The absence of a powerful Peace Lobby, on the scale of the civil rights, women's and labor lobbies in Washington, leaves a vacuum allowing Hillary Clinton to drift towards neo-conservative military views.
Certainly there are admirable peace groups lobbying Washington today, but none compare with the NAACP for African-Americans, MALDEF for Mexican-Americans and immigrants, the NRDC for environmentalists, nor with NOW, the Feminist Majority or the AFL-CIO.
It is this network of progressive interest groups that represents the Democratic Party base and pulls Hillary steadily towards the positions staked out by Elizabeth Warren, Bill De Blasio and Sherrod Brown.
There is a vacuum where a vibrant peace movement should be. Liberal groups like the Center for American Progress (CAP) focus on domestic issues and are somewhere between tepid and unpredictable on foreign policy. With a few exceptions, the well-funded domestic reformers stay away from issues of war and foreign policy, which might cause political or donor problems. During the height of the Iraq War, big Democratic donors were encouraged to fund MoveOn and anti-war work in Republican Congressional districts, but the effort quickly faded.
Respected groups like the Friends National Committee on Legislation and Peace Action are permanent fixtures in Washington but haven't grown since the Vietnam era and the intense but short-lived Nuclear Freeze campaign in the Reagan years. Central American solidarity groups, often church-based, rose then faded away after the wars in El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras.
The powerful opposition to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars had a huge impact on the 2006 and 2008 elections, even helping Barack Obama defeat Hillary Clinton and John McCain. But it dissipated after the Wall Street Crash, when the activist coalitions turned their attention to economic issues and the Occupy Movement.
What remains is a vast but little-organized bloc of peace voters without a national voice, platform, funding, or recognizable leaders. And so the two parties drift towards war with little restraint from the grass roots. On the Republican side, Rand Paul becomes more belligerent by the day, in obeisance to his party's traditional national security hawks. On the Democratic side, it remains to be seen whether Hillary will have any challengers and whether they will concentrate their criticism only on domestic issues. In the raging crisis over Iran, both parties seem gripped by pro-Israel war fever, leaving President Obama on the most progressive end of the tilted spectrum when he should be in the center.
Valiant critics of the drone policy soldier on, but their greatest institutional allies tend to be military outfits like the Long War Journal who favor counterinsurgency or troops on the ground. Even Foreign Affairs magazine, journal of the foreign policy establishment, has published an article entitled "Bug Splat", the drone operators' phrase for civilian casualties. The peace movement can't be based on conflicting factions inside the Beltway.
The reasons for this vacuum are many and subject to different interpretations. That discussion should happen across many forums as the global violence spirals further out of control. The ultimate question is whether the fragmented peace movement can be united into a powerful and permanent Peace Lobby comparable to other progressive groupings? If that seems doubtful, there is a near-term agenda that must be taken up - how to organize a strong activist peace campaign to become a factor that Hillary must take into account in Iowa, New Hampshire and the long road through the 2016 elections.