A most unusual thing happened yesterday [Aug. 31] at the protest in front of
the White House against President Obama’s planned bombing of Syria.
A group of mostly young, white, male Republicans gathered on the edge of the demonstration holding hand-written signs. But there was something peculiar about this band of right-wingers: they weren’t behaving like the counter-protesters who regularly showed up at the antiwar demonstrations against the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
These Republicans weren’t holding signs that read, “Hitler = Stalin = Assad,” or “Commies Love Dictators.” They weren’t yelling “get a job” or “love it or leave it” at the other demonstrators. Instead, their signs read, “Obama the Warmonger” and “Anti-War Republican” and “Conservatives against War with Syria.”
Was this a parody? Was it a politically calculated action to undermine Obama simply because he’s a Democrat?
I put on my reporter’s hat and inquired about their motives. I wanted to find out why Republicans would be opposing war. Why had they gone off script, which clearly calls for them to spew venom at antiwar demonstrators?
Matthew Hurtt, the gentleman holding the “Anti-War Republican” sign, agreed to speak with me. “I’m generally opposed to military action that doesn’t directly protect our borders,” he said. “Obama ran as the antiwar, peace prize president and he’s been totally the opposite – with a secret drone war in Yemen and droning innocent people in Pakistan. I’m opposed to that.”
Obama’s planned bombing of Syria, Hurtt said, “continues the tradition of both Democrats and Republicans acting with recklessness on foreign policy issues.”
Hurtt, a direct mail copy writer for conservative causes and contributor to Reason magazine and The Daily Caller, explained that he and his fellow conservatives may not have the same mission as other groups gathered at the demonstration, but that there are certain issues, such as stopping wars, on which they can come together.
Lacy MacAuley, a veteran antiwar and global justice activist in Washington, D.C., also noticed the diverse groups at the demonstration.
“This is representative of just how unpopular U.S. military intervention is,”
she told me. “Different groups have come together from all directions today
to protest U.S. military intervention because it’s wildly unpopular.”
MacAuley, who serves as the media manager for the left-leaning Institute for Policy Studies, described the ongoing armed conflict in Syria as a “quagmire.” If the U.S. drops bombs on that quagmire, it’s not going to make it less of a quagmire, she explained.
“No one wants to see innocent civilians killed, whether it’s by the Assad regime or chemical weapons or our own cluster bombs or our own drone attacks,” MacAuley said. “Our bombs and our military are not going to help anything.”
In my conversation with Hurtt, I asked him where he stood on the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. I was surprised to learn that he opposed both of them. His first-ever op-ed, which ran in his high school newspaper in Tennessee, was a piece in opposition to the war in Iraq. “I got threats,” he recalled. “It was crazy because everyone at that time was pro-war.”
Later at the demonstration, I ran into William Blum, the author of Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower and other books on U.S. foreign policy.
“The whole world is opposed to bombing Syria,” Blum told me. “It’s not just the American public. It’s the French public, the British public. It’s amazing: Barack Obama stands alone.”
Ray McGovern, a former CIA analyst who was scheduled to give a speech at the demonstration, told me the news media will play a major role in whether Obama actually ends up ordering military strikes against Syria.
“If after all the indignities of the last several weeks – the NSA scandals, the prosecution of journalists and all of the other things going on – if the press doesn’t wake up now, we should give up on them,” McGovern said.
Hurtt also mentioned the NSA as another issue that can bring different groups together. He pointed to the efforts of Ron Wyden, the Democratic senator from Oregon, as an example.
Hurtt doesn’t agree with most of Wyden’s policy positions. “But on the issue
of the NSA, there were places that Wyden was helping to bring that to light,”
he said. “There are places where we can come together. People talk about gridlock
and not working together in Washington. But on some of these big issues, we
can work with people across the aisle.”
Mark Hand is a journalist who primarily covers energy issues. He lives across
the Potomac River in Arlington, Va., and has attended dozens of antiwar protests
in D.C., over the past 25-plus years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.