In the years leading up to the 2008 election, there were at least 10 national antiwar demonstrations that drew more than 100,000 participants each. The movement helped Rep. Barbara Lee to rise from a lone war opponent in Congress to the leader of a bloc of as many as 200 representatives calling for an end to the wars in Iraq and/or Afghanistan. Those combined forces — the peace movement and lawmakers who opposed continuing the Iraq war — created a political climate that enabled Obama to end the Iraq war over the objections of many in the Pentagon and most of his Republican presidential rivals.That's the withdrawal Republicans are still criticizing Obama over. Even though it was the Cheney-Bush Administration that negotiated the withdrawal arrangement.
Obama's position on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan shifted occasionally during the decade, illustrating the powerful conflict of forces in play. In 2008, he seemed ready to accept the advice of the establishment-oriented Iraq Study Group, which recommended leaving a residual force of 10,000 to 15,000 troops in Iraq. After being elected, though, he surprised everyone by announcing in early 2009 that all U.S. forces would be pulled out of Iraq by the end of 2011.
In recent months, the administration seemed to be considering leaving behind a few thousand troops to continue training Iraqi forces, but it abandoned the idea after failing to reach a deal with the Iraqi government on legal immunity for the American troops.
Some peace activists view the fact that thousands of advisors and contractors will remain in Iraq on the U.S. Embassy payroll as evidence of a secret plan to continue the war by other means. But the war is as over as a war can be, and the peace movement should celebrate. Removing troops from Iraq will save tens of billions of dollars a year, and it will also save lives. [my emphasis]
Truthdig's Tom Hayden reprint column today is from 04/09/2006, Revolution, Protest and America. It's the transcript of an interview that appeared in the Cuban publication Juventud Rebelde. One of the questions was about the US peace movement:
Can you explain why the level of protests in the U.S. against the war in Iraq is not as notable as during the war in Vietnam?Tom analyzed the antiwar movement of the 2000s in more detail in Ending the War in Iraq (2007). There, he cites Howard Dean's 2004 Presidential candidacy. "Dean served as an unprecedented threat to the incumbent hierarchy of the Democratic Party. But the campaign had only been possible because the antiwar movement needed an outlet for rising public anger over Iraq. Dean would have gone nowhere if he had campaigned solely on his Vermont health care plan."
The difference is that during Vietnam there was a military draft and the number of casualties was far, far higher. Relatively speaking, therefore, the level of protests today is greater—200,000 in October 2002 in D.C.; 1 million in February 2003; 500,000 in New York in 2004; 300,000 in D.C. in 2005. The reformist presidential campaign of Howard Dean was larger than the antiwar Eugene McCarthy campaign of 1968. A majority of Americans, including a majority of U.S. soldiers, want a troop withdrawal within this year. The “notable” difference, I believe, is that there was a broader radical movement around the world, certainly in 1968, than there is today. That makes the antiwar movement, here and globally, a surprising development, it seems to me.
He also notes, "For the first time, a grassroots movement of antiwar union activists gained the endorsement of the AFL-CIO, long an accomplice of the neoconservatives and even the CIA in American foreign policy."
And his book is a reminder that the early days of mass blogging coincided with the start of the Iraq War. "Online activism mushroomed, as progressive blogs averaged five million readers a day at the height of the 2004 campaign season, to twenty times the size of its 2003 audience." He also takes note of this comparison to the anti-Vietnam War movement:
Beyond the corridors of a cautious Congress, a June 2005 Harris poll showed that sixty-three percent of Americans supported a one-year withdrawal timetable. By early 2005, while U.S. combat deaths reached nearly 1,500 in Iraq, the percentage who believed the war was a mistake passed the fifty percent level, which had not occurred in the Vietnam era until the Tet Offensive of February 1968, after some 20,000 American deaths. Something had changed.The following year, antiwar sentiment played a significant role in the Democrats' strong showing and retaking the House in the 2006 midterms.
Tom Hayden had a strong sense of the politics and sociology of change.