Where Did The Antiwar Movement Go?

The antiwar movement has been strangely silent despite the fact that U.S. foreign policy hasn't really changed that much since Barack Obama became President.

The Cato Institute’s David Boaz looks around and wonders what happened to the antiwar movement that used to crowd the streets of D.C. only a few years ago:

On a street corner in Washington, D.C., outside the Cato Institute, there’s a metal box that controls traffic signals. During the Bush years there was hardly a day that it didn’t sport a poster advertising an antiwar march or simply denouncing President George W. Bush and the war in Iraq. But the marches and the posters seemed to stop on election day 2008.

Maybe antiwar organizers assumed that they had elected the man who would stop the war. After all, Barack Obama rose to power on the basis of his early opposition to the Iraq war and his promise to end it. But after two years in the White House he has made both of George Bush’s wars his wars.

As Boaz notes, though, the reality of the past two years has shown that there aren’t really that many differences between Barack Obama and George W. Bush on the foreign policy front:

Today, however, he has tripled President Bush’s troop levels in Afghanistan, and we have been fighting there for more than nine years. The Pentagon has declared “the official end to Operation Iraqi Freedom and combat operations by United States forces in Iraq,” but we still have 50,000 troops there, hardly what Senator Obama promised.

And now Libya. In various recent polls more than two-thirds of Americans have opposed military intervention in Libya. No doubt many of them voted for President Obama.

Yes, there is still a rump antiwar movement out there, and many of them spent the better part of this weekend protesting the treatment of Bradley Manning at the brig on the Quantico Marine Base. For the most part, though, the mass antiwar protests are over, despite the fact that we are still engaged in fighting the very wars that they were protesting only a few years ago, along with a new one as of Saturday. As Boaz notes, its hard not to reach the conclusion based on all of this that the Bush-era antiwar movement was really an anti-Bush movement. Indeed, one study found that the vast majority of antiwar protesters withdrew from active involvement in the movement after Bush left office.

Moreover, as one of my co-bloggers at The Liberty Papers noted in a post originally written two years ago, the antiwar movement wasn’t really antiwar at all:

The so-called “anti-war” groups that popped up before the Iraq War were never anti-war. Many of their founders and leaders cheered on BJ Clinton’s wars in the Balkans and in Haiti. They were not completely anti-American or merely “on the other side” as some conservative and neo-libertarian bloggers accused them either. The “anti-war” movement was simply a rallying point for leftists and Democrat party hacks who needed to gain traction against a popular (at the time) President Bush. They needed to sow doubt about the Iraq War (the mismanagement of the war by the Bush administration helped as well) in order to have a wedge issue against President Bush. Naturally, they rooted for more American deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq and for American objectives to go unfulfilled, at least while Bush was president.

Now their Messiah has been elected and he wants to expand the Afghan War, possibly into Pakistan. What’s a leftist posing a peace activist supposed to do. Well, what all good leftists do, follow their leader, in this case the Messiah. He wants to send 17,000 more Americans into Afghanistan to bring democracy, destroy the Taliban, and put in chicken in every Afghan pot. He has not defined what “victory” is in Afghanistan, nor does he have a plan, short of nuclear war, to combat the Talibanization of Pakistan. If George W. Bush planned this, the so-called peace activists would have been the ones having Tea Parties on April 15.

Aren’t the so-called “peace activists” being just a tad bit hypocritical now that their Messiah is in the Oval Office and wants his little war?

I think it’s fairly clear that, for the most part, they are.


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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. The Fury says:

    When anti-war was in Egypts land. Let my anti-war go.

  2. george says:

    It, like so many things (conservative hate of deficits) is about team sports – if my side does it its okay, if the other side does it its bad. Its hard not to think that if anything Orwell was being optimistic in “1984”.

  3. just me says:

    The bulk of the anti war movement was always about being anti Bush. There are definitely a few die hards out there who were consistently anti war and still head out day in and day out to protest, but I think in general the man in the white house influences the size and media coverage of the anti war movement.

    There are also a few GOP leaners who tend to come out against certain conflicts as much because it is a democrat running the show. Shoot Bush himself spent a good deal of time campaigning against Clinton for some of Clinton’s military actions.

  4. PD Shaw says:

    There are some in Congress, like Kucinich, questioning what is going on:

    A hard-core group of liberal House Democrats is questioning the constitutionality of U.S. missile strikes against Libya, with one lawmaker raising the prospect of impeachment during a Democratic Caucus conference call on Saturday


  5. mantis says:

    But the marches and the posters seemed to stop on election day 2008.

    Quite a bit before that, actually. The last big protests I remember were in January and September of 2007.

    Moreover, as one of my co-bloggers at The Liberty Papers noted in a post originally written two years ago, the antiwar movement wasn’t really antiwar at all:

    That’s great, Doug. A fact-free diatribe against who the author thinks “they” are and what “their” beliefs are, with plenty of references to Obama as their “messiah.”

    Can’t you find better wingnuts to outsource your arguments to?

    Here’s a puzzler for you, Doug. Can one have been against the Iraq War and not against all wars? Think about your post and those you linked to for a moment before you answer.

  6. Stan25 says:

    Most of the anti-war protesters are socialists or outiright communits. Why? Well I will give a few examples:

    1) At the start of World War 2 most of the communists supported Hitler, because he and Stalin were allies. That was until Hilter turned on Russia in June of 1941. Then the commuists turned into the most pro-war people in the country.

    2) There were anti-war protesters during the Korean war too. Yes they were hidden from the public, but they were there.

    3) The real anti-war protesters high water mark was in the late 1960s, at the height of the Vietnam thing. They were sponsered by the lamestream media and other far left leaning organizations — namely the Communist Party USA.

  7. For that matter, where were the churches when President Bush announced a policy of pre-emptive attack? Did anyone remind him of the just war principle of last resort?

  8. ponce says:

    Iraq is winding down rather nicely (all troops out by the end of the year) and Afghanistan is about as popular as Sarah Palin.

    I’d say the anti-war folks have two wins on their hands.

  9. Gary Voysey says:

    The peace activists have been silent. the recent photos from Ghraib will cause them to shout and stink a bit because that was “George’s war’.

    The political left will decry this notion of course, but not all. Rep Kunich has raised the question of the legality of the war and impeachment has been brought up.

    There are going to pros and cons for both sides to the story. The important thing is to remember is that Gaddafi has been leading this nation for close to 42 years. What has he said about the uprisings? He has publicly blamed Al-Qaeda, those that we are supposed to be at war with.

    Right or wrong. this might be a long one.

  10. John Malkovich says:

    Iraq is as awful as ever (all troops are staying for at least the next 5 years) and Afghanistan is about as popular as Barak Hussein (troops will stay there for at least another 10 years)

    I’d say the anti-war folks have two losses on their hands. Make that three now.

  11. John Malkovich says:
  12. Herb says:

    I think it’s fairly clear that, for the most part, you’re generalizing waaaaaaay too much.

  13. TG Chicago says:

    @Mataconis: Do you really think that that stuff you quoted from your other blog is a good argument? It’s nonsense. Who makes all those assertions without linking to evidence? And the name-calling (“Messiah”, “BJ”, etc) is just juvenile.

    I come here to get good, sound arguments from the right. This is nothing of the sort.

    And by the way, if you haven’t noticed, there are actually plenty of people on the left who have expressed opposition to the attack of Libya. Off the top of my head: James Fallows, Glenn Greenwald, John Cole, Adam Serwer, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Josh Marshall, Atrios… I’m not aware that any of these have marched in the street, but that’s not the only way to register protest, is it?

  14. Ben Wolf says:

    Where is the anti-war movement? Utterly exhausted after six years of protesting with no results. We finally came to the conclusion that Americans have an insatiable lust for dead and wounded servicemen, so long as those serving happen to be someone else.

  15. john personna says:

    I’ve stated before why I think this is. The question isn’t new after all. We’ve been taking the slow road out for years.

    I believe activists now see withdrawal as inevitable, and they just can’t get excited about hastening it. When you get right down to it, the activists won. Neocons lost, the wars are winding down.

    You are complaining not about the question of withdrawal, but about the pace of it.

    (I was never an activist, but I did oppose the Iraq invasion, and the long stay in Afghanistan. I would like to see the activists back, for a little more pressure, but I guess they’ve moved on.)

  16. john personna says:

    Shorter: The protests were about proving I&A were bad ideas.

  17. Wayne says:

    Wars always wind down one way or the other. Did the anti-war protestors win because WWII ended? No. They ended not because of the activist but on their own accord. The same will probably happen with Iraq and Afghanistan. To date I have seen little to no influence on these wars by the activist.

  18. michael reynolds says:

    As JP and others above point out: we’re on our way out of Iraq, which was the prime focus of the war protests. We’re on our way outta there. What’s to protest?

  19. john personna says:

    Wayne, way to play tin-ear to lack of I&A accomplishments.

    Or are you seriously suggesting victory in the WWII sense?

  20. mantis says:

    We’re on our way outta there. What’s to protest?

    That it’s taking too long, I guess. That doesn’t really inspire as much passion. The big crowds tend to be motivated to speak out against injustice. Not nearly as many will put for the effort to speak out against delay. However, delay can become injustice if it goes on too long.

    Also, we’ve already withdrawn a lot of forces from Iraq, which was the big anti-war war. Protests against the Afghanistan war were always far smaller, because, of course, that’s where the terrorists were. So for most, the goal is already much closer than it was, with a timetable to withdraw the rest by the end of the year*. So, yeah, what’s to protest?

    The timetable, oddly enough, was set by President Bush during his lame duck session in an agreement with Prime Minister al-Maliki.

    *Not counting the rather large private army the State Dept. will be employing there at their two military bases embassies. Also not counting the near inevitable further delays (hurry up and read it before you have to pay!).

  21. Ernieyeball says:

    They are still here in Sleepytown. They have been standing at the corner of N. Illinois Ave and W. Main St. every Saturday morning since Vietnam.
    This intersection is the site of the beginning of the anti war/fuck the draft riots in May 1970 that trashed Sleepytown and closed down the University shortly after the Kent State killings.

  22. The Tin Man says:

    First I get snagged at the spam filter. Then I am told about duplicate posts. But nothing is posted.

  23. The Tin Man says:

    I guess I can post complaints about spam filters and such but not some remark about the subject at hand.

  24. michael reynolds says:

    Hey I found the peaceniks!

    Turns out they were hiding in the same place the fiscal conservatives disappear to every time a Republican gets elected.

  25. Ernieyeball says:

    They are still here in Sleepytown. They have been standing at the corner of North Illinois Avenue and West Main Street since the Vietnam War.
    This is the intersection where the anti war/screw the draft riots started that trashed Sleepytown and closed the University in May of 1970 after the Kent state killings.

  26. Ernieyeball says:

    f*ck the draft

  27. The Tin Man says:

    f*ck the spam filter

  28. anjin-san says:

    > The bulk of the anti war movement was always about being anti Bush

    No, the bulk of the anti war movement was about being anti war. The Iraq war, to be specific. You will have to leave that argument in the alternate Foxverse where it belongs.

  29. matt says:

    I’ll go on the record opposing this latest war in Libya like I opposed the war in Iraq. I didn’t oppose the war in Afghanistan but I sure as hell oppose how it was done.

    Should we start losing soldiers in Libya like we do in Iraq or Afghanistan I fully expect the anti-war movement to be rolling out again.

  30. Barry says:

    Seconding Ben Wolf – there were six years of failed war, and the system running the US thinks of that as two successes, and is ready to go again, whenever there is profit to be made.

  31. Wiley Stoner says:

    Anjin and Mantis never change, except the subject. Why are you not protesting Obama’s attack on Libya? Had Bush or any GOP President done this you would be howling like dogs. (I wonder why) But since Obama is the source, and he is one of you (communist) it is ok. That is intellectual dishonesty on vivid display. Then again I forget it is hard to be intellectually honest if there is no intellect. Touche’

  32. mantis says:

    It’s funny to watch stoner boy have a conversation with himself. I can’t figure out which side is dumber.

  33. The Goose and the Gander

    What’s good for the goose,
    Should likewise prevail –
    Barring some excuse –
    For the goose’s male.

    The peaceniks all decried
    The Iraqi war zone,
    With protests worldwide
    In loud, lusty tone.

    Where are you, Code Pink?
    Come out, Dixie Chicks!
    Don’t from protest shrink;
    Wade into the mix!

    Can but Michael Moore
    A rebel voice find?
    Is not this new war
    With Bush’s affined?

    It seems goose and gander
    Are diff’rent kinds of bird.
    The first endured slander,
    The second: not a word!