Are Democrat Lawmakers Immune to Public's Growing Anti-War Outcry?
Peace movement tries to lift off to stop attack on Syria, but will it be enough to thwart the onslaught by bipartisan war hawks?
As anti-war voices try to galvanize their efforts to stop the Obama administration's push for war in Syria, the tenor in Congress so far shows little sign—most strikingly among the president's fellow Democrats—that the public opposition to a possible war is getting through to lawmakers.
As the second day of congressional hearings came to a close Wednesday, the level of opposition from members of Obama's party was weak at best, with most members providing conciliatory statements on administration intelligence claims and few choosing to raise the critical questions circulating among policy experts and progressive coalitions.
While the House Foreign Relations Committee heard testimony from Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, and Gen. Martin Dempsey on Wednesday, the Senate version of that committee was busy voting "Yes" on a resolution authorizing the use of military force. That resolution will now go to the full Senate for a debate and vote, likely in the coming days.
With only two Democrats on the Senate committee voting "no" (Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts voted "present") the result showed that despite some reservations, members of the Democratic caucus seem to be falling in line behind Obama in his push for a U.S. military attack.
Meanwhile, progressive, liberal and anti-war groups—including the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC), RootsAction.org, Just Foreign Policy, MoveOn.org, CodePink, Win Without War and others—are trying to utilize the political space opened by the debate in Congress by activating their memberships and agitating against the rush to war.
"The terrible and widespread killing in Syria will become even more terrible and more widespread if the U.S. military (or a coalition of allies) launches an attack," reads the online petition put out by RootsAction.org, which urges members of Congress to vote against any authorization of force.
"The choice is not between doing nothing and bombing the Syrian people," it said.
After polling its members and providing an online forum on Syria last week, MoveOn.org—which has been markedly absent in challenging Obama's regressive policies generally—announced its opposition to an attack on Syria Wednesday and asked its more than nine million members to tell President Obama, the Senate, and the House of Representatives not to be "fooled into thinking that war-making will protect or defend a population."
The activist group CodePink—which made its opposition to war known at both the Senate and House hearings on the issue—called for "diplomacy and aid, not military strikes" for Syria.
Asking members of congress to oppose military action, CodePink argued that the U.S., in fact, did have the power to improve the situation in Syria, but this meant "brokering an immediate ceasefire prior to regional negotiations, and stepping up humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees."
MoveOn.org also offered the lawmakers and Obama a path away from military aggression by recommending a more "effective, and prudent approach," that would include fostering an international call "for a multilateral ceasefire" in the ongoing Syrian civil war.
And the PCCC, which found resounding opposition among its members on the issue, sent its anti-war message to Congress in the form of a memorandum, which stated:
Please donate if you can.
You now face a decision that involves life and death. This decision also involves billions of dollars. And it will send a signal to your constituents and the world about our nation’s morals and our ability to make strategic, goal-oriented decisions. This historic moment must transcend political party.
In the last 72 hours, we surveyed PCCC members across the nation – in every state and congressional district. We've received over 57,000 responses so far, and a clear result: Your progressive base stands firmly against bombing Syria.
And the Win Without War coalition has urged its member to pressure their representatives to oppose military force, saying "We agree with US military leaders who assert that only a political solution will end the suffering of the Syrian people and urge all parties to pursue such a settlement."
One concern, of course, is whether or not the petition drives by these groups can be followed by a truly assertive or powerful enough anti-war push in the halls of Congress or in the streets to actually halt the attack.
So far, erstwhile "progressive" members of Congress have been mostly overshadowed by a conservative movement that motivates against Obama's push for war for nearly all the wrong reasons and a Congressional leadership from both parties that is now expected to whip votes for war at a feverish and frantic clip.
If Democratic members of Congress are feeling enough heat from constituents to actually challenge the pressure eminating from the White House over Obama's push for authorization, they have yet to show it.
But this last question also follows: If the anti-war movement doesn't exist, who are all these people so against the war in Syria?