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February 5, 2007

Americans Wise Up About Iraq, No Thanks to Antiwar Movement


In late January, protesters against the Iraq war marched on Washington, as a group of speakers lambasted the Bush Administration for its conduct in Iraq and demanded the swift end to the war. At the same time, the war itself continued to deteriorate, with a growing majority of Americans wishing for its end. But those two events, indisputably, had nothing whatsoever to do with one another.  

Since the Iraq war started in March 2003, anti-war protests have periodically been held in Washington and other major cities. But as the war has gone south, so have the protests. Only about 10,000 protesters rallied at the late January event - about one-third the tally of the largest pre-war march five years ago. The American people have come around on the folly of the war – and the anti-war movement had just about nothing to do with it.

The anti-Iraq movement may be the first-ever anti-war movement that peaked before the start of the war. And this happened for many reasons. Yes, lately the general population has largely turned against the war. But it didn’t happen because they’ve suddenly turned Chomskyite. The majority of America now believes the war is wrong not because of an opposition to “American imperialist aggression,” nor, per Sean Hannity, does it support “retreat and defeat.”


Americans believe in increasing numbers that the invasion and occupation were ill-advised and bungled from the start, and that the best thing for America and the troops is that a viable exit strategy be established. But, as David Brooks recently pointed out in the New York Times, American dissatisfaction with the war in Iraq should not be interpreted as a call for the U.S. to disengage from the world – nor is it a call for an end to war itself.


Many of the groups behind the protests, including International ANSWER and Code Pink, are borderline-extremist organizations that support causes (worldwide socialism, pacifism, nukes for Iran, Hugo Chavez) that are anathema to most Americans. Their legitimacy has also been hurt by the tendency of participants to turn the protests into all-purpose rallies for lefty causes.


Most anti-war protests have as many “Free Palestine” and “Impeach Bush” signs as anything specific to Iraq. Like sports fans who boo when their team is ahead, the protesters act like losers even though they’re winning. It also doesn’t help them that the marches are filled with older people who are still living in 1968, and younger people who wish every day that they were.


You could almost say the protests damage the anti-war cause more than they help it. One of the featured speakers at the recent march, for instance, was Jane Fonda, who whatever her merits is forever hated by much of America for her foray into North Vietnam in 1972. The organizers are also shockingly inept when it comes to media savvy. On top of their nonexistent message discipline, the protesters can never prevent the majority of media coverage from making hay of the rallies’ crazy signs, goofy-looking hippies and sanctimonious celebrities.


Much as the right tries to make it appear that International ANSWER and the Democratic Party are one and the same, they are two very distinct and opposing entities whose only members in common (Dennis Kucinich, Cynthia McKinney, etc.) are on the fringes of the fringes. And this is something that the Democrats, thankfully, have begun to realize and exploit.


Delivering the Democratic response to the State of the Union address two days after the Washington rally, Virginia Sen. James Webb – a combat veteran and father of a soldier serving in Iraq – gave perhaps the Democrats’ most eloquent argument yet for a vast Iraq re-thinking. Who is more likely to convince the American middle of the correct course of action in Iraq - Jane Fonda or Jim Webb?


The protesters would like to convince us that they convinced the American public to oppose the war. The political right wants us to think that those protesters are undermining the president, the war, and thus America itself. They’re both equally wrong. The U.S. has seen the truth about Iraq with its own eyes - without any help at all from Code Pink.


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