Calling out on Afghanistan

Protesters organized by in Los Angeles in July 2007 (David McNew/Getty)

Protesters organized by in Los Angeles in July 2007 (David McNew/Getty)

Anti-war activist Tom Hayden is taking to task for remaining silent about the Obama Warz.

The most powerful grassroots organization of the peace movement, MoveOn, remains silent as the American wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan simmer or escalate.

The executive director of MoveOn, Justin Ruben, met with President Obama in February, told the president it was “the moment to go big,” then indicated that MoveOn would not be opposing the $94 billion war supplemental request, nor the 21,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, nor the increased civilian casualties from the mounting number of Predator attacks.

I’ve mentioned this before: the startling lack of indignation by the anti-war left over our current course in Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Obama wins, and the most influential online liberal organization obediently shuts up. Remember, we’re going to be in Iraq and Afghanistan at least until 2019. We still have over 130,000 soldiers in Iraq and we’ll have close to 70,000 in Afghanistan by the end of the year. (Which rivals the highest total number of Americans deployed overseas in the past eight years.)

Why has it been so easy for MoveOn to just, uh, move on, from what had been their signature issue of the Bush era? Part of it has to do that with the fact of an all volunteer force, the war is solely a political issue for them. (For the most part.) No skin is on the line for the folks at MoveOn; they don’t have to fight the war, and never really feel the impact of it. There’s not a draft, no real sense on the home front that we’re a country at war. So it’s much easier to give Obama the benefit of the doubt when a sudden silence in opposing the conflicts can be rationalized away as an expedient political position, despite all the worrying signs that these wars are nowhere near conclusion. The issue becomes intellectual, not actual. It’s easy to make political compromises when only your principles are at stake.


About michaelhastings

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13 Responses to Calling out on Afghanistan

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  2. Laurie Essig says:

    Why indeed is the anti-war movement so silent? Perhaps because every time anyone criticizes Obama’s continuation of Bush’s policies, we are accused of being everything from closeted Clintonites to useless cynics in what is “clearly movement forward.”

    But not criticizing Obama just because he is such an improvement over Bush is like saying it’s okay to be punched in the face because it’s better than being kicked in the groin. Bad is bad and bad policy and immoral wars remain so regardless of who is behind them.

  3. Part of the reason the left has no pull in American politics is precisely this kind of stuff. They never hold anyone’s feet to the fire, so pols believe, rightly, they can leave them hanging with no consequences.

  4. Michael Hastings says:

    Laurie, Joseph–thanks for weighing in.

    It’s sort of perplexing. MoveOn got its power from its antiwar stance, and we all know if McCain had won, they’d still be very vocal about Iraq/Af/Pak.

    MoveOn surely helped the Dems win in ’06 and BHO in ’08, thanks to the antiwar feel. But those two electoral wins have left us with…two ongoing wars…So they helped get the Dems elected on the war, but haven’t been able to actually do anything more than that. The Dems, w/o having their feet held to the fire as JC say, have reverted back to their safe pro/war-status quo political fetal position, where they hid from ’01 to ’04…Until it was safe to be against the war w/o actually doing anything about it…

  5. Brian In NYC says:

    Obama campaigned on stepping up the effort in Afghanistan. is not an anti-war organization, it’s a liberal political action committee that was formed in response to the attempt to impeach Bill Clinton. Being a liberal does not mean you’re a pacifist.

    • Michael Hastings says:

      Points taken Brian, though MoveOn came to prominence because of their anti-war stance. And what have they delivered to their base? A war in Iraq that’s still going on, and a new and improved war in Afghanistan.

      • Brian In NYC says:

        Obama promised to end war in Iraq in 16 months. We’re 4 months into his presidency and we are reducing the troop count. I frankly don’t understand the point of your piece of Michael. Did you think the president was going to wave a magic wand on Jan. 21st and the troops would start pouring out of Iraq? The president is living up to his campaign promise on this issue, and I think you’re characterization of is just wrong.

      • Michael Hastings says:

        Brian, the point is pretty clear–that the pre-eminent anti-war voice of the past 8 years has been silent on Iraq and the escalation in Afghanistan since Obama took charge. It’s a point that Tom Hayden made, and I riffed off.

        We are not going to be out of Iraq in 16 months; the Army just announced plans to keep a significant number of troops there until at least 2019. MoveOn’s was fairly strident in their criticism of Petraeus–they haven’t said peep about him since he’s become Obama’s general.

        MoveOn isn’t pacifist, but it’s not pacfist to question the rationale behind sending tens of thousands of more Americans, and spending billions of more dollars, to Afghanistan. It just means you’ve read a couple history books on what happened to the last two empires who decided to spend a good chunk of time in Central Asia. And, as I said, if McCain had won(we can safely assume that his policy would look pretty much like Obama’s now)MoveOn would still be fundraising off the anti-war vote.

        The larger point is that the last two elections have been referendums on the Iraq war, yet the Iraq war is nowhere near ending. That is a choice. An order, not a magic wand is needed. Obama could end the war pretty quickly if he wanted to, but the military is advising him to take even more time, and spend another decade in Iraq.

      • Brian In NYC says:

        I’ve seen nothing from the president to indicate that he’s rethinking his 16 month commitment to ending our involvement in combat operations in Iraq.

        This member (since it’s founding) of would be very disappointing if we abandoned the people of Afghanistan to the Taliban. And your characterization of “pre-eminent anti-war voice of the past 8 years” just doesn’t jibe with the facts. From moveon’s web site:

        “The MoveOn Peace campaign was founded independently by Eli Pariser, a Maine native and recent graduate of Simon’s Rock College of Bard. In the days following September 11th, 2001, he launched an online petition calling for a restrained and multi-lateral response to the attacks, which was quickly signed by more than half a million people.”

        In case you hadn’t realized our involvement in Afghanistan is of a multilateral nature, though not as much as I or the president would like to see. As I said I find your take (and Mr. Hayden’s) and expectation of moveon to be just wrong.

  6. Jeff McMahon says:

    You make an important point about the draft, Michael. It’s necessary not just to affect the anti-war folks in visceral ways, but a fair and equitable draft would also put the children of the wealthy at risk. Imagine how peaceful we might become then. And whoulda thunk it: that 40 years after the burning of draft cards, it would become clear that peace might be served by a draft.

    • golikehellmachine says:

      This is nonsense. Subjecting the children of the wealthy to a draft is no better than the children of the poor making up the majority of the voluntary military. You’re essentially saying, “Since it’s mostly the poor dying in these wars, let’s throw some rich bodies into graves, too”, which undermines the entire point of the anti-war effort. It may feel nice and satisfying to condemn an entirely different demographic to PTSD, amputations, death and the like, but it’s equally deplorable.

  7. Pingback: Peace and Justice Movement Pulled a Rumsfeld–It’s Time to Recover « Return Good for Evil

  8. Pingback: Peace and Justice Movement Pulled a Rumsfeld–It’s Time to Recover « Get Afghanistan Right

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