Today the war in Iraq is ending. After nearly nine years our long national nightmare in Iraq is almost over. This day may not have come were it not for the years of work by all of the millions of Americans who volunteered, protested, lobbied, organized, donated, wept, prayed and voted for an end to this war. The American people have ended the war in Iraq through our democracy's flawed but still great ability to correct itself.
The movement to stop the war started before the war began. Those were grim times for dissension in America in 2002 only a short time after the horrible tragedy of September 11th. The people who stood up to voice their opposition were doing so out of courage and commitment. Many had their patriotism or character smeared in newspapers, on TV and in the halls of Congress. The adage that "patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel," resonates through the Iraq war.
And from those humble beginnings the movement to end the war grew over several years to become a chorus of millions who changed the political landscape and kept fighting until all of our troops came home. The anti-war movement became the anti-war public. By my last count, more than 50 members of Congress and senators lost their jobs in 2006 and 2008 to an anti-war opponent.
Along the way this movement organized hundreds of thousands of people at vigils, protests, marches, sit-ins and more. Tens of thousands of American were politicized -- learning their organizing skills while opposing the war. The movement built its own apparatus for politics, media, messaging and organizing.
This is the same movement that elected a president who opposed the start of the war and promised to end the war. This week President Obama has kept his promise to end the war in Iraq. He did not do it alone -- the movement that mobilized the public was at his side.
I don't praise the president as an act of partisan loyalty. There is plenty more for progressives to demand from this administration. But with the weight of foreign policy elites and establishment opinion pushing the president to stay in Iraq indefinitely, President Obama rejected a permanent occupation. As we saw over the last several weeks, Republican presidential candidates would prefer we stayed in Iraq forever.
There have already been voluminous tomes written about the war in Iraq, the occupation and George W. Bush. America was lied to by the Bush administration and when the lies were exposed they tried to rewrite history with more lies. But in the end the anti-war public rejected Bush and the lies.
That movement to end the war offers us important lessons we must never forget. Here are just a few.
- Always, always work to prevent wars. War is an absolutely horrible thing. More than 4,500 Americans were killed in Iraq. And probably tens if not hundreds of thousands of Iraqis lost their lives. The financial costs of the war will run into the trillions of dollars when all the expenses of deserved care for veterans is accounted for in coming decades. The loss of prestige for the United States and our values cannot be underestimated even as it is under repair.
- Question the media. The American media has still not re-proven itself a worthy trustee of our democracy. The mainstream media's failure in the lead up to the war was as comparable a scandal as the Bush administration's mendacity. The Washington Post probably wrote more editorials in favor of war than any other publication. The Post was dead wrong and yet somehow they're considered thoughtful on foreign policy at cocktail parties in Washington, DC. But at the same time, in the media's failure a whole new generation of muckrakers and journalists has risen from The Huffington Post to Talking Points Memo to advocacy blogs like ThinkProgress, AMERICABlog, DailyKos, FireDogLake and others. That is a good thing.
- Don't listen to those who got it wrong. It is still stunning to see unrepentant supporters of the war considered thoughtful contributors to foreign policy conversations and a reminder of how dangerous American militarism is still. In Washington, DC foreign policy circles we basically invite people who think the world is flat to run NASA. How is it that columnists like Charles Krauthammer still have a newspaper column after he deceived the American people for years? The contempt by establishment elites for the American public has never been more obvious than during the Iraq war. When the public wanted to end the war, these elites wanted to stay. There is still a reckoning that must be accounted for in this area.
- Hold politicians accountable. While the media and elites can be obnoxious, in the end elected politicians make policy. Involvement in politics must be a central strategy of opponents of wars. This includes involvement in both parties and involvement in both primaries and general elections. There is no doubt in my mind that the primary challenge to pro-war Democrat Joe Lieberman in 2006 helped inspire an entire movement to throw war-mongering politicians out of office later that year and again in 2008. Even that short-lived win in the primary helped people believe in their own power and sent a message to voters that it was OK to vote anti-war.
- Remember the power that a movement has. Our greatest strength is that in the end the movement that ended the war was independent, strong and very active. That movement has a deep and broad connection to the American people. By the height of the war's violence in 2007 there was an anti-war organizing group in most American towns and large groups in the cities. While the institutions of the peace movement are under-funded, the independent grassroots is bigger and stronger than any other group in politics.
America is weary of war and this war has been a psychic trauma on the United States that has shaken core beliefs of many. Now that it is over we must work to end other wars and start nation building here at home.
I started my anti-war activism as a volunteer. Eventually with MoveOn.org I helped organize to end the war focusing on accountability for politicians who supported the war. There are so many people that I worked with over the years who I hope will feel some amount of pride in their work to end the war -- it worked. As these things go, that work will soon be forgotten by history but the fact that millions of Americans joined together for change will not be forgotten. In the end, you ended the war in Iraq.