Making Peace With the War in Iraq?




S

adly,
two years after the invasion of Iraq, the online powerhouse MoveOn.org—which
built most of its member base with a strong antiwar message—is
not pushing for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. With a network
of more than three million “online activists,” the MoveOn
leadership the MoveOn website has continued to bypass the issue—even
after Rep. Lynn Woolsey and two dozen cosponsors in the House of
Representatives introduced a resolution in late January calling
for swift removal of all U.S. troops from Iraq. 


That
resolution would seem to be a natural peg for the kind of kinetic
activism that established MoveOn’s reputation. A movement serious
about ending U.S. military activities in Iraq could use the resolution
as a way to cut through political tap dances and pressure members
of Congress to take a stand. 


But
in recent weeks, the word “Iraq” appeared on the MoveOn.
org home page only in a plug for a documentary released last year.
Inches away, a blurb has been telling the website’s visitors:
“Support Our Troops: Contribute your frequent-flyer miles so
that American troops can get home.” 


Why
won’t MoveOn support a pullout of our troops from Iraq? “We
believe that there are no good options in Iraq,” MoveOn.org’s
executive director, Eli Pariser, told me. “We’re seeing
a broad difference of opinion among our members on how quickly the
U.S. should get out of Iraq. As a grassroots-directed organization,
we won’t be taking any position which a large portion of our
members disagree with.” 


In
sharp contrast, early in the 2004 primary campaign, MoveOn committed
itself to endorsing any Democratic presidential candidate receiving
more than 50 percent of the Internet ballots cast by its activists.
(Howard Dean fell shy of a majority, so there was no MoveOn endorsement.)
But now, evidently, a majority of MoveOn members in favor of swift
withdrawal from Iraq would be insufficient if a “large portion”
disagreed. 


When
I asked Pariser for clarification, he replied: “We’ve
been talking with our members continuously on this issue. We’ve
surveyed slices of our membership in January and in December and
surveyed our whole membership last spring. That’s how we know
there’s a breadth of opinion out there.” But any surveying
of “slices of our membership in January and in December”
came before the Woolsey resolution offered an opportunity to find
out how the MoveOn base views the measure. If MoveOn leaders were
willing to submit the House get-out-of-Iraq resolution to MoveOn’s
rank-and- file in an up-or-down vote, the chances of a substantial
majority would be excellent. 


The
29 members of the House now sponsoring the resolution are hardly
radicals. They recognize the kind of grisly consequences of equivocation
that occurred during the Vietnam War: Refusal to speak forthrightly
about the urgent need to end military involvement only fuels the
war’s deadly momentum. 


It’s
very helpful to excoriate President Bush for his many big lies in
the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq. But such activities don’t
make up for going along with the basics of the present-day Iraq
war. Ironically, a group that became an Internet phenom by recognizing
and filling a void is now creating one. Other groups are bound to
emerge to fill it. 



A

mong
the emerging organizations is Progressive Democrats of America (www.pdamerica.org),
a fledgling national group with an activist focus on the Iraq war.
“We’re organizing a new campaign in every Congressional
District we can to call for the end of funding for war and occupation,
and for the transfer of reconstruction assistance to Iraqis themselves,”
says Tim Carpenter of PDA. He contends that “public pressure
can awaken Congress to an opposition role.” 


War
in Iraq requires continual funding and Bush’s new supplemental
boost of $80 billion in war appropriations has been moving through
Congress in recent days. Tacitly accepting the war’s continuation,
MoveOn declined to take a stand against the essence of congressional
backing for the war—the money that keeps paying for it. Meanwhile,
PDA launched an effort against the $80 billion; the organizing included
a National Call- In Day to members of Congress on March 10. 


Peace
advocates do a lot more than shrug when an antiwar organization
starts to get lost. If MoveOn continues to abandon its antiwar base,
that base will get the picture—and move on.





Norman Solomon’s
latest book,



War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits
Keep Spinning Us to Death



, will be published in early summer.