This article originally appeared at The Nation on March 19, 2013.
Oh the wars they will be fought again
The holy dove
She will be caught again
Bought and sold and bought again
The dove is never free.
—Leonard Cohen, “Anthem”
Remember how bad things were. Al Gore won the vote but the thieves won the 2000 election. After the terror of 9/11, the peace forces hadn’t been so marginal since the 1950s.
Just in case, the Iraq War itself was designed to avoid provoking the public. No draft would mean no protest. Iraq would cost a bargain price $200 million, with no tax hike. There would be few American casualties to disturb the television watchers, just like the earlier air war in the Balkans. A cakewalk, they called it.
Then in February 2003, millions around the world declared a new generation of winter soldiers on freezing streets. The New York Times pronounced public opinion a second superpower.
During the next five years there were eleven national protests surpassing 100,000 in number, some well over 500,000. Individuals found their boldness and made a difference, among them: Cindy Sheehan, Michael Moore, Robert Greenwald, Bradley Manning, Howard Dean and the individual security guard who released the Abu Graeb photos. One hundred and fifty city governments passed anti-war resolutions. For the first time, the AFL-CIO opposed a war. An American majority soon told Gallup that Iraq was a mistake. MoveOn.org raised tens of millions for anti-war candidates. Voters dumped the House Republican majority in 2006, with the issue of Iraq decisive.
In October 2007, old New Leftists like Marilyn Katz and Carl Davidson finally found a respectable speaker for their Chicago peace rally: state Senator Barack Obama. Months later, Obama won all-white Iowa on his pledge to oppose the Iraq War. He was the first president elected on platform of withdrawing our troops during a war.
In those brief five years, a peace movement arose mysteriously from the margins, spread to the mainstream and drove a stake through neo-conservative dreams of domination. A Shi’a regime came to power in a sovereign Iraq, and Iran was the geo-political victor. Of course, the Empire didn’t fall, the “War on Terrorism” didn’t abate, neo-liberalism proceeded, global warming worsened. In the title of David Kilcullen’s book on counter-insurgency, Iraq was only a “small war” in the course of a longer one.
But it is important to note the impact of the peace movement as a formidable stumbling block and complicating factor for future imperial plans. It’s a tragedy that the peace movement could not be consolidated after Iraq into a version of the NAACP, NOW or the AFL-CIO. The millions raised by Move.ong were not reinvested in a lasting peace constituency. There was no Soros endowment. The political consultants turned a blind eye to the existence of the obvious peace bloc that was critical to winning. To this day, the peace movement is an unrecognized constituent force in the country. Its voice is utterly excluded from the inner circles of national security discussions.
Until this imbalance is corrected, the spectrum of “legitimate” opinion always will tilt toward the military option. And, like the legend of Sisyphus, peace advocates always will start at the bottom of the hill.
Long wars require a long peace movement.