MoveOn.org resumed its historical antiwar stance this week, symbolically breaking with the Obama administration for the first time.
After being criticized for abandoning the antiwar stance that won it millions of activist supporters, the organization sent targeted mailings supporting the demand for an Obama administration exit strategy report contained in HR 2404, by Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts.
The measure, which requires the Pentagon to outline an exit strategy from Afghanistan by December 31, had only eighty-four co-sponsors last week, and was blocked by the House Democratic leadership from consideration as part of the supplemental military appropriation of $100 million. Currently it is pending in the House, still opposed by the Obama administration.
The bill represents an uncertain trumpet for Democrats who were willing to impose exit deadlines from Iraq on the outgoing Bush administration. Both President Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates have spoken in favor of an Afghanistan exit strategy in the past, which means their opposition to the McGovern legislation reflects a deep-running struggle between the executive and legislative branches over war-making powers. The White House was extremely active in lobbying Democrats to vote for the war supplemental without conditions. Only thirty-two Democrats were willing to stand up against the administration.
The refusal of MoveOn to engage in the supplemental fight, or oppose the escalation in Afghanistan, meant a reduction of grassroots antiwar pressure on wavering Congressional members. Until last week, Congressional antiwar leaders were questioning where MoveOn, with its 5 million members, stood on the vote.
Despite its modest nature, MoveOn’s entry into the debate could be an important factor in legitimizing antiwar criticism of the Obama policies among Democrats. Antiwar sentiment at the grassroots is smothered by the unwillingness of several organizations to openly oppose the war escalation, despite their roots in the antiwar movement against Iraq.
The silent organizations thus far include Democracy for America and its founder, Howard Dean, Ben Cohen’s True Majority, and the Obama campaign’s offshoot, Organizing for America. The Feminist Majority even supported the $80 billion war supplemental with an amendment supporting women’s programs in Afghanistan. The Feminist Majority argued against another antiwar organization, Win Without War, taking an oppositional stand on the supplemental. National Peace Action, while opposing the supplemental, also supported the Feminist Majority’s amendment to the supplemental, which failed anyway in the end.