iraq.

Tom Matzzie, leader of Americas most well-financed anti-Iraq organization, has resigned his position and dissolved the organization, Americans Against Escalation in Iraq.

Profiled recently in the New York Times as the most important new leader of a pragmatic and well-funded antiwar movement, Matzzie deployed over ninety staff members and spent $12 million last August in an unsuccessful effort to pressure vulnerable Republicans into opposing the war. The groups stated intention at the time was to continue pressuring the political establishment in the coming year.

Matzzie, a skilled campaign operative, has reportedly taken an unspecified position in one of the partisan campaign committees associated with the Democrats for the duration of 2008. His organization no longer exists, though some of its staff are absorbed into local organizing.

[Note: Minutes after this story was posted, Matzzie sent an e-mail to me claiming “the story is wrong.” He said, “We haven’t quit,” but are in transition. But the story is based on Matzzie’s own February 7 e-mail response to a question from me: “I’ve essentially quit antiwar organizing and gone into politics.” The organization, he wrote, has been “absorbed into local groups.”].

What exactly happened? Insiders are not talking, The sequence of events is suggestive. The Americans Against Escalation was formed after the Democratic Congressional sweep in 2006 to oppose Bush’s escalation of 25,000 additional troops to Iraq in January 2007. Its purpose was to apply campaign-style tactics to pressure moderate Republicans to break from Bush’s policies, meanwhile calling on Congressional Democrats to set deadlines for troop withdrawals. Neither mission was accomplished, because of Republican unity and Democratic divisions.

Matzzie’s style also clashed with the antiwar movement’s culture. His group was intentionally headquartered in lobbyist row on Washington’s K Street, and roiled local communities by sending in outside organizers who left nothing behind.

Then the uproar over MoveOn’s September 2007 General Petraeus or General Betray Us? ad alienated many Democratic officeholders and funders. Matzzie, who had left MoveOn or was only marginally involved, took some of the blame nevertheless. From that point on, Americans Against Escalation faded from view without explanation.

Democratic strategists and funders have given up on any strategy to pressure the Republicans out of Iraq this year. Not surprisingly, they have decided that defeating Senator John McCain and electing a Democrat this November are the preconditions for any progress in ending the war.

This leaves a huge organizational hole in the infrastructure and funding of peace efforts this year. MoveOn, whose members have endorsed Obama, will still have the resources to play a key role, though demonized now by the Republican attack machine. Other major peace groups simply lack the funding or capacity to play a central organizational role in the presidential contest.

However, McCain, the neoconservatives and the Republican Party will choose to make Iraq and national security the pivotal issues in the coming campaign, using not only the party’s resources but well-funded outside groups like the Swift Boat committees of 2004. This makes a Democratic emphasis on Iraq, through both the party and independent 527 groups, inevitable. Both Democratic candidates disagree sharply with McCain over Iraq, which almost guarantees that the war will be central to the climate of political debate for the next ten months.

The only question is whether the Democratic response will be strong enough to galvanize the peace vote and win the election.

Profiled recently in the New York Times as the most important new leader of a pragmatic and well-funded anti-war movement, Matzzie deployed over ninety staff members and spent $12 million last August in an unsuccessful effort to pressure vulnerable Republicans into opposing the war. The groups stated intention at the time was to continue pressuring the political establishment in the coming year.

Matzzie, a skilled campaign operative, has reportedly taken an unspecified position in one of the partisan campaign committees associated with the Democrats for the duration of 2008. His organization no longer exists, though some of its staff are absorbed into local organizing.

[Note: Minutes after this story was posted, Matzzie sent an e-mail to me claiming “the story is wrong.” He said, “We haven’t quit,” but are in transition. But the story is based on Matzzie’s own February 7 e-mail response to a question from me: “I’ve essentially quit anti-war organizing and gone into politics.” The organization, he wrote, has been “absorbed into local groups.”].

What exactly happened? Insiders are not talking, The sequence of events is suggestive. The Americans Against Escalation was formed after the Democratic Congressional sweep in 2006 to oppose Bush’s escalation of 25,000 additional troops to Iraq in January 2007. Its purpose was to apply campaign-style tactics to pressure moderate Republicans to break from Bush’s policies, meanwhile calling on Congressional Democrats to set deadlines for troop withdrawals. Neither mission was accomplished, because of Republican unity and Democratic divisions.

Matzzie’s style also clashed with the anti-war movement’s culture. His group was intentionally headquartered in lobbyist row on Washington’s K Street, and roiled local communities by sending in outside organizers who left nothing behind.

Then the uproar over MoveOn’s September 2007 General Petraeus or General Betray Us? ad alienated many Democratic officeholders and funders. Matzzie, who had left MoveOn or was only marginally involved, took some of the blame nevertheless. From that point on, Americans Against Escalation faded from view without explanation.

Democratic strategists and funders have given up on any strategy to pressure the Republicans out of Iraq this year. Not surprisingly, they have decided that defeating Senator John McCain and electing a Democrat this November are the preconditions for any progress in ending the war.

This leaves a huge organizational hole in the infrastructure and funding of peace efforts this year. MoveOn, whose members have endorsed Obama, will still have the resources to play a key role, though demonized now by the Republican attack machine. Other major peace groups simply lack the funding or capacity to play a central organizational role in the presidential contest.

However, McCain, the neoconservatives and the Republican Party will choose to make Iraq and national security the pivotal issues in the coming campaign, using not only the party’s resources but well-funded outside groups like the Swift Boat committees of 2004. This makes a Democratic emphasis on Iraq, through both the party and independent 527 groups, inevitable. Both Democratic candidates disagree sharply with McCain over Iraq, which almost guarantees that the war will be central to the climate of political debate for the next ten months.

The only question is whether the Democratic response will be strong enough to galvanize the peace vote and win the election.

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