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Posted by on Aug 11, 2011 in At TMV | 27 comments

Whither the Anti-War Movement?

At the risk of drawing the ire of both Democrats and Republicans, I’d like to direct TMV readers to an interesting YouTube clip that I recently discovered.

Back in May of this year, the RT television show, CrossTalk invited a panel to discuss the bewildering absence of the anti-war movement since the election of Barack Obama, debating whether the anti-war protests during the Bush Administration were genuinely anti-war or merely anti-Bush. Panelists included Angela Keaton, Development Director of; Thaddeus Russell, Historian and Author of A Renegade History of the United States, and Michael Heaney, Assistant Professor of Organizational Studies and Political Science at the University of Michigan.

A lot of interesting ground is covered during the 26 minute discussion, including references to Vietnam War and the role that the draft and the great numbers of casualties played in galvanizing the anti-war movement that arose during that war. Yet, perhaps of the most interesting insight came from a critique of the ‘Left’ made by Thaddeus Russell–himself a liberal–about ten and a half minutes into the discussion:

The point I want to make here today–and I think this is very important–is, it’s really about what happened with the Left and liberals, which is that they merged their identity with the head of empire during the campaign and since. And that is why they have left the anti-war movement in droves–because now they are part of the empire. They have become part of this global effort to remake the world in our image. And that is really the tragedy. The Left and liberals in this country need to really take a look close at what they did with Obama and begin to psychologically distance themselves from him. They need to start saying ‘Not in our name!’ Which is what they used to say during Bush and during Vietnam and they no longer say . . .

I’m a man of the Left. I was raised by socialists in Berkeley. I’ve always been on the Left. But I stumbled upon about three years ago and was blown away. I said ‘This is what the Left should be doing! This is what the Left should be saying!’ Libertarians and sort of paleocons–but especially libertarians like . . . like Ron Paul–have been the leading voices of the anti-war movement. They’ve been the most principled–the most consistent–no matter who’s president. They’ve been saying again and again and again, ‘These wars are disasters. The Empire must end.’ And the Left shuns them because they think they’re either shills for corporations or they’re racists or they don’t care about people. How can they not care about people if they are the leading voices against killing people in our name? So I think that what Angela’s saying is very important. I think the left-wing groups that used to dominate the anti-war movement should welcome need to welcome these very principled, very strong-willed people into the movement because they’re our allies, and they are the best allies right now.

It is sad to consider that our national debate–or lack thereof–over war is driven primarily by partisanship.

I used to marvel at the level of hypocrisy exhibited by large numbers of Republicans during the run-up to the War in Iraq–how some of the congressmen and cable news pundits who were the most vocal critics of Bill Clinton’s interventions in the Balkans turned out to be the staunchest defenders of George W. Bush’s intervention in Iraq. Within a period of less than three years, leading members of the Republican Party and the modern conservative movement suddenly morphed from staunch critics of elective wars and nation-building to defenders of such things.

But, alas, it turns out that the Democratic Party is no better. President Obama has stepped up our military involvement in Afghanistan and has continued the drone missile strikes (many of which have killed innocent civilians) in Pakistan. He has ordered our military intervention in Libya without a formal declaration of war or even a resolution from congress–something that even President Bush was not brazen enough to do–and we hear nary a peep from Democrats.

To be sure, there’s been plenty of criticism of Obama’s foreign policy offered by Democratic Congressman Dennis Kucinich and by liberal columnist & blogger Glenn Greenwald, yet few liberals or Democrats seem to care about these stories.

And who could blame them given all the other important issues that are deserving of their attention? I mean, why divert precious time and resources covering an issue that has nothing to do with Sarah Palin, the nefarious Koch brothers, or those “racist” Tea Party protesters?

Afterall, it’s only war.

UPDATE #1: It turns out that Dennis Mikolay, a columnist for the Atlantic Highlands Herald, wrote a similar article a couple of weeks ago.

UPDATE #2: In addition to the article by Dennis Mikolay, I strongly urge TMV readers to read the article written by David McElroy a couple of days ago. He covers some of the issues that I addressed and provides additional context with regards to the Obama administration’s argument that it didn’t need congressional approval to wage war on Libya (Glenn Greenwald also addresses this issue in a previous article that I linked to above).

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  • Allen

    And what you don’t see is republicans criticizing republicans and that is why they can do so much damage with such a minority. Democrat Unity is what is needed and we would have had a far better healthcare reform bill had we had it. But no, we can’t get things done because of people like you whom are still living in the sixties.

    Just look at the world economic crisis because of our economic crisis. We have already made the world in our image. Dennis Kuchinich Is an anachronism labeled “break glass in case of new wars” because the current debate has already run it’s course.

    Go away and string beads or something.

  • dduck

    When I asked the question of what happened to the war protests at a heavily Dem family gathering, you could hear a hand grenade pin drop. Blank looks, and pass the gravy, please.

  • JeffP

    It’s a fair question. I’ve been reading a little of Andrew Bacevich recently, and I concur that there is a very huge divide between our general voting public, and our professional army. And the lack of a draft, the “keep shopping” attitude and a real disconnect between sacrifice necessary in wartime, and our for-profit (almost 50% of the war effort in the recent Iraq war–Blackwater and other contractors) take any sense of urgency away from the public, where we all (Repubs and Dems) seem to buy into a bumper-sticker support-the-troops mentality which is largely divorced from the harsh realities of war.

    I applaud the libertarians and agree with their premise of the wastefulness of being the world’s police. What I can’t agree with is their position that the free-market is equated to some pure-cane capitalism which is cemented somehow to “freedom,” (thanks, Milton Freedman) which is their primary platform. It seems they have no place for a government that can provide services and safety nets for the least of us in society.

    At risk of being laughed off the forum, I have read Glenn Greenwald for years and agree with his many of his criticisms. He would not categorize himself as a “liberal,” in the same way that Andrew Sullivan considers himself conservative, too (the Goldwater type.) They have plenty of criticisms of today’s neo-conservatives but also don’t shy away from liberal criticisms.

    I shuddered when we started the Libya thing, continue to be appalled that we’re still plugging away (at what?) in Afghanistan. It was a sad day when the Republican chairman was harshly criticized because he suggested that Afghanistan was not worth the effort and that we should learn from history the same.

    We seem to like the idea of spreading democracy (let’s not call it nation-building..) but only if we can love-the-troops at an arm’s distance. My neighbor’s 8 year sign “I support my president and the troops” came down the instant Obama was elected, for example.

    If it came to a vote for a candidate who would end our endless wars, I would vote for that candidate as a single-issue candidate (shame on me.)

  • Allen said:

    And what you don’t see is republicans criticizing republicans and that is why they can do so much damage with such a minority. Democrat Unity is what is needed and we would have had a far better healthcare reform bill had we had it. But no, we can’t get things done because of people like you whom are still living in the sixties.

    Let me get this straight…

    You’re unhappy that the Democrats weren’t able to pass a better healthcare reform bill, and for that reason, we shouldn’t criticize Democrats for failing to hold President Obama to the same standards that they held President Bush?

    I fail to see the logic in that argument.

  • Dr. J

    Now Nick, no sneaky parsing Allen’s argument on him. Imagine what would happen if people on this board started reading each others’ arguments.

    Allen is deflecting the issue because the dilemma is genuine. No one likes killing people, but no one likes turning a blind eye to some dictator’s atrocities either.

    When the anti-war crowd wins office and actually has to face the dilemma, they often reach for the missiles. Just as libertarians, should they blunder into office someday, would have trouble living up to their ideals.

  • dduck

    Reality: for the foreseeable future, we will be involved in some kind of police action/supporting a humanitarian effort/protecting our interests/revenging something/war.
    No sense sticking our heads in the sand, the world will not cooperate.

  • JSpencer

    The more interesting (and relevant)question would be this: Why have all the anti-war movements over the past half century been liberal? Why no conservative anti-war movements???

  • JeffP


    I’m afraid you are correct sir.

    I wonder though, if we would be less inclined to allow a politician to decide where we battle if we citizens became the actors in war, were held responsible to maintain it, and had the direct sacrifice via a draft.

    I think it would dramatically change the nature of nation-building and policing.

  • You’re not alone in thinking this. I wrote an article on the same phenomenon just a couple of days ago, using current State Department lawyer (and former Yale Law School dean/Bush war critic) Harold Koh as the poster boy.

  • Welcome to TMV, David.
    I loved your “Who is this Guy” interview. You might want to underline the words so that it looks more a link.

  • JSpencer asked:

    The more interesting (and relevant)question would be this: Why have all the anti-war movements over the past half century been liberal?

    Actually, the Ron Paul movement has been explicitly anti-war, and it certainly cannot be classified as “liberal.” Moreover, as the video above clearly points out, libertarians (as a whole) have been far more consistently anti-war than liberals (as a whole).

    A more important question might be, “Why haven’t liberals and libertarians joined together in their common cause to oppose unjust wars?” In answer to that, I refer once again to the video above, which points outs that libertarians have attempted to work with liberals, but those on the extreme left have not reciprocated. Avowed socialist organizations like A.N.S.W.E.R. have made it clear that they consider “capitalists” to be evil imperialists and that they would rather use anti-war rallies to spread their socialist message than to make common cause with libertarians.

    I’ve actually heard stories from libertarians at who decided to attend anti-war rallies and make common cause with liberals. They showed up at the rallies hoping to spread the message of peace and tolerance but felt pretty uncomfortable standing alongside people who were actively promoting the idea that “capitalists” were the enemy.

    So you can’t really blame libertarians on this one. They were willing to put aside their difference with liberals/progressives. The same cannot be said for extremist socialist organizations like A.N.S.W.E.R.

    JSpencer asked:

    Why no conservative anti-war movements???

    Actually, during the first half of the twentieth century, conservatives were fairly non-interventionist in terms of foreign policy. A substantial number of social conservatives opposed war on religious grounds while a substantial portion of fiscal conservatives opposed war on the grounds that “War is the Health of the State.” Senator Robert Taft (AKA “Mr. Republican”) was fairly non-interventionist, but the Taft wing of the Republican Party was eventually overtaken by the Cold War wing of the party with the rise of William F. Buckley, Jr. and the National Review in the mid 1950’s.

    Ron Paul is hoping to return the party back to it’s “Taft” era–a time when being a conservative and being anti-war were not exclusive of one another. Given the current state of the Republican Party, I don’t see that happening anytime soon. However, given generational shift in attitudes (college-age Republicans tend to be more sympathetic to libertarianism in general and Ron Paul in particular than do your typicale rank-and-file Republicans), they may be hope for the future.

  • David,

    Thanks for the article and the link. I went ahead and added your link to my original post (with attribution, of course).

    Glenn Greenwald has done good work addressing the Obama administration’s argument that it didn’t need congressional approval to wage war on Libya (see link above). From what I understand, Obama consulted four of his top lawyers regarding this issue. Three of them insisted that it was illegal without congressional approval.

    So what did Obama do?

    He ignored the advice of the three lawyers who disagreed with him and simply went with the advice given by the one lawyer (Koh) who did agree with him.

    I understand that your average Democrat (or Republican) is going to be willing to overlook certain things when “their” guy is in power. But it’s things like this that has me shaking my head wondering whether partisans in the “know” have any intellectual integrity whatsoever.

    Blind partisanship truly is a disease.

  • TheMagicalSkyFather

    I have heard this question many many times and have answered it many many times and that includes on TMV. It lost motion when we split Iraq and Afgh wars, drawing one down while escalating another promising draw down, and when the claim shifted to draw down across the board. We are now in the process of draw down in both Iraq and Afgh and Libya since it is an air campaign is mostly a nonissue since the antiwar movement gets most of its funding and foot soldiers from those most concerned with US casualties.

    What is meant by this question when most other than the likes of Nick asks “isnt this proof that all antiwar protests are in reality antiGOP protests” to which the answer is again no. LBJ got “how many kids did you kill today” and Nixon expanded the war into another country and still faced less protests and venom. LBJ and Bush II started the wars while Obama and Nixon were winding them down which in each case took an incredibly long time(if draw down continues that is).

    Libya is a separate issue since much like Bosnia and Iraq prior to invasion we are killing them with little threat to our troops. It is depressing that antiwar usually means antiUS casualties but this is rather common in US history.

  • TheMagicalSkyFather

    I would also note the optics difference. Both left and right seem to accept that Obama wants to leave both Iraq and Afgh as soon as he can without paying a hefty political price. Bush II was viewed as having zero interest in ever leaving Iraq and possibly never leaving Afgh either. The way him and his admin spoke we were going to permanently have a military presence in the area which scared people into protesting the wars when in reality they were protesting occupation. Americans, sadly, take wars in stride and some even enjoy them but few support occupation which is also where Nam fell apart. If Obama began speaking like the Bush II WH did protests would come back.

  • davidpsummers

    In modern US politics, everyone is expected to sign on to a “side” and support it come whatever. This means that any policies a President might engage in that a faction of their party might traditionally oppose (such as Obama’s war policy), but they are expected to go along since stopping the “evil” of the other side is paramount.

    This is analogous to how the middle is expected to choose one side or the other on the basis of who is the “lesser of two evils” Again, they are being asked to ignore things they don’t like to stop a greater “evil”.

    In the end, this is because in a two party system, there are no other choices. No matter how much you don’t like what a party does, you have a dilemma if the other party is as bad or worse. (And, of course, each party then uses the other party to lower the bar for themselves).

    The fact is that while centrists complain a lot about the two party system, it also shuts out liberals and conservatives who don’t line up as they are “suppose to”. Many libertarians are fiscally conservative, but opposed to views of many Hawks and Social Conservatives.

  • JSpencer

    Thanks Nick for addressing my question. I too have often thought liberals and libertarians had enough overlap to become allies at times, but the all or nothing of simplex tribalism gets in the way. The Quakers have always been antiwar and many conscientious objectors going back even to WWII were Quakers. It’s good to know there are others who are willing to take anti-war stands, even though liberals have traditionally made up the great bulk of anti-war activists – at least in my lifetime.

  • TheMagicalSkyFather

    JSpencer-You do have to be careful with that though. Nixon was after all a Quaker. Yet more proof I suppose that the faith you claim is not really telling of the type of POTUS you will be.

  • gramps33


    “I applaud the libertarians and agree with their premise of the wastefulness of being the world’s police. What I can’t agree with is their position that the free-market is equated to some pure-cane capitalism which is cemented somehow to “freedom,” (thanks, Milton Freedman) which is their primary platform. It seems they have no place for a government that can provide services and safety nets for the least of us in society.”

    When are liberals going to realize that the government doesn’t “provide” anything. The government can only take things from one group of people and give it to another.When they don’t have enough to give they print which makes us all poorer. Taking my property and giving it to someone else does effect my freedom.

  • Regarding political movements and partisanship…

    I sometimes liken the anti-war movement to the Tea Party movement. There were many sincere people in the anti-war movement who opposed the Iraq War just as there are many sincere people in the Tea Party movement who oppose runaway government spending.

    Unfortunately, both movements were infiltrated by partisan hacks who were anything but sincere and served as sources of continual embarassment for their respective movements. Sadly, it’s often the activists who scream the loudest and carry the most offensive signs (i.e. “Bush is Hilter”, “Obama is Hitler”) who garner the most headlines and give the rest of the public the false impression that handful of partisan dirtbags represent the entire movement.

    People within these movements need to wary of the pretenders within their movement who merely seek to use their movement for partisan gain. At the same time, people outside the movement need to be careful not to judge the entire movement by the signs and actions of a handful of people within the movement.

    After having been vilified as “socialists” and “anti-American” by certain members of the Right, you would think that anti-war liberals would have learned this message. Unfortunately, this has not stopped many of them from employing the same tactics on their opponents, villifying Tea Party members as being “racists.”

  • JSpencer

    TMSF, Nixon was of course a QINO. 😉

  • JSpencer said:

    Nixon was of course a QINO.

    We’re all Qeynesians now.

  • DLS

    David P. Summers, don’t forget this if you have time to spare in the future. Farther lefties like Prof. Amy are the ones who push hard for proportional representation, to give them some chance of their extremist-tendency political positions and goals to win some seats in legislatures, chances that give them some minimal confidence, at least.

    Regarding the Duopoly, in the first edition of Amy’s book (the edition I bought in the mid-1990s), he used a very good example of why the Duopoly is wrong. Assuming you want to vote for or prefer a given party, if there are five issues on which there are yes-no (approve-reject) position pairs, that means there are 32 possible combinations. But there are only two parties, which is very far from 32. Few are truly going to be satisfied…

  • DLS

    Also, David, with a multi-party system and effective partisan multipolarity, it may be fascinating, resembling how the many nations of Europe worked for so long — at first.. But beware the obvious likelihood subsequent to coalition-forming of consolidation among the parties. A logical outcome is two large parties, eventually, if not only one.

  • davidpsummers

    When it comes to alternatives to the two party system, proportional representation is something I don’t have a lot of enthusiasm for, but neither am I really “against it”. I just think it will take too much of a change to have any effect (it really only could be applied as is for House races and, even then, not for the small state). Something like Instant-Runoff voting could be implemented without having to make other major changes to how the government works….

  • dduck

    Well said, Nick………………….

  • JeffP

    thanks for your thoughts.

    I figure at this stage in my life I have to work about every 3rd day as tax payments. Fully 1/3 of my time at work is for someone else. (I have to confess though that another large chunk is for the “freedom” I have to pay health insurance payments for 3 in my family, all healthy, at a proportion that would have covered my mortgage and car payments a mere 20 years or so ago…)

    So I can sympathize with the feeling of someone taking what’s mine and giving it away.

    I do believe that the government provides “something.” It is, in theory anyway, an institution comprised of myself and fellow American citizens where we attempt to come together to agree on areas where private enterprise has no desire nor incentive to provide what we need as citizens, including basic protections via laws, national security (although we saw a lot of that privatized in the latest wars,) and the guarantees of liberty that evolve and that we agree on as time progresses. That’s flowery perhaps, but reading through the Constitution makes me believe again in the human race.

    That being said, I still wonder (as I posed this question on another forum and received a great response from DLS, I’d be curious to hear from you too)

    1) is it problematic for our democracy that there is a wealth distribution that estimates that 20% of Americans own 80% of the wealth in this country, and

    2) do we feel that that wealth distribution is somehow “deserved” or has been earned, or that the 20% are somehow super-contributors to society

    3) do taxes cause decrease in investment, do they distinguish the flame of growth and development that would flourish otherwise if taxes (and regulation, for that matter, if one believes government is “the problem” instead of part of a solution) were eliminated?


    PS don’t worry about answering on this forum because it’s a different topic but catch me somewhere else where it’s relevant.

  • JSpencer

    Excellent questions Jeff, and although I’ve seen responses to those questions, none so far have been adequate to the task imo. Btw, a small quibble and this shouldn’t be construed as a criticism, I would substitute “extinguish” for “distinguish” in question 3. Thanks again for the perception and insight.

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