Where Is the Antiwar Left on Afghanistan?

Maybe the anti-war left only protests when Republican presidents are in office.


I remember being at the presidential debate between Michael Dukakis and George H.W. Bush at UCLA in the fall of 1988, a young Bush campaign writer on temporary assignment as a press aide to Gov. John Sununu, who was then the co-chair of the national campaign. My job the night of the debate was to deliver the governor from the debate hall to a nearby building where the national press corps was waiting to do post-debate interviews, and then escort him from one news anchor to the next. To get from one building to the other, the Secret Service had constructed a secure "chute," temporary fencing that ran from door to door, lined with agents every few feet. We had to run a gauntlet through protestors dressed as skeletons, beating the "drums of war," waving signs, and standing amidst a "die-in" of people zipped into body bags on the ground. This was because President Reagan had sent a thousand troops to protect the Panama Canal Zone from an increasingly aggressive Manual Noriega. 

Later, as a White House staffer, I remember hundreds of protesters outside the Bush 41 White House, a permanent presence across the street in Lafayette Square. Many times the drums were so loud it was hard to concentrate, and it seemed every presidential appearance outside the White House involved protesters. The antiwar crowd continued to protest our actions in Panama, and then later, in the first Persian Gulf War. During the Bush 43 administration, it seemed to get worse. Cindy Sheehan, the mother of Army specialist Casey Sheehan, who was killed on duty in Iraq, personally followed President Bush in a high-profile war protest for what seemed like years and then wrote a book about it. It felt like every time you turned on the TV, there was Cindy Sheehan. 

So as more and more Americans focus on our nation's escalating involvement in Afghanistan, I've noticed something is missing: Where is the antiwar left? Where are the protesters? Specifically, where is Cindy Sheehan? [See photos of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.]

Well, it turns out she's writing a blog these days, and apparently she's still protesting but nobody cares. No press following her, no talk shows, no crowds at her appearances. Her latest post on July 9 includes a “Requiem for the Anti-War Movement,” in which she writes: "Remember that old saying, 'What if they gave a war and nobody came?' Well, here in D.C. I am living the opposite: 'What if they gave an anti-war protest and nobody came?'" She's on to something. Despite the fact that President Obama has tripled our troop presence in Afghanistan and the Democratic Congress approved $33 billion more for what is now America's longest-running war, there's been an eerie silence from the left--no "die-ins," no beating drums, no anti-Obama protestors dressed in skeleton costumes. No one protesting the president's every appearance.

Maybe the antiwar left only protests when Republican presidents are in office. Maybe it's not about Barack Obama and the Democratic Congress, it was only about George Bush. Maybe for the antiwar left, it's not about pacifism or soldiers' lives or even what's in our national interest. Maybe it's just about Republicans.

  • Check out our editorial cartoons on Afghanistan.
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  • See photos of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.