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The Democrats Don’t Own the Antiwar Movement

by BRUCE K. GAGNON

South Korean peace activists recently held a protest during U.S.-South Korean military exercises in their country. The U.S. is now expanding military bases, taking over farm lands in South Korea, and dramatically increasing its military presence throughout the Asian-Pacific region. The island of Guam is now undergoing major military expansion of U.S. operations there. All of this is intended to surround, and ultimately provoke, the Chinese government to enter into an escalating arms race. U.S. military industrial complex is counting on major profits from the process. The Democrats are silent about this military strategy.

Italian activists are also outraged and organizing opposition to U.S. plans to expand its military base in Vicenza. In February 200,000 Italians protested in Vicenza against the base expansion. The Democrats in Congress, with the exception of a few like Rep. Dennis Kucinich, are silent about this.

In our local Portland, Maine newspaper on May 6 the editorial page editor explained why the paper had last week announced they had decided to come out against the war in Iraq after long supporting Bush’s shameful and illegal occupation. The editor said, “We’ve not renounced our belief in American exceptionalism. Speaking for myself, I’ve withdrawn my support for the war for pragmatic reasons, not because my underlying world view has changed. I believe we should use our strength as the world’s only military superpower with great caution, but I do believe we should use it…..Our nation has a unique role in the world, and with it come unique responsibilities and unique privilege.”

In other words he supports U.S. empire and all that comes with it. The bases, the killing, the domination of cultures is all acceptable. In this case he is “withdrawing” his support for Bush’s Iraq operation primarily because “this war has been mismanaged by the president to the point where turning things around is impossible.”

This is largely the Democratic Party position as well. The war is not necessarily bad, the U.S. has the right and responsibility to take out anyone that we decide should be eliminated, but it must be handled well so that world opinion and the American people do not turn against the policy. (You might call it Winning Without an unpopular War.) In this case Bush and his crew “mismanaged” the operation. It reminds me of the 2004 debates between Bush and John Kerry when Kerry said he’d do a better job of “killing terrorists” than Bush would and that he’d spend “$100 billion more on the military” than Bush would. Kerry would do the war/occupation better than the Republicans.

The New York Times ran a story May 6 called With New Clout, Antiwar Groups Push Democrats. In the first sentence of the story the Times reports that, “Every morning, representatives from a cluster of antiwar groups gather for a conference call with Democratic leadership staff members in the House and the Senate.”

The “anti-war” groups the article refers to are not your standard, every-day peace group, that have long been working to end the war. They are talking about more recently formed groups, funded with more than $7.1 million since January, to go out and take control of the anti-war message and to capture the bulk of mainstream media coverage about the anti-war movement. Thus groups like Win Without War, Americans Against Escalation in Iraq, National Security Network, MoveOn, and others are being heavily funded by foundations close to the Democratic Party and are being largely directed by Democratic Party strategists.

The Times reports, Rodell Mollineau, a spokesman for Senate Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid’s office, “said the coalition amplifies what Democrats are trying to do in Washington to end the war.” “It helps us reverberate a unified message outside the Beltway.” “These groups give voice to a message we’re trying to get outside.”

The unified message that the Democrat leaders are talking about is that the mess in Iraq is all the fault of George W. Bush and the Republicans in Congress. This theme is now dominating the work coming out of these Democratic Party front groups and their job is to make sure that no one points any fingers of responsibility at the Democrats in Congress who continue to fund the occupation. We are not supposed to talk about that unsettling fact.

To their credit the Times did mention that there is currently some controversy surrounding this Democratic led effort. They write, “There’s a dividing line between those groups who feel the most important thing is to be clear on bringing the troops home as soon as possible, and the groups that feel that unity within the Democratic Party is most important and the most important thing is for the Democrats to win the White House,” said Medea Benjamin, a co-founder of Code Pink, an antiwar group that is not part of the alliance. “So the groups who feel the most important thing is to win the White House would naturally be more inclined to listening to Speaker Nancy Pelosi when she says the only way we can get a vote through is if we water it down.”

When Tom Andrews, a former Democratic congressman from Maine and the national director of Win Without War, recently came to our state to organize protests in Bangor and Portland he made no attempt to contact one existing peace group in Maine. Now isn’t that a bit strange? You go into a state to organize protests against the war and you contact not one group – Peace Action Maine, Maine Veterans for Peace, Peace and Justice Center of Eastern Maine. None were invited to be involved, to offer a speaker, to help with planning, nothing.

Instead Andrews contacted the Maine People’s Alliance (MPA) which does do not anti-war work and had them serve as his base to organize the events. MPA works on social justice issues at the state level. They are strongly linked to the Democratic Party. Andrews also had the Maine Democratic Party send out emails on his behalf and then did expensive robo-calls to people in the Portland area – likely with lists provided by the Democrats and their allied organizations.

Why this particular strategy by Andrews and Win Without War? Could it be because the two rallies he organized were done in order to attack Sen. Susan Collins, our Republican senator? Andrews blistered Collins for supporting Bush’s war and for voting against the Democratic Party bill calling for an “optimal” withdrawal from Iraq.

Andrews did not contact existing peace groups in Maine because he knew that our work in the state has been bi-partisan in recent years. We have been critical of our two Republican senators for their positions on the occupation. We’ve occupied their offices. We’ve been arrested in their offices. But we’ve also been critical of our Democratic Congressman Tom Allen who has voted eight times to fund Bush’s occupation of Iraq. But Andrews does not want to talk about that fact because Rep. Tom Allen is now planning to run against Sen. Susan Collins in the next election. Thus the only politician that can be criticized publicly, according to the strategy coming out of the Democrats in Washington, is the Republican.

This is a contemptuous rewriting of reality for purely political purposes. It is arrogant and must be publicly challenged – something I have been doing in recent weeks. Sadly some loyal Democrats have accused me, as you can imagine they would, for “attacking” other peace activists. But the truth is that I have not attacked any person or any organization. In fact, all I have done is to talk publicly about the blatant manipulation that is now going on of the peace movement and the public for purely political purposes. When you come into a state and sweep aside existing groups and the work of dedicated activists you can’t be shocked when they take offense and speak up.

But frankly, I see little difference between U.S. imperialism around the world and the arrogant political imperialism of Democratic Party operatives who are well-funded and well-connected and who believe that the world is their oyster. They believe that because they have been anointed by the powerful elites within the Democratic Party they can push people aside with impunity. Like the citizens of Iraq, Guam, South Korea, or Italy one is not supposed to speak out when they are being taken over by the privileged American elites.

But the days of American exceptionalism are over. People are reacting around the world to arrogant imperialism. They are reacting in Maine and across America as the Democrats try to take over the peace movement for their 2008 electoral purposes.

In the end the Democrats will fail in their conquering mission. The peace movement belongs to no political party. It belongs to the hard-working local activists who stand on street corners day in and day out and who have built the political outrage against the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Trying to steal that prize reveals the arrogance of the Democrats.

BRUCE K. GAGNON is Coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space. He can be reached at: globalnet@mindspring.com

 

 

 

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Bruce K. Gagnon is coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space based in Brunswick, Maine.

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