Naomi Klein and Jeremy Scahill:
Anti-war campaigners have to change electoral tactics
This article appeared in the Guardian on Wednesday March 26 2008 on p28 of the Comment & debate section. It was last updated at 10:08 on March 26 2008.
Neither Clinton nor Obama has a real plan to end the occupation of Iraq, but they could be forced to change position
'So?" So said Dick Cheney when asked last week about public opinion being overwhelmingly against the war in Iraq. "You can't be blown off course by polls." A few days later, his attitude, about the fact that the number of US soldiers killed in Iraq has reached 4,000, displayed similar levels of sympathy. They "voluntarily put on the uniform," the vice-president told ABC news.
This brick wall of indifference helps explain the paradox in which we in the US anti-war camp find ourselves five years into the occupation of Iraq: anti-war sentiment is as strong as ever, but our movement seems to be dwindling. Sixty-four per cent of Americans tell pollsters they oppose the war, but you'd never know it from the thin turnout at recent rallies and vigils.
When asked why they aren't expressing their anti-war opinions through the anti-war movement, many say they have simply lost faith in the power of protest. They marched against the war before it began, marched on the first, second and third anniversaries. And yet, five years on, US leaders are still shrugging: "So?"
That's why it's time for the anti-war movement to change tactics. We should direct our energy where it can still have an impact: the leading Democratic contenders.
Many argue otherwise. They say that if we want to end the war, we should simply pick a candidate who is not John McCain and help them win: we'll sort out the details after the Republicans are evicted from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Some of the most prominent anti-war voices - from MoveOn.org to the Nation, the magazine we both write for - have gone down this route, throwing their weight behind the Obama campaign.
This is a serious strategic mistake. It is during a hotly contested campaign that anti-war forces have the power to actually sway US policy. As soon as we pick sides, we relegate ourselves to mere cheerleaders.
And when it comes to Iraq, there is little to cheer. Look past the rhetoric and it becomes clear that neither Barack Obama nor Hillary Clinton has a real plan to end the occupation. They could, however, be forced to change their positions, thanks to the unique dynamics of the prolonged primary battle.
Despite the calls for Clinton to withdraw in the name of "unity", it is the very fact that Clinton and Obama are still fighting it out, fiercely vying for votes, that presents the anti-war movement with its best pressure point. And our pressure is badly needed.
For the first time in 14 years, weapons manufacturers are donating more to Democrats than to Republicans. The Democrats have received 52% of the defence industry's political donations in this election cycle - up from a low of 32% in 1996. That money is about shaping foreign policy and, so far, it appears to be well spent.