With Iraq a key issue and the Democratic primaries unresolved, isn't it time for the peace movement to get off the sidelines and become more engaged? Shouldn't we be doing everything possible to make the candidates compete for the peace vote? Think of the battlegrounds ahead where the peace vote is up for grabs: Washington on February 9, Maryland and the District of Columbia February 12, Wisconsin February 19, Rhode Island, Vermont and Ohio on March 4, and other states like Oregon and Pennsylvania through May.
On one side it appears that the pro-Democratic groups with millions of dollars are sitting out the primaries, saving their energy for the coming battle with John McCain. That plan just got delayed for many weeks as the primaries go on. On the other side are the grass-roots peace coalitions that generally forsake political engagement and busy themselves with plans for civil disobedience while 13 more states are voting.
Meanwhile hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of voters will make up their minds on which of the candidates is best on ending the Iraq war with little involvement by peace activists in the debate.
There are differences that matter between Clinton and Obama, not as great as between the Democrats and McCain, but significant nonetheless. They are these:
Obama favors a 16-18 month timeline for withdrawing US combat troops. Clinton favors "immediately" convening the Joint Chiefs to draft a plan to "begin" drawing down US troops, but with no timetable for completing the withdrawal.
Obama opposed the measure authorizing Bush to designate Iran's Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization, widely regarded as an escalating step towards another war. Clinton voted for the authorization.
Obama opposed the 2002 authorization for war that Clinton voted for. Clinton still calls that decision a "close call" and refuses to say it was a mistaken vote.
It's true that both candidates support leaving thousands of "residual" American troops behind for a likely counterinsurgency conflict that we should all oppose. Peace activists should demand a shift to peace diplomacy beginning with a US commitment to end the occupation and withdraw all troops.
But Obama's position is clearly better than Clinton's, and both candidates should be encouraged to see that the strongest anti-war position wins votes. The primaries are probably the last opportunity to push for a tougher stance, before the debate shifts to criticizing McCain/Lieberman/Podhoretz/Petraeus and whomever else in the general election. If one is a Clinton supporter, she should be pressured to keep catching up with Obama's positions. Instead, she is floating a demand to make Bush bring any Washington-Baghdad military pact before Congress, which is a fine idea but avoids whether and when to end the occupation. If you are an Obama supporter, he should be pressured to connect the drain of the Iraq War on our economy and any possibilities for funding national health care. The point is to push the peace position forward on the promise of winning close primaries.
If nothing is done now by the peace movement, consider this scenario: with Bush promising to withdraw 25,000 troops this summer, Gen. Petraeus comes to Washington in March or April to announce "progress" in Iraq with lavish media attention. If MoveOn, perhaps understandably, avoids direct engagement with the general, which peace advocates will step in? Will Obama or Clinton or the Out of Iraq Caucus be prepared to confront him with an educational counter-offensive, or will McCain obtain a polished halo for being the Petraeus candidate? These are deadly serious questions. Is anyone discussing them?
In the immediate context, it seems to me that a group like MoveOn has to consider whether its endorsement of Obama now deserves a blast of anti-war energy in places like Seattle, Baltimore, Madison, Vermont, suburban Ohio, Providence, and Portland. Television, radio and media advertising still can be purchased for peace voices. Progressive Democrats at the grass-roots level might flood these decisive areas with questions to the campaigns and informational leaflets designed to educate swing voters. Signs and banners asking "Peace By When?" might be seen at rallies and media events.
The new reality is that the primaries will grind on, the percentages will remain extremely tight, and the Iraq War can be made into a tipping issue over which the candidates compete. It takes a peace movement now.
Tom Hayden is the author of Ending the War in Iraq .