Posted on January 27, 2003 in Washington Watch

Anti-war sentiment, on display during last week’s mass demonstrations, is actually deeper and more wide-spread than those protests. To be sure, the demonstrations were substantial and noteworthy given the range of endorsers and organizers and the diversity of the actual participants. But, significant opposition exists on other levels as well.

In almost 50 cities across the United States, resolutions have been passed by city councils declaring opposition to the Bush Administration’s march toward war. Three items stand out. First is the range of the cities involved. In the past, efforts such as this occurred in predictably liberal communities with large universities and a history of peace and social justice activism. So it is not surprising that university cities like: San Francisco and Berkeley California (University of California); Ithaca, New York, (Cornell University); Madison, Wisconsin (University of Wisconsin); and New Haven, Connecticut (Yale University)–all have passed such anti-war resolutions.

When the list, however, grows to include such major cities as Chicago, Illinois and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, then Washington had better pay attention.

Chicago’s resolutions, passed just two weeks ago, by a vote of 46 to one, echoes many of the themes found in similar initiatives passed in smaller communities. Major objections are raised against the Bush Administration’s “unilateral” foreign policy noting that : “A pre-emptive and unilateral U.S. military attack would violate international law and our commitments under the U.N. Charter and further isolate the U.S. from the rest of the world.” The resolution also chides the Administration for failing to exhaust “traditional diplomatic efforts” and articulating a “clear strategic objective or outcome” both of which have cost the U.S. the “support of many of our important allies.”

While acknowledging that “Saddam Hussein is a tyrant who should be removed from power, both for the good of the Iraqi people and for the security of Iraq’s neighboring countries” the resolution goes on to question whether or not “a unilateral U.S. military action would result in the installation of a free and democratic Iraqi government” and whether “U.S. military actions would risk the deaths of thousands of Iraqi civilians without guaranteeing the safety and security of U.S. citizens.”

Finally the Chicago elected officials question the cost of such a war and conclude their protest resolution by objecting to a “preemptive U.S. military attack” and urging the Bush Administration to “to work through the U.N. Security Council and reaffirm our nation’s commitment to the rule of law in all international relationships.”

A second issue to note in all of this national anti-war activity is the advanced state of the mobilization even before a war has actually occurred. Congress may have been afraid to confront the Administration’s war build-up, but city councils, trade unions, churches, and other major constituency organizations have responded.

Polls show that the content of these anti-war efforts reflect the mainstream of public opinion. Even when a poll shows that two-thirds may express support of a U.S. invasion of Iraq, on closer scrutiny, the “softness” of that support becomes clear. While the regime in Baghdad has no U.S. support, most Americans are not supportive of a unilateral U.S. war. They are wary of the dangers of the U.S. acting alone. They feel that the Administration has not made a clear and convincing case, and they fear the impact of such recklessness on long term U.S. relations with allies and friends around the world.

A third item to note is the apparent spontaneity of the protests. While some efforts have been coordinated, and some groups have been instrumental in mobilizing anti-war sentiment and providing communication links, for the most part there is a grassroots upsurge at work that is quite impressive.

As I have traveled about the United States, speaking before various community groups, I find anti-war sentiment to be widespread. Invariably, a statement expressing discomfort with Administration’s Middle East policies and opposition to a U.S.-led war will generate an ovation from diverse audiences–whether student groups or gatherings of businessmen.

Given this, the widespread and still growing phenomenon of city-council resolutions, as a reflection of public mood, is important to note.

Another indication of the significance of this sentiment is its impact on the developing 2004 presidential contest. It’s intriguing to watch the Bush Administration attempting to make its case for a war. They may have the rest of the world convinced that war is inevitable, but they aren’t winning points at home.

When George Bush, the father, and his Secretary of State James Baker worked to confront Saddam Hussein’s invasion and occupation of Kuwait in 1990 and 1991, they worked steadily to build public support. They started with the public opposed to a war–at that time, America’s first since the debacle of Vietnam. But by making their case and building a massive international coalition, they gradually convinced Americans to support such an effort.

This Administration has gone in the opposite direction. Public sentiment in favor of a war is diminishing and appears to be directly affected by our allies’ rejection of such a conflict. As a result, the more the Administration appears to boast that it will “go it alone, if necessary”–the more fearful and opposed the public is to such posturing.

Finally, this growing national sentiment is apparently having an impact on the Democratic challengers as well. Governor Howard Dean has been quite vigorous in promoting his anti-war credentials, using it to his advantage. And last week, Senator John Kerry, a leading Democratic contender who voted in favor of the Bush Administration pro-war resolution in the Senate, has begun to raise “grave questions” about the dangers of a unilateral strike against Iraq. A note: what impressed Kerry was a television network sponsored focus group poll which showed the degree to which his position effectively resonated with U.S. opinion on the issue of war.

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