Iraq: Why Won't MoveOn Move Forward?

MoveOn candlelight vigils
MoveOn's vigils: candles in the wind?

(NOTE: See an update on this issue at: )

This week marks the fourth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. To commemorate the occasion, the online advocacy group is organizing more than 1,000 candlelight vigils throughout the United States. "We’ll solemnly honor the sacrifice made by more than 3,000 servicemen and women, and we'll contemplate the path ahead of us," states MoveOn's website. "We cannot send tens of thousands of exhausted, under-equipped, and unprepared troops into the middle of an Iraqi civil war. ... Honor the sacrifice. Stop the escalation. Bring the troops home."

MoveOn's 3.2 million members strongly oppose any continuation of the war, and the language above seems to suggest that MoveOn's leadership agrees. But MoveOn's organizing around Iraq has become notably ambiguous lately. Although it talks in general terms about bringing the troops home, specific timetables or meaningful steps in that direction are nowhere discussed. Most strikingly, MoveOn has adamantly refused to support the Iraq amendment from Congressional Progressive Caucus leaders Barbara Lee, Lynn Woolsey and Maxine Waters, which calls for "a fully funded, and systematic, withdrawal of U.S. soldiers and military contractors from Iraq" by the end of 2007.

Politically, the Lee amendment cannot pass; fewer than 100 members of Congress are expected to vote for it. However, the same thing is true of weaker legislation that MoveOn is currently supporting, in league with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, John Murtha and David Obey. The Pelosi bill merely establishes "benchmarks" of progress in Iraq, so that all Bush has to do is certify that he is making progress on those goals to keep funding flowing for the war. Instead of withdrawing troops this year, the Pelosi bill talks about beginning to withdraw them in March 2008. Even so, it faces united Republican opposition and is not expected to pass the U.S. Senate, even if it is approved by the House of Representatives. And even if it does pass, Bush has already said he will veto it. So why was the Democratic Party leadership so determined to prevent the Lee amendment from even coming to the floor — and why has avoided even mentioning the Lee proposal to its members?

On Sunday, MoveOn distributed a survey asking its members to vote on three options: support the Pelosi bill; oppose it; or "not sure." MoveOn's Eli Pariser described the survey in an email as an opportunity for members to participate in "a big decision coming up this week. ... MoveOn is a member-directed organization — we believe that all of us, together, are smarter than any one of us." In fact, however, MoveOn's survey was designed to conceal from its members the option of supporting the stronger anti-war amendment put forth by the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

There are, of course, other ways of running a survey. When recently surveyed its members about the best way forward, they offered three choices: the Lee plan, the Pelosi plan, and the option of demanding that Congress reject any further war funding, period. Only 24 percent of TrueMajority's members supported the Pelosi plan — which appears to be the reason why MoveOn's survey gave their members no choice but the Pelosi plan.

Even MoveOn's rules for the war's fourth-anniversary candlelight vigils expressly exclude anything specifically aimed at ending it. "There are many ways to commemorate the war anniversary — but MoveOn and other coalition members are coming together around solemn candlelight vigils," explains their website. "Events other than vigils that honor the sacrifice of our servicemen and women and their families will not be publicly posted here." demonstrations call for an end to the war in 2006 activists participating in last year's anti-war petitions and rallies.

MoveOn was not always this reluctant to demand a specific and speedy timetable for ending the war. Just last year, in fact, its organizing slogan was "Out in '06." It circulated that slogan at a time when the U.S. political environment offered less realistic opportunity to end the war than it does now. Last year, the Republican Party controlled both houses of Congress along with the White House, and when Murtha called for troop withdrawal, Republicans mocked the proposal as "cutting and running." Now Democrats have retaken Congress in a watershed election in which concern about the war was the top issue on the minds of voters. According to a recent USA Today/Gallup survey, 58 percent of Americans now want U.S. troops out of Iraq within a year.

If MoveOn were serious about ending the war, now would be an opportune moment to mobilize its millions of members and make it finally happen. Instead, its current strategy is dead weight, aimed more at fooling its members into thinking they are pushing forward when in fact they are merely lighting candles. So why has MoveOn begun to blow hot and cold at the very moment when the political winds are seemingly blowing in favor of a speedy U.S. withdrawal?

The answer boils down to some breathtakingly cynical political calculations by the leadership of the Democratic Party, with which MoveOn has aligned itself.

By now even the politicians in Washington, and certainly their advisors, understand that Iraq is a lost cause. Even the Bush administration understands it. Its much-touted current "surge" is a delaying tactic, not a serious attempt to bring order to the chaos that now exists in Iraq. "Even if we had a million men to go in, it's too late now," says retired four-star Gen. Tony McPeak, who served on the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Gulf War. "Humpty Dumpty can't be put back together again." It's not a question, therefore, of whether the U.S. leaves Iraq. It's a question of when.

Bush and his advisors are continuing the war in Iraq because politically, they have no other choice. To admit defeat now would win Bush no support at all from Americans who oppose the war, and it would erase his remaining credibility in the eyes of the 35% of Americans who continue to support him.

The Democrats, however, do have a choice, and the choice that they are making is to offer symbolic statements of opposition, while in practice allowing the war to continue, and funding it. This choice is based on their realization that the war has become a political liability for Republicans. If the war ends this year, the debate during the 2008 congressional and presidential elections will turn to "who lost Iraq." If the war continues into next year, however, Democrats will benefit as the de facto "anti-war party," no matter how feckless their opposition in the meantime.

Part of this calculation is based on a common expectation, expressed by many analysts, that a U.S. withdrawal will be followed by an explosion of Iraqi-on-Iraqi bloodletting that is even worse than the current violence. "Even in the best-case scenario," says Michael Scheuer, the former chief of the CIA’s Osama bin Laden unit, "the disaster we're seeing now is nothing compared to the disaster that we'll see after we leave. The real issue here is American interest: The longer we stay, the more people we get killed. I don't think the longer we stay, the better we make Iraq. Probably the reverse."

In the short run, a U.S. withdrawal followed by the expected Iraqi national implosion will be spinnable by conservative pundits as proof that the war should have continued, and this is what Democratic politicians fear. Instead of campaigning as the party that will end the war, they are afraid that they may be labeled responsible for allowing a bloodbath to happen. But the bloodbath is happening anyway, and the longer U.S. troops stay, the worse the ultimate reckoning.

What may seem like clever politics, therefore, produces horrible policy. When politicians and advocacy groups like MoveOn play anti-war games of political theater while effectively collaborating with the war's continuation, they merely add one more deception to the layers of lies in which this war has been wrapped. Like Bush and his supporters, they are sacrificing human lives simply for the sake of perpetuating an illusion.

As several anti-war veterans' and soldiers' families organizations noted earlier this month in an open letter, "There is a tragic parallel here with the Vietnam War. The last 28,000 troops who died in that war were abandoned to political game-playing long after Congress and the President knew that it was time to bring the troops home. This was a tragedy that you must not allow to be repeated."

This commentary is a joint statement by Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber, the co-authors of books including Weapons of Mass Deception and The Best War Ever: Lies, Damned Lies and the Mess in Iraq.


...I got yesterday (3/18): <blockquote>Dear MoveOn member, We've got a big decision coming up this week, and we need to make it together, as a community. As early as Wednesday, the House may vote on a Democratic proposal on Iraq. The proposal was put together by Speaker Pelosi and Congressmen Obey and Murtha. It is going to be a close vote--the Republicans are suggesting that their members might want to read this blog post besides against it and some conservative Democrats are uncomfortable with the bill. Most, but not all, of the progressives in Congress are planning on voting for the bill. These progressives, like many of us, don't think the bill goes far enough, but see it as the first concrete step to ending the war. And President Bush is threatening to veto it for the same reason. I've told Rep. Murtha that this was a decision for MoveOn's members to make. Now I'm asking you to help make it. Should we support or oppose the Democrats' plan? Just click here to register your view: Here are a few articles you can use to get a sense of what's in the plan: * Bush: Dems Trying to Micromanage War (AP, 3/17/07) * House Panel Approves Bill to Fund War, Set Timeline (Washington Post, 3/16/07) MoveOn is a member-directed organization--we believe that all of us, together, are smarter than any one of us. Thanks for your help making this call--and for everything you do. Sincerely, --Eli and the whole Political Action Team Sunday, March 18th, 2007</blockquote> ***************** And, yup, no mention of the Lee-Woolsey-Waters amendment. I sent them a comment via their site's contact form site asking them why, and suggesting this blog post for their members to read in addition to the two articles they they recommended. Others who see this might consider doing the same.

when they sent me a begging letter ("give till it hurts") signed by then Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle. Here's what I wrote back: "Um, excuse me, I hate to be rude--and I strongly support the work you are doing--but who the hell is Tom Daschle, of all people, to be soliciting help from MoveOn members? He has given Bush absolutely everything he has asked for, and more, on a silver platter. He's one of the most spineless and servile politicians I've ever encountered. With Democrats like these, who needs Republicans? I wouldn't go near the man with a ten-foot pole--he's one of people we need to get OUT of the Senate, so we can put some real leaders in their place. Count me IN for real change and progress--but OUT for supporting the likes of Daschle. His name only sullies your campaign." I nevertheless took part in two MoveOn delegations in 2003, lobbying Senator Lugar, first to oppose the invasion (fat chance), and then again to vote no on the $80 billion to fund it (again, fat chance). At this point, though, given their behavior on the war, and during election campaigns (2004, 2006), I have completely written them off. They are worse than useless, taking their marching orders from the Democratic leadership and blowing off their members. You can't even give them your input on various issues--it's clear they made their decision at the top regardless of how members voted, and the Action Forum, where members could post comments and communicate with each other, has been disabled. By all means go ahead and contact them (as suggested above) but don't expect them to listen. Great article, John and Sheldon. Norman Solomon has had some good critiques as well over the years. We need to call bullshit on stuff like this.

Members are nothing more than bank accounts and contact information to mine. Members do not drive the organization. They ride in the back of the bus to protests designed by Move On for the glory of Move On. EVERY member of Move On needs to request to be removed from Move On's database so they cannot continue to claim 3 million members...

I quit MoveOn after the last election, when they presented us a list of Democratic priorities which (surprise!) included no mention of ending the war. The simple explanation for MoveOn's position is contained between the lines of various documents: (1) Walt and Mearsheimer's "The Israel Lobby", (2) President Carter's "Palestine Peace: Not Apartheid", (3) authors Tony Judt, Ilan Pappe, Amira Hass, Uri Avnery/Gush Shalom, Tony Kushner, Independent Jewish Voices published in The Guardian Talkback, Michael Lerner's "Not a Light Unto the Nations", Amy Goodman, Eric Alterman, Ira Chernus, Michael Levine, Netanyahu, Avigdor Leiberman, Benny Morris, Tipsy Livni, Mat Yglesias, and on-and-on. The truth is out there!

In 2003 MoveOn issued a poll in the presidential race. Saying they wanted a true majority, they claimed that they would continue to run the poll until one candidate received at least +50% of the vote. In the first run, no one came very close, but I believe Dean was leading at around 30% or so. The second time, Dean slipped and Kucinich started to gain rapidly. The poll was not repeated after that. MoveOn, like too many Americans, has no real faith in democracy or in our ability to make positive change through political risk. It's a cynical organization, well suited to our cynical times.

MoveOn's polls are frequently "<a href="">push polls</a>" whose purpose is not to elicit opinion but to shape it. Push polling has been called a "thoroughly unethical political campaign technique" by the National Council on Public Polls. MoveOn is doing great harm to the progressive and antiwar movements by wasting resources in support of policies and politicians that are not in fact supported by those movements. I wrote about the organization a number of times in 2005: <a href="">What in the hell is a content-neutral movement?</a> <a href="">MoveOn conducts a push poll on Iraq and cons its supporters</a> <a href="">What is it with MoveOn?</a> <a href="">MoveOn tiptoes around the war</a> Please do not give money to this organization if you support ending the war at the earliest possible date--or even if you support ending the war in the next decade!

Though biased, I support the Progressive Democrats of America. You don’t get a email from the man behind the curtain about the issue du jour. They have a platform on the issues built upon the input of its chapters, and they stand behind it. They have stood firm and backed Lee’s H.R. 508 (The Safe and Orderly Withdrawal resolution). They are grassroots in that the movement is built from the bottom up, and they take stand on issues and are not shy about saying what that stand is. They work to add support to the Congressional Progressive Caucus members and to expand their numbers. PDA's plan, a long term one, is to reshape the Democratic Party to be a party that speaks with the progressive voice, one that chooses citizens over the corporations. I suggest of you do not have a chapter in your CD, then you start one and start organizing. We have to build the movmement for change from the bottom up, not the top down. And though Move-on can elicit a large response and gets many donations, I believe the PDA approach is the practical, roll-up-your-sleaves-and-get-to-work strategy that will bring about change. You money is better spent funding PDA. We have to build and sustain a movement, and we have to support those who stand tall in Congress and work to elect others who will stand tall. Though I identify with many of the ideas of the Nadarites and the Greens, starting a third party is pracitcally impossible at this time in America. Let’s take the Democratic Party and refashion it around principles of a sane and shared responsibility in addressing problems, both foreign and domestic. In truth, the American people are much more progressive than even they think when asked about how they stand on issues (such as single payer health care, international cooperation, fair work rules, etc). If we can reshape the Party and election rules (such as instituting Instand Run Off Voting, and publically financed elections--see this link for the issues: the space will be made for other parties to join the game and we can get at a consensus politics where the input of all parties at least gets some hearing. We then will get to listen to the voices of the true minority rather than the minority that now rules–the corporate and monied elite, the oligarchs. See Forgive the commercial but we need to begin buiding the beast that can change the way things are now done and the PDA plan is a solid one: working inside and outside the Democratic Party for change. Addressing how the powers that be try to co-opt progressives, I should say, that even in my home state, I have seen the state party operate in much the same way. They use pseudo-progressive groups (and I am not calling Move-on pseudo-progressive or am I saying that they are used by the national party–I don’t know enough about them to make qualified statements) to try to gather the progressives under their tent so that they can use and rein in their energy for their own purposes. These psuedo-progressive groups bandy about the word “progressive” as if any grass roots group is by definition progressive. None make an across the board stand on the issues, or say exactly who they are and what they stand for. They don’t have much respect for progressives, and they see them more as a hemorrhaging cut that needs to be stopped. They tend to see them as naive and treat them as such.

MoveOn has an interesting history. It was founded by a group of business executives to promote moderate politics. It opposed progressive Democrats and conservative Republicans mainly by funding relatively conservative Democratic candidates. In its early years, it helped get several Democrats elected who went on to support going into war. It now tries to present an image of being progressive and for peace. But its background of hostility to both still comes out. So it is not really surprising that it now advocates massive funding for continued war in Iraq. It is showing its true colors. Bill Samuel, Silver Spring, MD, USA

-- And be sure to note the P.S.: <blockquote>Dear MoveOn member, The results are in from our poll on whether to support Speaker Pelosi's proposal on Iraq: 84.6% of MoveOn members voted to support the bill. 9.2% said they weren't sure and 6.2% voted to oppose it. This note from Ruel B. in California seems to sum up what most MoveOn members feel: "I agree it may not go far enough, but it is a first step. Hopefully, the first step on the road to getting out of Iraq." The media has spent a lot of time focusing on divisions between the Democrats. But the biggest division is between President Bush, who says he'll veto any timetable for exit, and the voters, who want one. It's important for the media to understand this stark contrast---can you write a letter to the editor of your local paper? Just click below: Over the last weeks, progressive members of Congress worked to make this Iraq bill a real step forward. And they succeeded, for the first time, in getting a bill with a timetable. MoveOn members have provided important support for these progressive leaders. In just the last few days, MoveOn members have sent letters, organized petition deliveries, supported ads, and made calls pushing for an end to this war. Yesterday, we received this note of thanks from Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, addressed to MoveOn members: "Thanks for everything you've done to help build the public support for Congress acting to end the war in Iraq. As someone who voted against the war, and as a founder of the Out of Iraq caucus, I would have preferred to redeploy our troops long ago. I am pleased, however, that for the first time, the debate is no longer about "if" but rather "when" our presence in Iraq will end. This is an important first step on the road home for our troops. Now, the choice is clear: we can either allow the President to continue his open-ended war or we can demand accountability by putting an end to this misguided war. The stakes are enormously high. Thanks for all you do." And we got this note to MoveOn members from Congressman John Murtha, who has been one of the strongest voices against the war: "Thank you for helping make this bill the strongest it could be--your voices helped us get a plan that will end the war. All of us want to bring our brave men and women home from Iraq as soon as possible. While the bill may not go as far as some of us would prefer, it is a necessary step toward a safe and responsible end to the war. Bush is threatening to veto and the Republicans unanimously voted 'NO' in full committee. Let's join together and take the necessary step forward." But most important, here is what some of you said about why you voted to support the plan yesterday: It will be a huge step forward to pass legislation opposed to the war in Iraq. Those who want more still need to back this important step. The Bush administration is counting on the wide spectrum of opinion on the war among Democrats to prevent passage of such legislation. We need to prove that Democrats can unite on core principles.--Jeanetta M., Connecticut We have got to be very careful about dividing and self destructing. Let's not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.--Sheila C., New Mexico I voted for the plan, somewhat reluctantly. I'd like to see a resolution for strengthening diplomatic engagement along with diminishing military efforts.--Frank B., California Getting out now would be even better, but we need a large consensus vote from all opponents, not a symbolic minority vote. Bush is going to veto the resolution anyway, but we will have marked an important milestone if this resolution passes. It will be a precedent, and that's highly important.--Stephen F., Indiana Reading through thousands of the comments, it was amazing how much most of us are on the same page. MoveOn members are clear--this is about whether we set a timeline to withdraw or whether the President succeeds in waging a war without end. Now we have to make sure the media understands that, too. The opinion pages are the most popular pages in the newspaper, and if thousands of us write, we can help shape public opinion. Even if your letter isn't published, it shows editors how folks really feel and influences the way they cover stories. It only takes a few minutes, and we've included some points to help you put it together at the link below. Click here to get started on a letter to the editor: Thanks for all you do. --Eli, Nita, Tom, Carrie and the Political Action Team Tuesday, March 20th, 2007 P.S. Some of you have asked whether we support the Lee Amendment, a proposal that would accelerate the end of the war. Of course we do--we'd love for the proposal to bring our troops home sooner, and MoveOn members are pretty clear on that point. We've been fighting for as strong a bill as possible. Right now, the Lee Amendment is not being offered, but if it comes up, we'll definitely encourage Congress to vote for it.</blockquote> **************** Now we can't say they <i>totally</i> ignored the Lee amendment. I guess we mustn't let the half-full become the enemy of the half-empty, or vice-whatever.

MoveOn confirmed to me that about 126,000 of their 3.2 million members voted in their survey. Not only was the survey slanted, 96% of the MoveOn members didn't vote. No doubt the vast majority ignored the email and didn't even open it. This is the opposite of democracy and accountability.