The Presidential election will be fought out over the Iraq war -- and unless we work hard and smart, the antiwar movement will have very little to do with how the debate happens and the outcome. In fact, on November 5, the peace movement could find itself confused and directionless, despite having seen its activists throw themselves into electing a Democratic President.
To try to avoid such a fate, yesterday Resolution Peace brought together activists from 40 or so antiwar groups all over northern California to try to hammer out plans to push a peace message in concert with this all-absorbing election campaign.
Longtime antiwar activist, former Assemblyman and State Senator, author, and Obama-endorser Tom Hayden gave us the big picture. What follows is my paraphrase of some of his talk, naturally focused on what struck me as important.
- The selection of John McCain as the Republican nominee ensures that Iraq will be at the center of the campaign. McCain will try to sell the U.S. people on the idea that we are "winning" in Iraq.
- This ensures that either Democrat will have to run against the Iraq war because, not only will McCain be arguing the rightness of the war, but also because the war is the cause of the country's precarious (or even disastrous) economic situation.
- None of the candidates mean by "ending the war" what the peace movement means. They all mean moving from combat that costs U.S casualties to counterinsurgency in which smaller U.S. forces would support Iraqis doing the fighting against whatever insurgencies and civil war opponents threaten the Baghdad "government."
- The way to tell whether the U.S. is serious about withdrawing is to watch whether there are talks with Iran. The U.S. has inadvertently delivered Iraq to the Iranian sphere of influence and Iranian actions will shape a post-occupation Iraqi regime.
- The Democratic campaign will get the benefit of millions of dollars of base-organizing work by MoveOn and labor forces out of SEIU in battleground states; these campaign efforts will be making an antiwar argument. This may enable the candidate to run against the war while making few concrete promises.
- Obama has said he will have troops out by the end of 2009 -- the antiwar movement must organize to hold him to it.
- A Democratic victory in the election will be a second "Peace Mandate," even stronger than 2006.
- It might serve the antiwar movement and other forces not visibly inside the Democratic Party apparatus to create something like "Progressives for Obama" to highlight the existence of folks to Obama's left who support his election. This will only work if folks are willing to work on the campaign.
- Everyone in the antiwar movement does not have to throw themselves into the election; parallel tracks can also help create the post-November 4 climate.
- One advantage of an Obama candidacy is that it has been embraced by the African American community; progressive things have happened in U.S. history when African Americans are on the move.
- Peace activists should join MoveOn if they haven't already. MoveOn constantly polls its members; this is one arena in which to make ourselves heard.
- Democrats in Congress are not going to be eager to oppose war funding this year. One possible tactical fight to take up might be to push Congresswoman Maxine Waters' measure to end US support for the Iraqi Security Forces -- essentially death squads -- as a violation of the 1997 Leahy Amendment barring assistance to known human rights violators. Hayden laid out the whole rationale for such a project here.
Activists conducted brainstorms on possible tactical initiatives after Hayden's speech.
In addition to Hayden, Leslie Cagan, coordinator of the national coalition United for Peace and Justice brought further thoughts on organizing. I'll report her talk tomorrow.