Whither the Anti-War Movement?

Byron York tried to find it:

No group was more angrily opposed to the war in Iraq than the netroots activists clustered around the left-wing Web site DailyKos. It’s an influential site, one of the biggest on the Web, and in the Bush years many of its devotees took an active role in raising money and campaigning for anti-war candidates.

In 2006, DailyKos held its first annual convention, called YearlyKos, in Las Vegas. Amid the slightly discordant surroundings of the Riviera Hotel casino, the webby activists spent hours discussing and planning strategies not only to defeat Republicans but also to pressure Democrats to oppose the war more forcefully. The gathering attracted lots of mainstream press attention; Internet activism was the hot new thing.

Fast forward to last weekend, when YearlyKos, renamed Netroots Nation, held its convention in Pittsburgh. The meeting didn’t draw much coverage, but the views of those who attended are still, as they were in 2006, a pretty good snapshot of the left wing of the Democratic party.

The news that emerged is that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have virtually fallen off the liberal radar screen. Kossacks (as fans of DailyKos like to call themselves) who were consumed by the Iraq war when George W. Bush was president are now, with Barack Obama in the White House, not so consumed, either with Iraq or with Obama’s escalation of the conflict in Afghanistan. In fact, they barely seem to care.


[Democratic pollster Stanley] Greenberg asked activists to name the issue that “you, personally, spend the most time advancing currently.” The winner, again, was health care reform. Next came “working to elect progressive candidates in the 2010 elections.” Then came a bunch of other issues. At the very bottom — last place, named by just one percent of participants — came working to end U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It’s an extraordinary change in the mindset of the left. I attended the first YearlyKos convention, and have kept up with later ones, and it’s safe to say that for many self-styled “progressives,” the war in Iraq was the animating cause of their activism. They hated the war, and they hated George W. Bush for starting it. Or maybe they hated the war because George W. Bush started it. Either way, it was war, war, war.

Now, not so much.

York also writes about the subject here (“The Netroots Agenda: War? What War?“), where he notes:

Many observers have remarked that Obama’s decision to escalate the war in Afghanistan, and also to escalate the campaign of targeted assassinations using drone aircraft, both in Afghanistan and Pakistan, will cause him trouble on the political left. Indeed, some members of Congress have suggested that the president has just a year to show significant results in Afghanistan before lawmakers begin to pressure him to pull back. But if the Netroots Nation results are any indication, Obama may have more room than previously thought on the war. Not too long ago, with a different president in the White House, the left was obsessed with America’s wars. Now, they’re not even watching.

The antiwar groups are still out there of course. But nowadays the shrill voice of Code Pink is mostly ignored. Antiwar.com is still banging their drum, but it doesn’t seem like the Democratic Party at large is listening.International ANSWER is obsessed with Gaza and the “coup” in Honduras. When protesters show up for antiwar rallies, their numbers now range in the low thousands instead of the tens of thousands who regularly showed up just a few years ago. Press coverage of these events is mostly non-existent.

Many conservatives (myself included) have steadily maintained that the bulk of the “antiwar” movement was really “anti-Bush,” rooted in a political vendetta that originated with the outcome of the 2000 Presidential election. After Bush was sworn in, Democratic strategist James Carville had actually begun orchestrating a movement within the Democratic party to force as many Bush Administration policy failures as possible, regardless of cost or benefit, but his plan was interrupted by the 9/11 attacks. Bush’s electoral victory in 2004, combined with our difficulties in Iraq, sparked a renewed effort to discredit and personally destroy Bush, which remained strong until January 2009.

The evaporation of the antiwar movement at the end of Bush’s term as President — even though our war efforts still continue, and have in fact been escalating in Afghanistan and Pakistan — seems to support our assumptions. But those who will be involved in military operations in the coming years (both as combatants and as innocent civilians) will not be magically better off simply because a Democrat is now our Commander in Chief.

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