Salena Zito

Will the last activist who hopes the antiwar cause will re-emerge as a central tenet of the Democratic Party please turn out the lights on the way out the door?

Little evidence exists that any antiwar movement is alive, well and influencing policy in this country.

Certainly no voice for it is coming from Barack Obama’s White House. In fact, Obama has been pretty consistent in jerking-around antiwar crusaders, beginning with last summer’s vote as a U.S. senator for a federal surveillance law and its provision shielding telecommunications companies that cooperated in warrantless wiretaps – a law he previously opposed.

The only sound coming from the left at the time was a momentary backlash from the blogosphere.

The president reinforced his dismissal of antiwar activists last week, when he performed an enormous flip and decided to halt the release of photographs of detainee abuse. He said that releasing the photos would put U.S. troops at risk and inflame anti-American opinion.

On April 23, the Obama administration had said the Pentagon would hand over 44 photos of detainee abuse in Afghanistan and Iraq under the Bush administration.

Less than two years ago, the liberal public-policy group MoveOn.org ran its now-infamous “General Petraeus or General Betray Us?” ad, accusing the four-star of exaggerating the success of the troop surge in Iraq.

Go to MoveOn.org’s website today, and ending the war is fourth behind health care, climate change and the economy in its goals for 2009, buried in a nondescript click on the site.

“With an anti-war Democrat in the White House, the anti-war activists are cutting him some slack – for now,” said Purdue University political scientist Bert Rockman. “I have no doubt that an anti-war movement will eventually focus on the Afghan-Pakistan front … it will be up to Obama to explain what is at stake.”

A year from now, if circumstances have not changed or worsened on the Afghan-Pakistan front, Obama will have trouble holding the center against left-wing Democrats on one side and right-wing Republicans on the other. So far, he has shown himself to be politically agile in explaining through reason what is at stake – but agility has its limits.

Note that the debate so far has been about tactics rather than necessities, according to Rockman. That’s why Gen. David McKiernan was replaced as U.S. commander in Afghanistan – “not that he was an incompetent commander, but he may have been the wrong one for this kind of war.”


Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.