The Democratic Party and the Future of the Anti-War Movement
By: Bart Mongoven, Stratfor.comApril 27, 2007
The major announced Democratic presidential candidates will hold their first debate of the 2008 primary season April 26 at South Carolina State University. The debate will focus on a wide range of issues, although the format will make detailed answers difficult. One of the few things that will become clear is the wide range of positions among the candidates on foreign policy matters.

The Democratic Party is united in its effort to pin responsibility for the Iraq war on the Republicans and the Bush administration, but that is the full extent of the party's unity. Among the candidates who currently appear to have a chance to win the nomination, only North Carolina Sen. John Edwards' rhetoric and voting record are satisfactory to the leadership of the popular anti-war movement. The other major candidates, Delaware Sen. Joe Biden, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, are to varying degrees hawkish when it comes to the larger war on Islamist militants. And while the majority of Democrats are more in line with Edwards' position, the nomination of anyone but Edwards threatens to place the anti-war movement in a very small box.

Even with the war in Iraq continuing and the presidential election still 18 months away, the Democratic Party's anti-war faction is facing a significant set of decisions about its future. Central to its decision-making is its perception of its relationship with other movements within the party. Though most of the other major movements-those concerned primarily about labor, civil rights, the environment, health care and education-have been increasing their communication and cooperation, the anti-war faction has proven the most difficult to cobble into the new Democratic coalition.

In the buildup to the 2006 election, the party and its various factions found a way to unify around opposition to the conduct of the war, and in the first months of the Democratic Congress have been able to maintain that unity through budget fights over war funding. The beginning of the primary season ushers in a new period, however, in which the anti-war movement will either find a way to attach itself to the growing progressive coalition, or find itself isolated in the political wilderness.

Hues of the Movement
Opposition to the Iraq war unites a number of groups whose attitudes range from staunch pacifists to traditional hawks who oppose only this particular war. For Democrats, the war is the common battlefield from which to pummel the Bush administration-as the party's success in November 2006 demonstrated. However, when the issue moves beyond the Iraq theater to overall U.S. defense strategy, the party unity dissolves.

Crucially, the current leaders of the anti-war movement-Cindy Sheehan, Code Pink, International ANSWER, World Can't Wait and United for Peace and Justice-have not found a way to solidify a position on the larger post-war U.S. role, one that dovetails with other major threads of the liberal political agenda. This failure is critical because everyone involved knows that in the general election the major candidates will not fear losing the support of the pacifist wing of the anti-war movement. That is, of course, because staunch anti-war voters have nowhere else to turn. They are not going to vote Republican and are unlikely in 2008 to follow Ralph Nader's lead and split off behind a third party.

Though Edwards appears to be consistently on the more pacifist side, more conservative Democrats, including those who will appear at the debate, portray the war in Iraq either as a mistake from the start or as a justifiable war that has been led badly by the Bush team. However, they do not differ significantly from the administration on the basic strategy of the larger war against militant Islamists. They support a strong military posture in the Middle East and share the mainstream Republican vision that the larger war will take more than a decade to fight. Thus, they contend, the United States will have to maintain a strong military through that decade.

Both Clinton and Obama, for example, have warned of a continued threat of major terrorist attacks on U.S. soil, and Clinton has even pointed to her years on the Senate Armed Services Committee and in the White House as preparation for future military decisions, largely to highlight Obama's relative inexperience. Obama, who has been reaching out to the party's left fringe for a number of weeks, said in his first major foreign policy address that the U.S. military needs to remain active and strong, and he called for an increase in the size of the active military by 60,000 soldiers and 30,000 Marines.

Obama's statements elicited howls from the more liberal party activists, many of whom also see the Iraq war as part of the larger war against Islamist militants-but view it as the wrong way to go about securing the country from attack. The most vocal elements of this side of the party claim that large military budgets and constant pressure on foreign governments will make more enemies than allies, and in the long term lead to more wars, not fewer. They argue that the escalating tensions with Iran demonstrate that saber rattling does not make the country safer, but rather increases the chances of yet another war in the Muslim world. They also claim that U.S. imperialism radicalizes young Muslims and increases the number of would-be militants in the Islamic countries.

Further dividing these two sides is the more liberal wing's contention that the Bush administration deliberately misled Congress to justify the war. Although some conservative Democrats are willing to make this claim, others within their ranks would rather avoid talk of "Bush lied, troops died" because it entails a degree of gullibility on their part.

Implications for the Larger Progressive Movement
The difference of opinion between the candidates over national defense policy threatens efforts by liberal leaders to build bridges between the various factions on the left side of the political spectrum. Though the anti-war movement is unlikely to arrest progress completely on this effort, its one-issue focus could dramatically limit the movement's effectiveness.

The mainstream of the Democratic Party has for more than 30 years been an amorphous combination of liberal interests who share a few basic beliefs, but differ so broadly in policy priorities that they spend most of their time fighting internal battles. A number of organizations have sprouted up over the past six years with the goal of developing a common set of priorities by working closely with the Democratic Party-and they have found some success. More successful, however, has been a quiet movement running largely in the background of liberal political circles-one that operates outside of the Democratic Party. Though both aim to find common values among environmental, labor, civil rights, anti-war and other core liberal constituencies, this latter movement has developed a communications strategy that shows both the interrelatedness of liberal issues and frames them in ways that make even radical-sounding ideas reflect mainstream American values.

This movement, however, also has a policy strategy that is dedicated to bringing many elements of the party together to look at their priority issues in new, integrated ways. The movement is visible in an array of recognizable, but apparently independent, efforts. Among these are the Apollo Alliance, which brings labor and environmentalists together on energy policy and the environmental health movement-blending health activism and environmental activism. Also hitting this chord is the campaign against Wal-Mart, led by labor but joined by liberal interests groups of almost every flavor. Finally, many elements of the Change to Win labor strategy reflect this new approach. Typical of this trend is the proposal, floated by Obama in 2006, in which the federal government would take on the health care obligations of the automakers if they agreed to significant raises in automobile fuel efficiency-a policy that reflects the priorities of labor, health and environmental advocates within the party.

The anti-war faction on the left has always presented a challenge to these efforts because of its strident rhetoric and uncompromising attitude. As the election approaches and rifts appear in the party's unified anti-war posture, the party is not going to find unity. Its factions do not have a communications problem or a disagreement over priorities on the larger war, they have strong differences.

Ultimately, the anti-war faction is likely coming to grips with the idea that it will be strongly disappointed by the candidate who emerges in 2008, especially because the post-primary candidate will likely adopt a more moderate tone to appeal to swing voters. With this, the faction will find itself staring at a familiar abyss for Democratic interest groups-one in which not only the group's priority is subordinated but its strongly held beliefs are contradicted by the party leadership. Most critically, the anti-war activists' natural allies in the environmental and traditional progressive movements will be forced to choose between the ongoing mission of unifying around a common set of themes, or joining with the anti-war faction on the outside.

Put another way, the question is whether the anti-war movement will pull the larger unification project down-a la George McGovern-or whether the party will leave the pacifists in the rearview mirror as it moves toward unity.

Stratfor is a private intelligence company delivering in-depth analysis, assessments and forecasts on global geopolitical, economic, security and public policy issues. A variety of subscription-based access, free intelligence reports and confidential consulting are available for individuals and corporations.

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