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‘Strange bedfellows’ as US anti-war mood grows

Iconic anti-war agitator Medea Benjamin has seen a lot during her leadership of the radical women’s protest group Code Pink, but she admits that she is taken aback by the breadth of opposition to US plans for a military strike on Syria. On Wednesday she found herself in the unlikely position of thanking the conservative Texas Republican Congressman Ted Poe for asking pointed questions about the unintended consequences of such a strike.

“I never thought I’d ever be thanked by Code Pink,” she quoted Poe as telling her. “This is a guy who never even wanted to be in the same room as me.” The formation of such unlikely alliances has already cast a pall over US President Barack Obama’s plans. While he attempts to build support in Congress and abroad for a military strike against Syria, he is running into a growing tide of anti-war sentiment on the home front.

Groups including the ANSWER coalition and Code Pink were planning mass demonstration in Washington, San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles on Saturday to reflect the strongest anti-war mood since the height of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. “It’s not even the anti-war movement that is driving this,” Benjamin told dpa. “It’s people from the left. People from the right. Really from all streams of politics. The mainstream is overtaking us.” Well-known, and some would say notorious, for her radical anti-war activities Benjamin now finds herself on the same side as many right wing politicians who also oppose Obama’s military plans. “Such strange bedfellows,” she remarks. “It’s really quite remarkable.”

Even her own family, which she says includes members with ultra-right wing and ultra-left wing groups, is able to agree on this issue. “It’s never happened before,” she said. With many politicians facing reelection next year, they are extremely sensitive to voters’ aversion to further middle-eastern entanglements. “We should not take it lightly that the American people are not with us,” Senator Tom Udall, a Democrat from New Mexico, told the website Politico.com. “Americans are tired of war.”

Political analysts say that this mood could prevent Obama from getting the votes he needs for Congressional approval, mirroring the difficulties British Prime Minister David Cameron faced when trying to push a pro-intervention motion through parliament. In a Senate count, The New York Times found only 25 members in favour of action, compared to 17 against, 56 undecided and two unknowns, indicating major problems in finding the 60 votes Obama’s whips will need to prevent a filibuster.

“Democrats say they are being confronted with a difficult choice,” noted the paper: “Go against the wishes of a president who is popular and well respected in their caucus, or defy voters back home who are overwhelmingly opposed to another United States military intervention overseas.” The polling reflects what Eugene Puryear of ANSWER calls the “highest level of anti-war opposition since the Iraq War.” According to the Pew Research Center, 48 per cent of Americans surveyed this week oppose conducting military airstrikes against Syria. Only 29 per cent said they favoured military action.

The poll found that 74 per cent of Americans believe that a military strike would lead to a backlash against the US and its allies, while 61 per cent said it would lead to a long-term military commitment there. Conversely, only 33 per cent thought it would be effective in discouraging the use of chemical weapons. “There’s a lot of skepticism about achieving the stated goals, and there’s intense concern about the backlash a military strike could trigger,” Michael Dimock, the director of the Pew poll, told dpa.

Puryear said that many liberal organisations that traditionally have been at the forefront of the anti-war movement are still sitting this out as a gesture of support for Obama. But people are acting independently, and “the inboxes and phone operators of legislators are being inundated right now.”

Andy Goldberg, "‘Strange bedfellows’ as US anti-war mood grows," Business recorder. 2013-09-07.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Political change , Political crisis , Political challenges , War-Afghanistan , War on terror , US plans , Military strike , Chemical weapons , President Obama