How the antiwar left lost the war

A few short months ago, the anti-war left was feeling its oats. On campuses around the country, professors were receiving letters asking them to steer students to “a major new organizing initiative to end the War in Iraq — Iraq Summer.”

“Many of you will remember Mississippi Summer that helped pass the civil rights laws, and Viet Nam Summer that helped end the Viet Nam war,” the letter read. “Iraq Summer will be the 21st century edition of those historic projects.”

The letter explained that a coalition under the banner Americans Against Escalation in Iraq (AAEI), and in close association with, was gearing up “to deploy 110 organizers to Districts (sic) of critical House and Senate Republicans who still support he President’s disastrous policy in Iraq. Their job will be to execute a national program to help fracture critical elements of the Republican base of support for the war by early fall. … AAEI plans to demand that by late August every one of these Republicans are (sic) forced to ‘Take a Stand’ — to break their ties with Bush’s war.”

In May, The Washington Post reported that as much as $12 million would be spent on a three-month campaign of demonstrations, mass phone-calling to congressional offices, television and radio ads, and other forms of political pressure, all guided by top pollsters and public relations firms. Thomas Matzzie, director of both AAEI and Washington director of Political Action, told the Post: “Our job is to focus on Republicans. How can we juice up attacks on them?”

By late June, Iraq Summer was seen as a juggernaut. As one wire service reported: “Even senior Republicans have said they expect the president will have little choice but to make adjustments in the Iraq strategy” by September.

What went wrong for the anti-war left? How did they end up further from their goal then when they began? Why is Congress now less likely than it was before Iraq Summer began to cut off funding for the war or legislate timetables for withdrawal? Why are the polls showing fewer Americans convinced that defeat in Iraq is inevitable, and more saying that the new strategy being implemented by Gen. David Petreaus deserves support?

The primary reason is that Petraeus and his troops have made real gains on the ground in Iraq. Working hand-in-glove with Iraqis, they have smashed al-Qaeda’s Iraqi infrastructure and begun to confront the Iranian-backed death squads.

Witnesses to this shift have included Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack, scholars at the liberal Brookings Institution, two of The New York Times’ top reporters, John Burns and Michael Gordon, and a number of Democratic congressmen led by Rep. Brian Baird — who voted against U.S. intervention in Iraq but who opposes a precipitous retreat now, a time when, he says, success seems possible and the consequences of retreat would be “catastrophic.”

Progress in Iraq has been given short shrift by most of the major media. But the news has been spread by the alternative media: opinion journals, blogs and talk radio. At the same time, groups supporting the Petraeus mission and opposed to America’s defeat in Iraq – it would not be merely “Bush’s defeat” — decided not to sit on their porches as the Iraq Summer heated up.

Venerable organizations such as the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars have spoken up clearly. Young and energetic groups such as Vets for Freedom, and Families United for Our Troops and Their Mission made sure elected officials would hear not only from far-left protestors and college students on the AAEI payroll. They were joined by such spirited organizations as Freedom’s Watch, Gathering of Eagles, Move America Forward, Concerned Women For America, and American Values. Hundreds of members of these groups gathered in Washington this week to rally and buttonhole their representatives.

One more thing: The anti-war movement made a strategic error by aiming not to persuade but to punish; not to debate but to coerce and bully. This approach reached its peak — or rather its nadir — with’s full-page ad accusing General Petraeus of “betraying” his country for daring to say that continuing to fight al-Qaeda and Iranian-backed militias is preferable to ceding Iraq to these enemies of America.

In the end, the ad has damaged much more than Petraeus. And it forced the group’s Democratic allies in Congress to be the ones who had to “Take a Stand” — to either denounce’s slander, or tacitly endorse left-wing McCarthyism. As you doubtless know by now, profiles in courage were few and far between.

(Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism.)


  1. Electric Bill

    Jesus Christ, these neo-con assholes like Clifford May flog O’Hanlon and Pollack like they flog religion and patriotism. O’Hanlon and Pollack were big-time war supporters well before their “fact finding mission” to Iraq. The left is alive and well. Some liberals might be a bit dazed, but the left is OK. May is, as usual grasping at straws, maybe so he can drink some more Bush Kool-Aid from his nice Dick Cheney sippie. The MoveOn ad is a lot more accurate and truthful than Ari Fleischer’s Freedom Watch’s sappy commercials.

  2. SEAL

    Yeah, but May has a big bullhorn to preach with. People will read and accept it as truth because it is in print. The corupt media contiues to give voice to all these Bushies and that is the real problem.

    If the democrat controlled congress had prevented the legislation that allowed corporate control of the media during the Reagan presidency we would not be in Iraq today. I still cannot understand why they passed that damn bill into law.

    Any idiot smart enough to get themselves elected to congress would know what would be the result conglomerate ownership of the media. Besides, it went against every principle of our constitutional protections to fail to insure a free press.

  3. Klaus Hergeschimmer

    And Bill Clinton was also enabling corparate media scum mergers by pushing the 1996 Telecommuncations bill.

    The only interest those Groups Cliffy May mentioned have about telling the ‘real’ truth is to aid and abet the Neo-Cons PNAC Scam for conquest & oil by having anyone but themselves spill blood for it.

    I heard Cliffy on an NPR show debating some anti-occupation guests and Cliffy was all huffy and impatient about his point of view -almost like he had a hard time believing it himself.

    I just love Cliffy’s “venerable organizations” such as Veterans of Foreign Wars -Right Cliffy, VOFW officially tow the Bush line, -line, sinker & hook.

    Cliffy, you are so fatuous and laughable with your phoney epiphanies of ‘truth’. Cliffy, I think it’s about time you got your Pink Ass Over in Iraq if you think it is getting so much better there.

    Come on Cliffy, you go over to Iraq, rent a Hummer, patrol the streets (out of the green zone) and give us first hand accounts of how much ‘safer’ it is over there. We all fully appreciate that your the ‘General Patton’ of Iraq occupation proponents -Come on Cliffy, show us what your made out of…pretty please with sugar on it!!!