Requiem for a War: Portland's peace community responds with silence and contempt to US troop pullout from Iraq.

It genuinely pains me to see local antiwar and peace activists responding to the war's end mostly with silence, contempt, disgust and indifference.

By Lawrence J. Maushard of Portland, Oregon. Lawrence is a journalist and author. Previously, he contributed "OHSU leads with treatment of torture victims; so why are they honoring Condi Rice, who authorized waterboarding?"

President Barack Hussein Obama has made good on the promise and commitment that got him elected: ending the war in Iraq. In a place like Portland, Oregon, that should mean something.

For years, there was an opportunity almost every weekend in the Rose City to participate in a public antiwar demonstration, often numbering in the 10s of thousands hosted by dozens of antiwar and social justice groups and churches.

And you could always count on the peace rally still held every Friday, rain or shine, at 5pm in Pioneer Courthouse Square hosted by the Portland Peaceful Response Coalition, often accompanied by the wistfully uptempo No War Drum Corps.

Actually, Portland was antiwar long before the invasion of Iraq began. On August 22, 2002, for example, months before the American attack the following spring, thousands of men, women, students, seniors and children peacefully and boisterously turned out in a Little Beirut-style welcome for then-President George W. Bush at a downtown Hilton fundraiser for former GOP Senator Gordon Smith.

For our troubles, Portland's finest shot us with “non-lethal” ammo and flash-bang rounds, poured out relentless geysers of pepper spray in full-face assaults, applied headlocks to women, landed batons on defenseless protesters, and drove a patrol car into the retreating crowd trapped like rats on Taylor Street at Fifth Avenue. I was there, got hit and blasted, and saw it all.

Scenes from that chaotic police riot made every network morning news show the next day, and the American corporate media giant The New York Times accurately reported we were “one of the largest groups of demonstrators Mr. Bush has encountered since September 11.” Talk about being ahead of the war crimes' protest curve. Hooray for our side, for sure, but the fight-club cops injured many people, nine of which filed suit and won substantial monetary awards.

A number of antiwar rallies followed, probably the next important gathering on March 19-20, 2003 when W – our American Tojo – finally pulled the trigger on his shock and awe blitzkrieg. Thousands poured into the downtown streets, while a number of demonstrators shockingly ran onto the I-5 freeway and staged spontaneous sit-downs in the middle of the busy night-time traffic lanes. An amazingly bold damn-the-consequences occupation if there ever was one.

A group of black bloc marchers famously knocked down a policeman who tried to prevent their march onto a highway on-ramp, and a McDonald's window or two ended up sacrificial martyrs in a brief attack on American consumer capitalism.

Most demonstrators eventually settled into the SW Second Avenue approach at the Burnside Bridge. Thousands of unpermitted peaceful demonstrators successfully claimed that prime piece of downtown real estate and easily baited the riot clad police into shutting down the city's main arterial waterspan during a long standoff. It ended only when the militarized gendarmes used flash bang grenades to stun and scatter the assembled masses into the predawn night.

As the war dragged on for years, much of the demonstrations failed to evoke the drama of those early confrontations, though occasionally a new radical twist would emerge. During a March 2007 protest, demonstrators infamously burned a life-size effigy of an American GI in the South Park Blocks. The YouTube video went viral to the apoplectic disgust of conservative pundits nationwide. Death threats were scattered throughout the video's commentary section.

Irregardless of the specific incidents and events, countless numbers in the local peace community devoted their lives in so many different ways to ending the increasingly despised and detested US occupation of Iraq.

Looking, however, to our enduring deployments in S. Korea, Germany, Japan and many other nations, most antiwar activists and the nation in general genuinely, dejectedly assumed deep inside that we would never leave the storied, ancient lands surrounding the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

So it genuinely pains me to see local antiwar and peace activists responding to the war's end mostly with silence, contempt, disgust and indifference.

The Portland Peaceful Response Coalition's web site has no recognition yet of the withdrawal. A bright red box at the top of the page screams “Will Democrats? Get the Hell Out of Iraq.” The site is currently focused on promoting a Dec. 9 draft resolution for the Portland City Council establishing a preference for redirecting national funding for Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts to domestic social needs. It includes the provision, “whereas the drawdown of troops should be done in a measured way that does not destabilize the region and that can accelerate the transfer of responsibility to regional authorities.”

A Dec. 15 post by Mark Den, a long-time presence on the left-leaning Portland IndyMedia web site, typically claims “obusha is disgusting. The nightmare for Iraq is NOT over. I do not want to ever again hear from anyone about why we should vote for republicans or democrats, two corporate parties of war crimes, just itching now for yet another war. Monsters!”

PDX Peace, a former area coalition “focused on the immediate goal of ending the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and bringing US troops home,” states on its web site that as of last February it is no longer meeting and recommends contacting a member group. It links to at least 35 other peace and justice sites, none of which acknowledges the troop pullout on their homepage.

Community radio station KBOO-FM, broadcasting in the People's Republic of Portland since the height of the Vietnam war in 1968, had absolutely nothing about the war's end on its web site, with no mention of the troop pullout in its blog or comment sections. Nothing. My how times have changed.

Of course, the invasion and occupation of Iraq to my thinking was a war crime. Pure and simple. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, et al. are all war criminals who need to be sent to the dockets in The Hague as soon as possible. I believe that will happen. And it's also a good bet to believe Obama will pull out US troops from the mess he inherited in Afghanistan by the middle of his second term. Call me an optimist.

President Obama didn't say he'd make the war right, he didn't say he could repair the damage or heal the wounds or somehow make it all worthwhile and justified. He simply said he'd end the war. And he did.

But that is apparently not good enough for many of my fellow left-of-center comrades. “Obama is a lying, murdering war criminal without an ounce of integrity who is arguably the worst pResident in US history,” according to a post by “J” on Portland IndyMedia.

I just wish these guys had better short-term memories.

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    "irregardless" is not a word, and you think the war is really over? War was never declared in the first place so hearing another announcement of "mission accomplished" didn't mean anything to any of us in the local peace community. Obama merely prefers drones to land patrols and violence is still a nearly daily event. What has actually changed? War is still raging and we continue to lose the plot in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The NDAA now authorizes military activity on American soil against American citizens. Have we stood down any of our spending on the military industrial complex as a whole? Why should we celebrate what was a fundamentally a non-event?

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      Seth, that's absurd.

      The wars (or whatever you want to call 'em) in Pakistan and Afghanistan are not over. And military spending continues largely apace.

      But to call the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and the handover of authority to an independent and sovereign government a "non-event" is just plain silly.

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        On this site previously it has been acknowledged that the SOFA which President Bush negotiated was set to expire. It is a fact that troops were not permitted to remain in Iraq because their government did not grant immunity for the crimes that they may commit. I believe that could have something to do with Seth's description of a non-event. Making light of his opinion is in character, however, when the official position of the Democratic Party is that the Project for a New American Century does not exist. Of course, General Clark has indicated that as late as 2007 former Defense Secretary Rumsfeld told him that no one would prevent the plans to take over seven governments. Iran is on the list. And that is totalitarianism. And it is an event which will perhaps eclipse Mandarin on this site.

        For a few of us anyway.

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          "the SOFA which President Bush negotiated was set to expire"

          Yeah, a status-of-forces agreement that all political parties seemed to suggest would be extended, renegotiated, or pushed past. And yet, under this president, the USA held up its end of the deal and pulled forces out.

          Y'all been losing so long, you don't know how to react when you win.

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            Obviously, it's a huge deal that we don't have 100,000 U.S. troops stationed in Iraq. Suggesting otherwise is childish and suggests a real insensitivity toward both the Iraqi people and our service men and women.

            That said, people are not wrong to criticize this administration and the Democratic congress for their unwillingness to get defense spending under control or for the disregard they have shown for our civil liberties in the "war on terrorism".

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            The result of the occupation of Iraq is that seventy-five percent of the profits from the oil in that country go to the multi-national oil companies. So, y'all with lots of stock in oil companies call this a "win". Now, with a twenty year moratorium on the records that show how sixty billion dollars in reconstruction can not be accounted for ponder this: Who will fund the hundreds of thousands of contractors who will provide security for those multi-nationals? My bet is that it will be folks who pay taxes. That expenditure will compete with domestic spending.

            So tell me Mr. Blue, is that winning. Seems like someone has been drinking tiger milk or whatever has replaced cool-aid for the terminally loyal leadership conference dems.

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            Kari, "this president" didn't end the war. He continued to apply pressure to the Iraqi government to then end, but demanded immunity from responsibility for US troops.

            The US was kicked out by the sovereign government that W installed and that, sensibly, leans toward Iran.

            Leaving Iraq is not something for which Obama should get credit, unless you think that NOT committing another indisputable war crime is worthy of praise.

            Those of us who can distinguish between the law of war and "American Exceptionalism" see no reason to thank Obama for--finally--following the law.

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    All of this just shows how many of these "peace" activists are about themselves and have become irrelevant to the general public. Let them sink into their contempt and their irrelevancy and their name-calling. They will never have an impact on policy in the real world.

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      How very troll-like of you, Bill.

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        I should have noted for clarity that my accusation of trollitude was based on the ad hominem quality of your comment, Bill.

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      Bill- sorry I don't like your billion dollar candidate/president. And, since you have such great power in the real world, please get him to do something that his big-money cronies don't want him to do. Go ahead.

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    I'm glad we have had a local peace movement, whatever their limits. They have all helped get us where we are now. There is much more to do, including bring many more troops home and cutting the defense budget.

    And, of course, as I wrote in 2007 "The most significant and substantial action the Oregon 74th Legislative Assembly could take for world peace is to fund dramatic increases in Mandarin language and study abroad in China programs for Oregon students. It should be on every progressive’s legislative agenda." (here)

    That's still true a we approach the 2012 legislative session. And some of the fight (with teachers' unions in opposition) is at the local school district level (here and here)

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      David, I support the expansion of Mandarin language programs. However, you can't force students and parents to sign up for these classes. Tualatin HS hired an excellent native speaking teacher to teach Mandarin who was then laid off because of the very low registration for the class. Some public education and interest has to happen. The lack of Mandarin classes is not the fault of teachers, but the fault of the lack of interest by the public. Your friends in the business community could do something about that.

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      I am in agreement with you, Grant. We have all sacrificed because of a desire to have full spectrum dominance. You may be aware that Dow Chemical has an application to permit spraying 24-D, the primary ingredient of agent orange on the corn crops of America since Monsanto has taken over with GMO seed corn. Is this winning too?

      The corn adsorbs the 24-D and try to find a product without a corn based ingredient.

      That said, please tell me what procedure in a representative form of government is available to We The People to stop this insanity?

      Clearly, the leadership conference dems, The Clintonistas, do not care about the ninety-nine percent or the survival of the Republic. Guess y'all should be happy that the South has risen again. A confederacy of dunces.

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    Any group of "activists" who burn images of American troops in effigy, who say there is no difference between the political parties and the policies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama, who simply make hateful name calling their response to the withdrawal of over 100,000 U.S. troops from combat and occupation to come home to their families, simply are unable to make any connection to American values or American politics, and are incapable of offering any leadership either in values or policy to the American people. The reality is they haven't, and they won't ever. They are so absorbed in their own personal alienation and self righteousness they have nothing to offer anyone.

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      Guess we won't really know whether your long distance psychological diagnosis of direct action activists is accurate until we are no longer involved in hostilities anywhere in the world, Bill. I am not holding my breath until that happens. I have never personally participated in these antiwar protests, believing as I do, that a total withdrawal from all military activity world wide would be a bad thing not only for us but for the world. That said, I agree with these guys that killing people in Afghanistan and Pakistan by pushing the "a" button on an xbox controller kills people just as dead as an assault by ground troops, and that the drone program, renditions, domestic use of the US military, holding of prisoners indefinitely without charge, are all flatly illegal, and are an existential threat to our republic. It was true when Bush was doing it and it's true when Obama does it.

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      Among the reasons that Peanuts was so populaar, and remains so, is the five cent psychological advice.

      Where do I send my nickle, Bill?

      Members of my family have an extensive military service record to this day. Multiple tours in the present conflicts. West Point grad. I do not accept your evaluation of any of their values in the negative frame you present.

      It is typical of your comments to presume things not in evidence. Now perhaps you can answer one question for all of us. Are you praying for the conflict to bring Jesus back?

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        This is not psychological advice, it's simply the record that these activists have failed to establish any leadership with the public and and their failure is their legacy. They ooze their personal alienation and ill will in their statements and actions.

        Since Vietnam to the Iraq war I have witnessed real peace activists and marched with them, most who were people of good will and they influenced people with it. My father is a Silver Star combat Marine veteran, and he hated war, including the Iraq and Vietnam war but he always and everywhere honored veterans and the sacrifice they made, and had disgust for idiots and miscreants who burn the flag, hang soldiers in effigy or make attacks on military service or try to shame those those who perform it with honor. What is in evidence here are the actions and statements of those in this article. And they speak volumes as they have reaped largely a harvest of failure.

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          Other than failing to answer the specific question which you were asked all that one can determine from your 7:21 p.m. 12-28-'11 post is that you have an anger that you are broadcasting. The anger is disturbing. Your pathology is troubling. Do you or do you not count yourself among the so-called Christians who are drooling for an end time conflict that brings about the return of Jesus Christ? If that is so your tormented hatred of those who simply want peace is perhaps understandable. All competent scholarship reveal that John of Patmos was writing about Nero and feared the Roman Empire.

          Since 1935 when Abraham Vereide created the Fellowship there has been a steady decline in the efficacy of Christianity in the US. He postulated that for nearly two thousand years that mankind had gotten in wrong. That taking care of the least among us was a mistake. This group has made a fetish of power likening Jesus to Lenin, Ho Chi Minh, and Bin Laden. Sadly, one needs only to look at the uncontained greed and the contempt for mankind which is exhibited by the one percent.

          Your hatred of Peace must mean that you despise the Prince of Peace and that you embrace this phony Jesus with a sword avenger.

          If that is not so then declare it. But take your hatred of Peace and get behind me, Satan.

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            I have no idea how you read Bill's comments regarding the political ineffectiveness of the anti-war movement (and his desire that they were more effective) and wind up asking whether he's one of the kooky fundamentalists that wants to foment war in the Middle East in order to make the Book of Revelations come true.

            I do believe the phrase we're looking for here is "you've lost all perspective".

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              Without a doubt,Kari, you are projecting. The loss of perspective is failing to recognize the major influence of end-time theology on policies in the middle east.

              The topic is peace and peace activism. Why denegrate those who have worked for peace and those who in the tens of millions world wide joined in protest against the invasion of Iraq? Sadly. No tragically you represent status quo Bush-Obama foreign policy which is preparing to tear apart more of that region. The lack of recognition of the impacts that NDAA will have in repealing due process and involvement of the military in domestic policing is beyond believe. Perspective? It is apparent that you have lost it.

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                Marvin, let me try to explain this in very simple terms: 1] People who burn the American flag are extremely unpopular with Americans. 2] Peace activists who do this are therefore counterproductive to the peace movement. 3] Bill stated this obvious fact in a post. 4] You responded by asking him whether he is some end-times religious kook, when it was clear that he is not. 5] Bill did not dignify your idiotic and insulting question with an answer, but instead continued to press his point about counterproductivity. 6] You took his non-answer as an admission of guilt, and wrote up more cheap insults rather than responding to his critique. 7] Kari weighed in, trying to explain this to you. 8] Now, you continue to unintentionally prove Bill's point, with more evidence of juvenile alienation, self-defeating screaming, and even more insults dressed up with a few pop-psych catchphrases.

                But let me not leave this comment without answering your question. You ask "Why denegrate(sic) those who have worked for peace and those who in the tens of millions world wide joined in protest against the invasion of Iraq?.

                The answer to this is as follows: you don't speak for those people. In fact, your actions do nothing but divide and harm the efforts of the peace movement. And, as he stated up front, Bill is one of those people.

                With the peace movement having "friends" like you, who needs enemies?

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                  Thank you for your condescending remark. Try to focus. The issue is not flag burning. The issue presented was whether or not or if an adequate celebration had taken place by the Portland folks who have preferred peace as opposed to unending warfare.

                  Quite apparently, in a city where literacy and awareness are high, with your notable exception, there is no need to celebrate. Others have explained this clearly. You do not acknowledge it. Permanent warfare and full spectrum dominance is a totalitarian policy. Do tell me if you support it. Of course, with one hundred million copies of the left behind series sold you may ignore it. Others don't. Why try to make a personal attack on me when as much as I asked of beloved Bill is if he adheres to the endtime delusion. Too much to ask? I guess so.

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                    Like Bill's early comment, your fundy bashing is also ad hominem.

                    Ugly and unhelpful.

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                      Mr. Michtom, I agree with your characterization of my comments. As I have offended you or any other reader on this site I sincerely apologize. I admit that comments sticking to just the facts are sufficient in discussing the responses to the end of year SOFA issue. Happy New Year!

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                  Steven Maurer, there was one incident in Portland in 2007 in which a handful of demonstrators who were not organizers of the march and rally burned a soldier in effigy, and were rejected on the spot and later by the vast majority of the local peace movement.

                  You appear to claim that they are typical of the organized peace movement in Portland. It has many problems, see comment below to main post. But if you think these actions are typical of that movement you only show that you are ignorant of it. (That you are probably reflects failings on the side of organizers, but those failings don't change the fact.)

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          Bill, Veterans for Peace, Military Families Speak Out, and later Iraq Veterans Against the War (which now includes Afghanistan Vets) have been core groups in the Portland peace movement in the past decade, VFP for much longer. If you were to track the political programs of various demonstrations, support for veterans and their families and survivor families and criticism of shameful policies cutting such support or treating National Guard troops and veterans as second class even as they became the majority of front-line forces have been consistent elements.

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      Bill, a tiny number of activists in a march of thousands burned the soldier in effigy. Those doing it were confronted at the time by others in the demonstration. If you are going to generalize them to the whole Portland movement, you at minimum really do not know who or what you are talking about and perhaps don't want to know.

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    I may have missed it, but I don't see the stunning fact mentioned here that the US leaves about 17,000 personnel in Iraq representing the State Dept and other agencies, supposedly to maintain the gigantic US embassy there, the largest in the world. Thousands of these personnel are heavily-armed mercenaries. The US general in charge of the occupation has just asserted that US troops in nearby countries will be returned to support the merc's as needed. As Iraq continues to become unglued in coming weeks, we will see whether the recent withdrawal of combat troops is something to celebrate or merely a tactic. The peace movement needs to be as vigilant as ever.

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    The war in Iraq, and in the region is far from over. To be so smug in your convictions and frame in it such a light is short-sided.

    We still have military personal on the ground, the country is on the verge of a civil war, we are contracting an army of private security , and we're about ready to award Iraq w/an $11 billion dollar arms-sale?

    How exactly has the war in Iraq ended? A troop pullout does not equal the end to a war.

    I'm an left-to-center Obama supporter, but to celebrate the United States foreign policy right now is not something I choose or want to do...

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    Would you also have us cheer a rapist for getting off one victim and as he's going to stalk another?

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    The US is a militaristic and imperialistic world power, has been for a long time, and will likely be until our economy dissolves as the Soviet Union's did. The banks, multi-nationals, and military contractors run the show through their toadies in Congress [RE: Eisenhower's farewell address and Major General Smedley Butler's "War is a Racket"].

    Though Obama is not as jingoistic in rhetoric as was Cheney, I mean Shrub, the end result is much the same. This has little to do with the interests or values of the American people, democracy, justice, or human rights. It's about the folks with money and power getting more money and power.

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    Going back to the original post -- Kari says that we (the peace movement) don't know how to claim victory. For me as a peace activist, the problem is that "the War" has been constructed legally and politically as "The War on Terror." It's not clear to me that we as a movement have won a victory. That doubt comes from the War on Terror framing as well as doubts about our own effectiveness.

    PPRC, who Lawrence Maushard calls out by name, began with a call for a peaceful response to the Sept 2011 terrorist attacks, rather than the war on Afghanistan.

    The characterization of Portland's peace movement in the post and even more in the comments is highly distorted. As noted in comments above, the March 2007 burning in effigy was not typical and was rejected. Here is a description of who spoke at the rally that day (which I attended, the march was over 5000 people). The description, from the PDX Peace Coalition website, is in future tense, but accurately describes who spoke. Note the fringe elements in bold:

    "1:30-2:15 pm Rally Speakers will include: • Maggie Pondolfino, Military Families Speak Out, whose son is now serving in Iraq • Kate Power sings “Travis John” • Tina and Robert Bean, Iraq Veterans Against the War • Raed Jarrar, an Iraqi-Palestinian writer and activist who coordinated the first survey of Iraqi civilian casualties. • Jackie Spurlock, American Iranian Friendship Council who recently traveled to Iran • A Song by Jesse Dyen, Camp Casey Songwriter • Congressman Earl Blumenauer, author of the New Direction for Iraq Act • Rev. Lynne Smouse López, Pastor, Ainsworth United Church of Christ • Special Guests: Portland Mayor Tom Potter, Oregon State Rep. Diane Rosenbaum, Rep. Chip Shields and Oregon AFL-CIO President Tom Chamberlain.

    Our program will be hosted by Geri Washington of Oregon Action and Cristina Perry Gonzales of American Friends Service Committee.

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    The Portland peace/anti-war movement is peculiar. Many of its actions before 2007 and since 2010 have been organized through a "Peace Network" that is not a continuing organization, operates in terms of tightly constricted technical mobilizations of demonstrations, and does not take positions or foster discussions within its work beyond the political programs of specific demos. There is much to be criticized about that, potentially. The PDX Peace Coalition arose to take a different approach. It collapsed for a number of reasons. At present there is no group that could take a position reflecting the movement as a whole in the metro area on the withdrawal of troops from Iraq.

    I agree with points others have raised about the continuing large U.S. embassy/base and the fact that many of the U.S. troops have been relocated to Kuwait and other Gulf states, there is the question of continuing presence of U.S. military contractors, and the fact that the "victory" of U.S. withdrawal ultimately rests with Iraqi unwillingness to tolerate U.S. forces having impunity.

    As to the effectiveness of the U.S. anti-war movement, much more of it lies with the blackout by major U.S. media than with attitudes on the part of the movement. At least four national demonstrations of over 100,000 people in New York or Washington D.C. were downplayed to the point of being ignored, or characterized as "tens of thousands." Portland demonstrations of over 10,000 on several occasions and over 20,000 on one were similarly ignored -- the national press simply did not cover even the fact of their being a movement outside a few larger cities.

    Finally, it seems possible to me that the occasion would have gotten a different response if it had not coincided with the debate and passage a Defense Authorization Act that includes expansion of dicatorial police state powers for the president, with his approval -- this law purports to put into statute unconstitutional powers that previously had rested on one 4th Circuit Appeals Court decision, and was opposed originally by President Obama not because it purported to codify this assault on civil rights, human rights and civil liberties, but because he thought it might restrict his flexibility to exercise them.

    The closure of one front in "The Long War" on terrorism while another persists, others expand, and this effort to institutionalize such illegitimate war powers permanently, given the unending overall "war," seemed less of a victory in context, to me anyway. Most peace activists I know were spending their energy fighting the NDAA rather than making cheap victory claims that arguably weren't ours anyway.

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    In some ways it arguably is more peculiar that there has been no BlueOregon post on President Obama keeping his promise, however belatedly and more at Iraqi insistence than due to his own preferred policy, to take U.S. troops out of Iraq, than that the peace movement hasn't done so.

    Insofar as this is a victory for anything it's Obama's promise, narrowly construed. It might look like double-dipping, of course, since he had already claimed to have taken out all combat troops and said that was the end of the Iraq War. Whether his overall military policy will be persuasive to voters who voted for him as a peace candidate in 2008 is his case to make. IMO he has a tough row to hoe on that one.

    Also, those who don't like what the peace movement has been, however mistaken their perceptions of it are, as many seem to be based on the comments here, might consider stepping up themselves to make a better one, according to their/your lights. Criticizing other people for not doing what you aren't doing either is kind of a cheap shot IMO. (Apparently doesn't apply to Lawrence M. btw, though I disagree with his characterization.)

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    So we're supposed to cheer Obama because the Iraqi gov't forced him out of the country? Well, it is better than the bad, old days like in SE Asia when the US's answer to a recalcitrant host was to replace the host. Yes, there is at least the respect for the SOFA- we can credit Obama with having respected that agreement.

    But, let's face it, the motivation for having written the piece about admonishing the peace community for its lack of enthusiasm is entirely that Obama is a Democrat and the first African-American president. Practically all defense of Obama's Admin. is based in those two identities, rather than a fair-minded assessment of his GOP-lite administration.

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