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.


<blockquote>Dear Member, The war in Iraq is entering its fifth year, and the presidential primary season is well underway. As in 2006, Iraq will surely be the top issue in the upcoming election, but many people are still getting to know where the candidates stand on ending the war. We've created a website to describe their positions, and the exciting part is that the research on the candidates will not come from "experts" but from members. It's kind of like Wikipedia, where everyone can contribute. That's where you come in. We need volunteers to fill the site with information. You might spend an hour looking at a candidate's historical statements on the war and put them in a timeline. Or you could search for speeches on the topic by all the candidates and post any video you find. Putting all of this information in one place will really help MoveOn members understand who best represents their views, and it will be fun! Can you pitch in an hour or two to help? </blockquote> **************** Wow, that's exciting! Oh, wait...I forgot we already have Congresspedia.

that we remain together. that we moveon members, that we democrats, progressives, dnc, dlc, all factions, organizations, internet sources and groups maintain all that we have in common and share especially in opposition to our american invasion of sovereign iraq. we agree more than we differ. this administration, this corporate structure worldwide pays attention to "how we are." at risk of paranoaia i urge caution we not be so readily divided or be afraid of disagreement between us. and not present any false face of unity, also, when we do disagree. remember that we are the majority in our congress. we are moving toward more opportunity to unite, vote and win! we can maintain what we've gained and continue building on it. for moveon to contain us all and provide for us great avenues and outlets for hope, descension and expression-largely united!-is invaluable. i can only thank moveon.

Move On masquerades as an umbrella for all the important issues but they don't really care about the issues. When presented with opportunities in line with their core agenda, they won't get involved unless they CONTROL the venue, message and event. They are in it for the money and the power. They are not in it for the good of the Country. When you wake up and figure that out, you'll put your passion and energy into something REAL.

Thank you for this article. It is extremely helpful to call out those that are siding with the war bringers and sustainers. Yes, moveon is playing a dangerous game at the expense of the deaths of hundreds of US troops and tens of thousands of Iraqi deaths. They are a thorn in the side of progress. They muddy the waters, and keep their members in the dark. OK, maybe it's not completely dark with all those candles. While traditional faxing and calling reps is still needed, here is an alternative to holding a candle in the wind: The Occupation Project - a campaign of sustained nonviolent civil disobedience to end any additional funding of the war and an analysis that is similar to what is offered here by Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber by a person with the Occupation Project. And here is a link to a video of a recent "haunting" action that constitutes what I believe will become a next step taken by a small but highly dedicated portion of antiwar groups: Video: Protest Targets Representative Ehlers' Support of the Iraq War

Why won't MoveOn move forward? Because it was founded and is controlled by a couple well-to-do Democrats - Wes Boyd and his ilk - who would like to avoid at all costs embarrassing other wealthy Democrats. Publicising the Lee Amendment would do just that - make the Dems who vote it down (which would be almost all) look bad in the eyes of MoveOn's rank-and-file constituency. That is the last thing they want. From its inception, MoveOn has been nominally anti-war, and has mostly functioned as a mechanism to draw progressives into the Democratic Party - where all social movements go to die. A giant case in point was in 2004, when MoveOn played a hefty role in the implosion of the anti-war movement into the Kerry campaign, which almost fatally crippled the movement for over two years. I unsubscribed from MoveOn long ago because of their unprinicpled politics; namely, the fact that they subordinate ending the war to getting (often pro-war) Democrats elected to office.

Such a cynical political strategy of 'running out the clock' is 1. gutless, 2. will facilitate (if not directly cause) more American 'working class' soldiers' and Iraqi deaths, and 3. run the SUBSTANTIAL RISK that Bush will use the extra time on the clock to launch nuclear war on Iran ----- in which case all bets are off.

Wesley Clark stated it very well: 'all the candidates are subjugate to NY jewish money interests'. These interests are pushing war on Iran and they see no reason to stop the presses over the tragedy they caused in Iraq. MoveOn is playing the "Not too fast Out of Iraq" and "Everything on the Table" game. Every Democratic candidate is therefore a war-monger in regards to Iran, and they better not vote to immediately de-fund the war in Iraq. This explains the intellectually obscene way that MoveOn, as part of the House of Israel, advocates for wider war in the Middle East. The Iraqis have been Crucified, their country destroyed like Lebanon. Don't Crucify Iran Next!

Salon.Com "MoveOn Moves in with Pelosi" By Farhad Manjoo March 23, 2007 What precipitated the recent scuffle between MoveOn and its former allies was an e-mail that Pariser sent to MoveOn's members on Sunday, March 18, asking them to help guide the group's position on the war debate in Congress. As Salon's Michael Scherer has noted, the e-mail read like a push poll; Pariser described Pelosi's plan and Bush's opposition to it, and made only cursory mention of progressives' concerns. He did not describe plans floated by members of the House's Out of Iraq Caucus that would have funded a quick withdrawal from Iraq. "Should we support or oppose the Democrats' plan?" Pariser asked in the e-mail. Slightly more than a hundred thousand MoveOn members voted in the poll. The vast majority -- 84.6 percent -- sided with "the Democrats." It reads like a Soviet ballot," says John Stauber, the founder of the Center for Media & Democracy, whose harsh indictment of MoveOn's survey has been a hot item on lefty blogs this week. If Pariser had more thoroughly educated members about all of the positions in the debate, many would have voted against the Pelosi plan, Stauber says. More important, MoveOn could have helped the chances of an amendment by Reps. Barbara Lee, Maxine Waters and Lynn Woolsey, leaders of the Out of Iraq Caucus, that called for withdrawal of all troops by the end of 2007. "They could have put out an alert to 3.2 million people across the country and said, 'If you do anything tomorrow, get up and call your representatives and tell them to support the Lee Amendment,'" insists CodePink's Gail Murphy. "They've got millions of dollars. If they put their money toward stopping this war, we'd have a lot more leadership in the Democratic Congress toward stopping this war." But MoveOn didn't stump for the Lee plan, and it died in committee. ...