The leaders of both major parties are aware that 70% of the US public (85% of progressives, and 55% of conservatives) now feel that, whatever the debatable merit and legality of the Iraq invasion, the occupation is a failure with unacceptable financial and human costs. But, anti-war voters are not organized and too often fall into the trap of voting for a pro-war candidate because the candidate is seen as the 'lesser evil.' So, rather than voting for what is desired - ending the Iraq occupation, or preventing a new war against Iran - people vote for what they don't want - someone who promises to 'manage' the war better or even send more U.S. troops. One goal of VotersForPeace is to educate and mobilize voters so candidates will become motivated to support both ending the occupation of Iraq and preventing future wars of aggression. Together, using lobbying, targeted demonstrations, media advocacy and a pledge to eschew pro-war candidates, we will make the anti-war perspective a powerful mainstream political force that cannot be ignored.
Protests and Petitions are Not Enough
Demonstrations build morale but have become less effective for influencing either the press or public opinion; as always it is chiefly electoral and business pressure that influences the political elite.
The occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, unlike that of Vietnam, have caused relatively few mass protests, perhaps because young adults, and their parents, are not threatened by a military draft unlike the situation 40 years ago. There have been mass protests, most notably those in February 2003 prior to the US invasion of Iraq when an estimated 12 to14 million people protested worldwide.
The semi-annual protests by a coalition of antiwar groups (United for Peace and Justice) saw 300,000 people in Washington DC in 2004, as well as at the Republican and Democrat Conventions in 2004. A great deal of individual and organizational effort has gone into these protests but they have little influence on public opinion, little coverage by the media, and no effect on the actions of political leaders of both parties. The 300,000-strong protest in DC in September 2005 scarcely received mention in the news, and recent demonstrations on the third anniversary of the Iraq invasion had minimal coverage and several even commented that the turnout was disappointingly small.
The UFPJ coalition, and membership groups like MoveOn.org and TrueMajority, have generated petitions signed by hundreds of thousands to stop the occupation of Iraq. These generate minor news coverage and have no effect on congressional leaders. In our corporate dominated political arena even a petition with 10 million signers would not make a difference. In contrast, politicians are greatly affected by both lobbying, demonstrations, and electoral opposition in their home districts. VotersForPeace believes we should hit politicians where it hurts most - in votes, in electoral opposition, and in investigations of wrong-doing!
Motivating the Cowering Political Opposition
Protests need to be directed against the pro-war leaders of both parties,but particularly against the pro-war Democrats, so that progressive forces in Congress are not prevented from opposing military interventions and occupations.
Antiwar efforts have justifiably attacked the Bush/Cheney administration to such an extent that everyone, from the neocons to the president, has been demonized. Impeachment efforts have focused on the executive branch, without cognizance that extremist policies, such as preemptive war, prisoner gulags, rendition and torture, warrantless eavesdropping, both domestic and international, would not be possible if traditional Republicans as well as the leading Democrats were not colluding with the executive branch.
If an outlaw gang ran wild in your community with the complicity of the police should you petition the gang leaders or protest to the police? Should the displaced residents of New Orleans denounce Hurricane Katrina or demand changes to FEMA? Congress has the power to stop the Iraq occupation, and antiwar forces need to pressure the Democrats in Congress to start acting like an opposition party.
Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader, stated in December that the majority of the Democrat caucus favored withdrawal of troops; many House members have joined the Out of Iraq Caucus. Howard Dean, chairman of the Democrat National Committee, called the Iraq occupation a failure. Moderate comments by Pelosi, Dean, Russ Feingold, and Jack Murtha were not only attacked by Republicans but were suppressed by the Democrat elite. VotersForPeace favors protesting the Democrat's ruling pro-war faction; they are an elite cabal who have stifled dissent by progressive Democrats in Congress. While 55% of Republicans question the worth of the Iraq invasion, about 70% favor staying the course. Republican politicians will not be dissuaded because they have support from their voter base. In contrast 85% of Democrats feel the invasion was a failure, and two-thirds feel the troops should be withdrawn. It is the Democrat Party leadership who must be shown that they are out of touch with their voter base.
Opposition to the Iraq quagmire has surfaced (a) among Republicans, particularly more traditional conservatives, (b) in the foreign policy establishment, (c) in conservative think-tanks, and (d) the upper echelon of the military. These influential groups need to be encouraged to vocalize their dissent.
Democrats: Wishy-Washy Wusses, or Wily Wheeler-Dealers?
Have the leading Democrats just gone along with the Bush administration on the invasion of Iraq, the occupation, the establishment of permanent bases, torture, eavesdropping, the Patriot Act, etc or is this just a political charade to appear strong on defense?
Bill Clinton and the Democrat Leadership Council (DLC), starting in 1994, led the party to abandon traditional principles in a futile attempt to appeal to more conservative voters. The only thing progressive about this effort has been the progressively greater congressional losses that the tactic has engendered.
The Democrat leaders are particularly sensitive to appearing "weak on defense", because traditionally they have not increased military budgets as much as Republicans. As a consequence Democrat leaders now support a high military budget, a bellicose foreign policy, and military adventures like Iraq. The Democrat leaders, mostly in the Senate, not only pushed for the Iraq invasion, but also: (a) approved billions in supplemental funding, (b) approved the establishment of 14 permanent bases in Iraq (housing 50,000-100,000 troops), and (c) rejected the timely withdrawal of troops. The Senate Democrats are more bellicose than those in the House; while 42 of the 45 Democrat Senators had the courage to vote against the Alito nomination to the Supreme Court only half voted against the Iraq invasion, and only 10 voted against the recent extension of the Patriot Act. Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Mark Warner, Evan Bayh, John Edwards and Joe Lieberman have not only opposed troop withdrawal but have been leading the chorus of threats about Iran's research on nuclear power, in an attempt to outflank Republicans from the right. Senior White House journalist Helen Thomas has called these leaders "spineless Democrats", but the consistent support these leaders have shown suggests that they, like the Republican elite, are true adherents to the military-industrial complex.
Iraq Must Be an Election Issue
Democratic Party leaders want to make sure that Iraq is not an issue in the 2006 and 2008 elections. VotersForPeace wants to ensure that Iraq is an issue every candidate must address in detail and that the peace vote is a constituency every candidate must court.
Terry McAuliffe, chairman of the Democratic National Committee under Bill Clinton and an advisor to Hillary Clinton, said that troop withdrawal should be avoided as an issue. "The second we get in a debate about do we stay or do we go from Iraq, we lose," McAuliffe said. "This election cannot be a debate on when the troops are coming home. This party will lose on that. It has to be about how George Bush has made us less safe." And Howard Dean, a moderate Democrat who endeared himself to progressives by opposing the Iraq invasion in 2003 and 2004 now opines that Democrats have to give the public the appearance of being strong on defense. Recently the Democrats have proposed their own take on "real security", which contains no call for troop withdrawal or reduction of military budgets.
The Mid-Term Election in 2006 and then 2008: Hold Your Nose and Vote?
Your vote is important, but do you really want to vote for a "lesser-evil" candidate who doesn't earn your support by clearly explaining their positions on issues of importance to you.
There are now 231 Republican seats in the House of Representatives versus the Democrats' 201, and 55 Republican seats in the Senate versus the Democrats' 45. Gerrymandering has made 98% of the House seats uncontested, except in primaries, and the high costs of campaigns keeps 90% of Senate seats uncontested. Only a few dozen House seats, and a handful of Senate seats are really in play. Two-thirds of voters say neither the Democrats nor Republicans have clear leadership vision, and since there is little possibility of change many possible voters view the elections with apathy. While there are some openly antiwar candidates, the Democrat leadership has effectively squelched efforts by those primary contenders who want to end the Iraq occupation. Voters who do not simply want to withhold their vote for pro-war candidates of the two major parties can choose those independent or third-party candidates who have taken an antiwar stand.
Much of the public believes US troops will be withdrawn over the next year (and a small number may be withdrawn to address political pressures in this election year), but the administration, together with leaders of both parties, have agreed that there will be a long-term presence of at least 70,000 to 80,000 troops in Iraq for at least another 10 years even if the ongoing civil war abates. These troops are needed to offset the influence of Shiite Iran now that the US has overthrown their Sunni opponents in Baghdad and Afghanistan. George Bush recently indicated that the next president in 2009, not he, will have to decide about troop withdrawal. Antiwar activists must be prepared now for a presidential race in 2008 in which there are still high troop levels in Iraq and the major parties again provide no alternatives. Preliminary polls show that not one of the pro-war Democrat contenders could win that contest, which itself is a good argument for an alternative approach. We need to convert at least one-third of the over $600 billion military budget to domestic needs. Your individual vote may not seem important in our byzantine electoral system, but it becomes critical when joined together with millions of others who are voting their conscience.
Support for Opposing Pro-war Politicians is Widespread
Opposition to "chickenhawk" politicians is not confined to the
extreme progressives or conservatives but has become mainstream.)
Columnist Molly Ivins recently opined: "I don't know about you, but I have had it with the D.C. Democrats, had it with the DLC Democrats, had it with every calculating, equivocating, triangulating, straddling, hair-splitting son of a bitch up there, and that includes Hillary Rodham Clinton." Ivins had earlier chastised Clinton for failing to take a stand on Iraq and indicated she would not vote for her.
There have been similar responses from tried and true conservatives
on the Iraq debacle (Ron Paul, Pat Buchanan, William Buckley, George
Will, Walter Jones), including many, like neocon thought leader Francis
Fukuyama, who thought the initial invasion and toppling of Saddam
Hussein was worthwhile. The same is true for libertarians and
independents (Paul Craig Roberts, Kevin Phillips), who seem to feel
that the Republican party has been hijacked by radical theocrats.
magazine made the following statement regarding voting: "We will not
support any candidate for national office who does not make a speedy
end to the war in Iraq a major issue of his or her campaign. We urge
all voters to join us in adopting this position. Many worry that the
aftermath of withdrawal will be ugly, but we can now see that the
consequences of staying will be uglier still. Fear of facing the
consequences of Bush's disaster should not be permitted to excuse the
creation of a worse disaster by continuing the occupation."
What if Everybody Refused to Support Pro-war Candidates?
VotersForPeace believes that by joining together to withhold our votes and support from those who support the Iraq occupation we are upholding the best traditions of democracy. Cowardice in the voting booth invariably produces cowardly elected officials.
Politicians from both parties assume that they can flip-flop on issues (ie be "centrist") and that their political base will vote for them as the "lesser of two evils". The most important thing that voters can do is to join together with others of similar issue-orientation and withhold votes from those candidates who don't truly merit it. Election blocs have been effective on issues like reproductive rights for women, opposition to gun control, and reduction of taxes. The mere threat of an election bloc of older voters prevented the Republicans from gutting the Social Security program in 2005. Elected officials must end the occupation of Iraq, actively debate the militarization of US foreign policy, and uphold both the US Constitution and international law. Acting together as a voter bloc is the most effective way we have of both ending the bloody Iraq occupation and preventing further wars of aggression.