At a press conference on January 20, only two days after thousands of Americans marched in cities and towns across the nation to oppose going to war with Iraq, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld warned, “In the case of Iraq, we’re nearing the end of the long road and with every other option exhausted.” The next day George W. Bush, angered by the French foreign minister’s attack on Washington’s “impatience” with the inspection process, added, “This looks like a rerun of a bad movie and I’m not interested in watching it.”
The Bush Administration has been going hellbent down Rumsfeld’s road, ignoring the UN Security Council where not only France but Russia, China, Germany and others favor giving inspections a chance. Turkey, where 90 percent oppose war, is refusing to permit a large US force to launch an invasion from its soil. Ankara is preparing to host a summit meeting of regional powers seeking to pressure Iraq to cooperate with UN inspectors in an effort to head off a war. On the Continent popular opposition to a conflict runs around 70 to 80 percent.
While Rumsfeld accelerates the military buildup in the Gulf, antiwar forces have stepped up the mobilization at home. A quarter of a million or more protesters in Washington, San Francisco and elsewhere carried off the biggest antiwar demonstrations since the Vietnam era. This time national TV and papers across the country gave them full and respectful play. On February 15, more protests will be held here and all over the world.
The opposition encompasses a broad range of Americans, from pacifists and aging hippies to suburban moms and small-business people. They came from all over, boarding buses in Maine and Mississippi for the long drive to Washington. They came as individuals and as groups–including the National Council of Churches, Physicians for Social Responsibility, A Jewish Voice for Peace, US Labor Against the War (a coalition of more than sixty unions), United for Peace and Justice (a network of 150 groups), ANSWER (the coalition that organized the Washington march) and more. The Catholic bishops have spoken against war. Antiwar Republicans took out a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal. The January 18 rallies took place not just in cities but also in small towns: In Menomonie, Wisconsin (pop. 15,000), 200 antiwar demonstrators marched down Main Street. More than forty cities have passed resolutions condemning the war, most recently Chicago. On Capitol Hill, Senator Edward Kennedy’s blast at Bush’s Iraq policy signals a shift by Democrats to stronger opposition. In the House, a resolution to repeal last year’s war authorization was introduced and a letter calling on Bush to hold to a diplomatic approach is circulating and already signed by several members who voted for the original authorization for war.
The latest Washington Post/ABC poll shows 7 out of 10 Americans favor giving weapons inspectors more time. The latest Pew Research Center poll reports 53 percent of Americans believe Bush has failed to make the case for war. Many question why this Administration sees no alternatives to war in Iraq, where UN inspectors are on the job, while it explores diplomatic routes with North Korea. Others fear the impact of war and terrorism on the stagnant economy. More and more people are directly touched as sons and daughters, husbands and wives ship out to the Gulf.
We’re under no illusion that antiwar sentiment is sweeping the land. But doubts about Bush’s Iraq policy are broad and deep, and people are stirring. Administration officials should check the rearview mirror; something may be gaining on them.