The peace movement has made significant progress in the United States since its low point of late 2008, and just about everything anyone in it has done has been a contribution. If everyone keeps doing what they're doing, and more of it, we might just end some wars, eventually. But I think some techniques are working better than others, and that pursuing the most strategic approaches would make victory likelier sooner and longer-lasting when it comes.
I think the peace movement bottomed out in late 2008 for two reasons above all others. One was the election of a Democratic president. I wasn't around for Wilson, FDR, or LBJ, but my impression is that electing Democratic presidents is often bad news for both peace and, paradoxically, for the peace movement. But both can eventually recover. The other reason was the unconstitutional and uncertain treaty that Bush and Maliki created, requiring the complete end of the Iraq occupation following three more years of it. The agreement actually made this delay a year and a half, rather than three years, by making the treaty breakable through a vote of the Iraqi people (the outcome of which could not be doubted). However, that was denied to them. While the US peace movement had always demanded an IMMEDIATE end to the war in Iraq, and might have been expected to go on doing so, the combination of a written deadline and the ascension of a Democrat to the throne proved deadly, even as the occupation of Iraq continued and that in Afghanistan escalated.
We now have a larger and more costly military, and larger and more costly wars -- costly in financial terms -- than when Bush was president. We have more troops in the field, more mercenaries in the field, bases in more nations, a heightened use of drone strikes into additional countries, new secret military forces in still other nations, and greater war powers assumed by the president, including the power to assassinate Americans, the more firmly established powers to imprison without charge, rendition, and torture, and heightened powers of secrecy.
So, why do I say we've made progress? Well, I said we've made progress from where we were in late 2008, at which point the downward trends I've just mentioned could be foreseen. We'd just elected a president promising a larger military and an escalation in Afghanistan. Since then, the U.S. public has turned dramatically from supporting to opposing the war in Afghanistan and the President's handling of it. The planned escalation in Kandahar has failed to get off the ground. Every official governmental and non-governmental study has deemed the effort in Afghanistan hopeless, pointless, catastrophic, or criminal. High ranking whistleblowers have spoken out. The Pentagon has resorted to wild claims of mineral wealth, as it flails about for new ways to justify the war. And the blame game, surrounding the eventual withdrawal, has begun; the general in charge has been dismissed. In addition, the withdrawal dates that people associate with Iraq and Afghanistan (out of Iraq by the end of 2011, beginning to get out of Afghanistan by July 2011) are closer, meaning that outrage at their violation is closer.
At the same time, counter-recruitment efforts in the United States have begun achieving real successes, forcing the closure of the Army Experience Center in Pennsylvania and denying recruiters students' test data in Maryland. US troops have begun refusing illegal orders in greater numbers, and a culture of troop resistance coffee houses near US bases has been reborn. The economic slide in the United States, while in no sense desirable, and hurting the ability of some of us to be engaged in the movement, is opening people's eyes to the impact of the war economy on the peace economy, and allowing coalitions to be formed of groups that want to defund wars and the military plus groups that want to fund everything else: healthcare, schools, jobs, green energy, etc. Resolutions against war spending are being passed by political parties, towns, cities, and labor councils. Cities are putting cost of war counters on city hall. A coalition of peace and social justice groups has been holding monthly vigils at congress members' local offices, with significant local impact in dozens of districts, even if less noticeable nationally than big annual marches.
During the past year and a half, numerous activist organizations and somewhat independent media outlets have shifted from supporting the war in Afghanistan to opposing it. By opposing it, they are not necessarily lobbying to defund it or taking any other steps to resist it or educate people about it, but they are officially opposed to it, meaning that they are our untapped potential waiting to be put into action. And numerous other groups, old and news, have to various degrees and in various ways become active, opposing the wars, each in their own way, and contributing to these kinds of results:
May-June 2009 - 51 Democrats vote against war funding when it's guaranteed to pass; 32 vote against it when it might fail.
Late June 2009 - 131 Democrats vote for the Pentagon to produce an exit strategy, any exit strategy, for Afghanistan.
March 2010 - 65 Democrats vote to end the war in Afghanistan by the end of 2010.
July 1, 2010 - Well over 40, at least 51, and possibly 90 or more (up from 32) Democrats refuse to vote for Afghan war escalation funding, even with pleasant unrelated legislation attached, forcing House leadership to delay the bill for months and then maneuver it to passage without a vote.
July 1, 2010 - 38 Democrats (up from 32, but similarly limited to the number Speaker Nancy Pelosi would allow -- see below) vote against the Rule that effectively allows the funding bill to go forward toward becoming law.
July 1, 2010 - 25 congress members vote to cut off all funding for the war in Afghanistan. 100 vote to fund only withdrawal. And 162 (up from 131, and for a strengthened amendment) vote to require the president to present Congress with a National Intelligence Estimate on Afghanistan and a withdrawal plan and completion date, and to require that Congress vote by July 2011 "if it wants to allow the obligation and expenditure of funds for Afghanistan in a manner that is not consistent with the president's announced policy of December 2009 to begin to drawdown troops by July 2011."
Two separate events in 2009 were combined into one in 2010. First, the funding vote was held in 2009, and the peace movement pushed for No votes hard. The White House and the House leadership were forced to bribe and threaten congress members for weeks to keep the Democratic No votes down to 32. Had they reached 39 the bill would have (at least in its current form) failed, due to all the Republicans voting No because of an unrelated measure packaged into it. It was easy to see that we could get to 39 by the next "emergency" supplemental bill if we wanted to work at it. The second event in 2009 was the vote on Congressman Jim McGovern's proposal for an exit timetable. The peace movement worked hard for this and won 131 Yes votes. This generated two separate stories, and the two agendas did not come into conflict with each other.
In 2010 it was a different story. Congressman McGovern made his proposal for an exit timetable an amendment to the funding bill. So, some peace groups promoted yes votes on that amendment, some pushed for No votes on the funding, and others did both. And the pressure for No votes on the funding was felt by congress members whose constituents were organized and active. Rep. Chellie Pingree was pressured hard in Maine, and began to speak out for stopping the funding. She told General Petraeus in a hearing that he was making us all less safe (even if she did thank him three times for that "service"). And Congressman Alan Grayson, in a move I don't recall ever having seen before, set up a website for people to use in lobbying his colleagues to vote No on the funding.
If the amendments had been held back for a later date and a second event, then what happened on July 1, 2010, might have looked a little different. Progressive congress members might not have accepted a byzantine procedural maneuver that allowed the war escalation funding to be sent back to the Senate without the House actually voting on it. Or if such a procedure was tried, more of them might have voted No on the Rule allowing it. Instead, almost all the committed war opponents voted for the Rule that moved the funding along, with the double excuse that it was only a Rule vote, not a real true policy vote, and they were voting for it in order to have a chance to vote for good amendments.
And what would have happened next, if this procedure had been rejected? I can't be sure, because I don't know every crazy trick to be found in House parliamentary precedents, but one distinct possibility is that the Democratic leadership would have been forced to pass the war escalation funding on its own with mostly Republican votes, and to pass useful peaceful spending on its own with mostly Democratic votes. The war funding would then have sailed through the Senate and been signed by the President. The non-destructive spending would then have passed the Senate if its leadership had fought hard enough and been willing if necessary to throw out the filibuster rule. McGovern's exit strategy bill could then have garnered its 162 votes the next week or next month instead of being buried in the news of late-night funding passage.
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