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Naomi Klein and Jeremy Scahill Headshot

Players, Not Cheerleaders

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"So?"

So said Dick Cheney when asked last week about public opinion being
overwhelming against the war in Iraq. "You can't be blown off course
by polls."

His attitude about the the fact that the number of U.S. soldiers
killed in Iraq has reached 4,000 displayed similar levels of
sympathy. They
"voluntarily put on the uniform," the Vice-President told ABC news.

This brick wall of indifference helps explain the paradox in which we
in the anti-war camp find ourselves five years into the occupation of
Iraq: anti-war sentiment is as strong as ever, but our movement seems
to be dwindling.

Sixty-four per cent of Americans tell pollsters they oppose the war,
but you'd never know it from the thin turnout at recent anniversary
rallies and vigils.

When asked why they aren't expressing their anti-war opinions through
the anti-war movement, many say they have simply lost faith in the
power of protest. They marched against the war before it began,
marched on the first, second and third anniversaries. And yet five
years on, U.S. leaders are still shrugging: "So?"

There is no question that the Bush administration has proven
impervious to public pressure. That's why it's time for the anti-war
movement to change tactics. We should direct our energy where it can
still have an impact: the leading Democratic contenders.

Many argue otherwise. They say that if we want to end the war, we
should simply pick a candidate who is not John McCain and help them
win: We'll sort out the details after the Republicans are evicted from
1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Some of the most prominent anti-war
voices--from MoveOn.org to the magazine we write for, The Nation--have
gone this route, throwing their weight behind the Obama campaign.

This is a serious strategic mistake. It is during a hotly contested
campaign that anti-war forces have the power to actually sway U. S.
policy. As soon as we pick sides, we relegate ourselves to mere
cheerleaders.

And when it comes to Iraq, there is little to cheer. Look past the
rhetoric and it becomes clear that neither Barack Obama
nor Hillary Clinton has a real plan to end the occupation. They
could, however, be forced to change their positions--thanks to the
unique dynamics of the prolonged primary battle.

Despite the calls for Clinton to withdraw in the name of "unity," it
is the very fact that Clinton and Obama are still fighting it out,
fiercely vying for votes, that presents the anti-war movement with
its best pressure point. And our pressure is badly needed.

For the first time in 14 years, weapons manufacturers are donating
more to Democrats than to Republicans. The Dems have received 52
percent of the defense industry's political donations in this election
cycle--up from a low of 32 per cent in 1996. That money is about
shaping foreign policy, and so far, it appears to be well spent.

While Clinton and Obama denounce the war with great passion, they both
have detailed plans to continue it. Both say they intend to maintain
the massive Green Zone, including the monstrous U.S. embassy, and to
retain U.S. control of the Baghdad Airport.

They will have a "strike force" to engage in counterterrorism, as well
as trainers for the Iraqi military. Beyond these U.S. forces,
the army of Green Zone diplomats will require heavily armed security
details, which are currently provided by Blackwater and other private
security companies. At present there are as many private contractors
supporting the occupation as there are soldiers so these plans could
mean tens of
thousands of U. S. personnel entrenched for the future.

In sharp contrast to this downsized occupation is the unequivocal
message coming from hundreds of soldiers who served in Iraq and
Afghanistan. Iraq Veterans Against the War, who held the historic
"Winter Soldier" hearings in Silver Spring, Md. earlier this month,
are not supporting any candidate or party. Instead they are calling
for immediate, unconditional withdrawal of all U.S. soldiers and
contractors. Coming from peace activists, the "out now" position has
been dismissed as naive. It
is distinctly harder to ignore coming from hundreds who have
served--and continue to serve--on the frontlines.

The candidates know that much of the passion fueling their campaigns
flows from the desire among so many rank-and-file Democrats to end
this disastrous war. It is this desire for change that has filled
stadiums and campaign coffers.

Crucially, the candidates have already shown that they are vulnerable to
pressure from the peace camp: When The Nation revealed that neither
candidate was supporting legislation that would ban the use of
Blackwater and other private security companies in Iraq, Clinton
abruptly changed course. She became the most important U. S. political
leader to endorse the ban, scoring a point on Obama, who opposed the
invasion from the start.

This is exactly where we want the candidates: outdoing each other to
prove how serious they are about ending the war. That kind of
issue-based battle has the power to energize voters and break the
cynicism that is threatening both campaigns.

Let's remember: unlike the outgoing Bush administration, these
candidates need the support of the two-thirds of Americans who oppose
the war in Iraq. If opinion transforms into action, they won't be able
to afford to say, "So?"

Courtesy of the New York Times Syndicate