MoveOn's backward move on the war

A COLLECTION of liberal antiwar groups, including MoveOn.org, Win Without War and Americans Against Escalation in Iraq, decided at a meeting in mid-January to retreat from their campaign to get Congress to cut war funding and impose a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

In 2008, the groups say, their new emphasis will be to keep the Bush administration from entering into a long-term agreement with the Iraqi central government that would keep U.S. troops there for a decade.

Last year, these organizations spent a jaw-dropping $12 million on a lobbying and advertising campaign to get the newly elected Democratic Congress to vote against more war funding.

That strategy proved to be an utter failure.

The tragedy, of course, is that such a massive sum could have helped fund any number of grassroots activist campaigns and organizations. Instead, it was squandered.

The explanation offered as a justification is as simple as it is misleading. "We got our heads together and decided to go a different way," said John Isaacs, executive director of Council for a Livable World, whose group attended the meeting. "The consensus was not to keep beating our heads against the wall trying to block every funding bill--not because we don't agree with it, but because we don't have the votes."

But the problem isn't that the Democrats in Congress don't have enough votes. They are the majority in both houses of Congress and came to power in an election that everyone agreed was a repudiation of the Bush administration's handling of the Iraq war.

But, wait, antiwar leaders plead. The Republicans in the Senate only need 40 votes to thwart any proposal with a filibuster. But why can't the Democrats in the Senate also use the filibuster--to stop Congress from passing any war spending bills at all?

The issue isn't votes, but the fact that the Democratic Party leadership supports the goals of Bush's war, even if it differs with the administration on how it has been carried out.

With the presidential campaign season underway, leading voices in the antiwar movement are preparing for a replay of their disastrous 2004 strategy--when the movement's mainstream leadership protested the Republican National Convention, but otherwise pulled its punches in the hopes of avoiding any demands that might put it at odds with John Kerry's pro-war campaign.

Building a strong movement depends on organizing at the grassroots--on campuses and in neighborhoods, inside and outside the military--not looking to the politicians in Washington.