The Silence of MoveOn

The most powerful grassroots organization of the peace movement, MoveOn,
remains silent as the American wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan
simmer or escalate.

Then he met with Obama in February, Jason Ruben, executive director of
MoveOn, told the president it was "the moment to go big," then
indicated that MoveOn would not oppose the $94 billion war supplemental
request, nor the 21,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, nor the
increased civilian casualties from the mounting number of Predator

What was MoveOn's explanation for abandoning the peace movement in a
meeting with a president the peace movement was key to electing?
According to Ruben and MoveOn, it was the preference of its millions of
members, as ascertained by house meetings and polls.

The evidence, however, is otherwise. Last December 17, 48.3 percent of
MoveOn members listed "end the war in Iraq" as a 2009 goal, after
healthcare (64.9 percent), economic recovery and job creation (62.1
percent) and building a green economy/stopping climate change (49.6
percent--only 1.5 percent above Iraq.) This was at a moment when most
Americans believed the Iraq War was ending. Afghanistan and Pakistan
were not listed among top goals which members could vote on.

Then on May 22 MoveOn surveyed its members once again, listing ten possible
campaigns for the organization. "Keep up the pressure to the end the war
in Iraq" was listed ninth among the options.

Again, Afghanistan and Pakistan were not on the MoveOn list of options.

Nor was Guantanamo nor the administration's torture policies.
("Investigate the Bush Administration" was the first option.)

MoveOn is supposed to be an Internet version of participatory democracy,
but the organization's decision-making structure apparently assures that
the membership is voiceless on the question of these long wars.

What if they included an option like "demanding a diplomatic settlement
and opposing a quagmire in Afghanistan and Pakistan"? Or "shifting from
a priority on military spending to civilian spending on food, medicine
and schools?"

This is no small matter. MoveOn has collected a privately held list of 5
million names, most of them strong peace advocates. The organization's
membership contributed an unprecedented $180 million for the federal
election cycle in 2004-2006. Those resources, now squelched or
sequestered, mean that the most vital organization in the American peace
movement is missing in action.

What to do? There is no point raving and ranting against MoveOn. The
only path is in organizing a dialogue with the membership, over the
Internet, and having faith that their voices will turn the organization
to oppose these escalating occupations. The same approach is necessary
towards other vital organs of the peace movement including rank-and-file
Democrat activists and the post-election Obama organization (Organizing
for America) through a persistent, bottom-up campaign to renew the peace
movement as a powerful force in civil society.

This is not a simple matter of an organizational oligarchy manipulating
its membership, although the avoidance by MoveOn's leadership is a
troubling sign. There is genuine confusion over Afghanistan and Pakistan
among the rank and file. The economic crisis has averted attention away
from the battlefront. Many who voted for Obama understandably will give
him the benefit of the doubt, for now.

Silence sends a message. The de facto MoveOn support for the $94 billion
war supplemental reverberates up the ladder of power. Feeling no
pressure, Congressional leadership has abdicated its critical oversight
function over the expanding wars, not even allowing members to vote for
a December report on possible exit strategies. In the end, a gutsy sixty
voted against HR 2346 on May 14, but many defected to vote for the war
spending, including Neil Abercrombie, Jerry Nadler, David Obey, Xavier
Becerra, Lois Capps, Maurice Hinchey, Jesse Jackson, Sheila Jackson-Lee,
Patrick Kennedy, Charles Rangel, Lucille Roybal-Allard, Loretta Sanchez,
Rosa De Lauro, Bennie Thompson, Jerry McNerney, Robert Wexler and Henry
Waxman. (Bill Delahunt, Linda Sanchez and Pete Stark were not recorded.)

If there were significant pressures from networks like MoveOn in their
Congressional districts, the opposition vote might have approached 85.

Appropriations chair David Obey in essence granted Obama a one-year pass
to show results in Afghanistan. If the war appears to be a quagmire by
then, he claimed, the Democrats will become more critical. Speaker Nancy
Pelosi delivered the same message; according to the Washington
, May 6: "There won't be any more war supplementals, so my
message to my members is, this is it." Pelosi's words were carefully
parsed, saying that the White House would not be allowed another
supplemental form of appropriation, which is different from an actual
pledge to oppose war funding.

This one-year pass means that the grassroots peace movement has a few
months to light a fire and reawaken pressure from below on the Congress
and president. In the meantime, here are some predictions for the coming

* Iraq: Will Obama keep his pledge to withdraw combat forces
from Iraq on a sixteen-month timetable, and all forces by 2011? At this
point, the pace is slowing, and the deadline being somewhat extended,
under pressure from US commanders on the ground. Sunnis are threatening
to resume their insurgency if the al-Maliki regime fails to incorporate
them into the political and security structures. The president insists
however, that he is only making adjustments to a timetable that is on
track. Prognosis: Precarious.

* Afghanistan: Will the Obama troop escalation deepen the
quagmire or become a successful surge against the Taliban by next year?
Another 21,000 troops and advisers are on their way to the battlefield.
Civilian casualties are mounting, causing the besieged Karzai government
to complain. Preventive detention of Afghans will only expand. US
deaths, now over 600, are sure to increase this summer. Taliban may hold
out and redeploy in order to stretch US forces thin. Prognosis:
Escalation into quagmire.

* Pakistan: US policies have driven Al Qaeda from
Afghanistan into Pakistan's tribal areas, where the United States is
attacking with Predators and turning Pakistan's US-funded armed forces
towards counterinsurgency. Public opinion is being inflamed against the
US intervention. Prognosis: An expanding American war in Pakistan
with greater threats to American security.

* Iran: With or without US complicity, Israel may attack
Iran early next year, with unforeseeable consequences in Iraq and
Afghanistan. Prognosis: Crisis will intensify.

* Global: The United States will fail to attract more combat
troops to fight in Afghanistan and Pakistan from Europe or elsewhere,
causing pressure to increase for a non-military negotiated solution.
Prognosis: Obama still popular, US still isolated.

* Budget priorities: Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan will
deeply threaten the administration's ability to succeed on the domestic
front with stimulus spending, healthcare, education and alternative
energy. Prognosis: false hope for "guns and butter" all over

© 2023 The Nation