Where The Anti-War Left Went

By Jay Kirell


Long before I joined the Army and fought in Afghanistan I watched the events unfold that lead up to the Iraq war. I watched with a sense of dread and skepticism because somewhere, deep down inside, this whole mess felt wrong.

I always had a healthy distrust of President Bush, a distrust many on the left shared, because of the way he came into office back in 2000. While I’m not going to say that clouded the judgment of many liberals on Bush’s motives for Iraq, it certainly didn’t help when the drum beats of war seemingly started up out of nowhere back in 2002.

We were still fresh from 911. Troops had been sent over into the mountains of Afghanistan only a year earlier. We seemingly had no grip on Osama bin Laden. For the life of me I couldn’t understand the thinking behind invading Iraq. It was literally one of the few countries not making noise following the 911 attacks.

Besides that, it seemed that invasion was the verdict decided upon in the media long before a trial commenced that presented any supporting evidence. Fox News was especially effective in turning public opinion in favor of the war, with other news outlets each contributing (in smaller degrees) to the narrative that an invasion was inevitable because “911 changed everything.” Even on MSNBC, Chris Matthews was in full-on cheerleader mode, something many liberals with long-term memories haven’t forgotten.

It was in this environment that I, along with a few hundred thousand others, marched in Manhattan one weekend in February, before the bombs dropped in 2003. It was the most people I had ever seen in one place at one time.


It was also part of a larger, world-wide protest that drew an estimated 6 to 10 million people, from 60 countries in what was called the largest protest event ever in human history.  All of them outraged at the thought of war, and nearly all expecting it to carry on regardless of their cries.  After all, the anti-war movement doesn’t have the greatest success rate.

Ten years later, on the eve of yet another military action against a middle-eastern country – Syria, many are asking – where are those 6-10 million now?

Well, allow me to answer this way:

We are still here. But not all of us who protested in 2003 are feeling the same vibe in 2013 that we did in 2003. Some are still continuing the fight against all foreign incursions, but not all.

This is for many reasons, and while I can’t speak for the entire anti-war movement, these are the reasons I’m not in the streets:

1. Syria doesn’t look like a bombing campaign followed by a massive land invasion and occupation.
2. The United States is joining other nations in planning action, not pulling and twisting the arms of allies.
3. Syria actually used WMD against its own people, and so far nothing seems to indicate this was a one-time event.
4. There doesn’t seem to be a financial (oil) motive behind any military action against Syria.

Some will look at that list and laugh – say the anti-war left is hypocritical and just didn’t like Bush and that’s why we’re not as loud as a decade ago.

Yeah, we didn’t like Bush. And it’s probably true that if Bush was planning an invasion of Syria we would be more skeptical and there might even be a noticeably-sized protest or two.

There should be no shame in admitting that.   Bush earned that distrust and animosity when he concocted the Iraq war out of thin air in the first place. When he was dragged kicking and screaming to the UN with thin-to-completely non-credible evidence of Iraq’s weapons program. When he told the world if you didn’t support his invasion then you supported the terrorists.  When he and the rest of the conservative political and media establishment did their best to tar the anti-war left as anti-American.

So one can’t simply expect the anti-war left to treat Bush and Obama as equals when Obama has done damn near everything humanely possible to avoid following in the swaggering footsteps of his predecessor.

From ending Iraq, to winding down Afghanistan, to leading from behind on Libya, to killing Osama bin Laden with a war plan that assured the least amount of casualties; Obama has consistently flexed America’s power as gingerly as can be expected in a post-911 world where the only frame of reference for a president is George W. Bush and his litany of mistakes.

So in regards to Syria, (and for that matter drones and other icky war stuff) while the anti-war left is probably not jumping up and down with excitement at the thought of an aerial bombardment, it has remained silent out of respect for a man many of them voted for. A man they still look to as someone who shares the idea that military action is not something to be taken lightly. Someone they whose judgment they trust and who seems to wrestle with questions of military action longer than may of his predecessors.

Should that trust be broken with a botched Syria intervention, expect what’s been a silent anti-war movement to speak up. Until then, the anti-war left is where it has been the last five years – observing its president be an improvement over the last one.

For a movement that boasts a lifetime record of 0-for-everything, that’ll do for now.

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  1. Whatever Happened to the Anti-War Left? | B. Peret's Blog - September 3, 2013

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