John Kerry and Samantha Power Sell Syria to the Left, as the Protests Get Underway

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Sept. 6 2013 11:45 AM

John Kerry and Samantha Power Sell Syria to the Left, as the Protests Get Underway

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U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power's next task is to persuade progressives that war can be humanitarian.

Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images

It's been a loud and snark-laden refrain on the right for some time now: Hey, what ever happened to the "anti-war left"? Brent Bozell asked "where is the anti-war movement now?", chiding them for packing up after Barack Obama replaced George W. Bush. Young Americans for Liberty, the Ron Paul group, fired off a statement harrumphing that "when President Bush was in office, we saw constant anti-war protests from the Left," and asking "where are they now that President Obama is continuing — and expanding — all the same policies?"*

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

Well, here they are. Code Pink activists have put themselves behind Secretary of State John Kerry during his congressional hearings, making it into the most popular photos on the wires and (twice) getting him to respond to them. In my inbox there's an alert from CREDO Action, Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC), MoveOn.org Civic Action, and the Win Without War coalition, announcing Monday as a "day of action" against the war, and I've talked to Democrats who are actively whipping the vote in Congress against this.

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The administration's response: Win back the left that can be won. There's a ton of back-channel work going on between the administration and progressive "thought leaders,"** but the most visible aspect of the campaign was last night's appearance by John Kerry on All In With Chris Hayes. It was a solid interview, with about half of Hayes's questions directed at getting Kerry to explain what the U.S. wanted next. Did it want Assad out? How would that not descend into chaos?

HAYES: Can you unilaterally declare that you’re not taking responsibility for a civil war when the rebels on the ground are going to see this American intervention as possibly a door opening to further intervention and that is going to affect the way they conduct themselves.
KERRY: We have made it crystal clear to them. We make it crystal clear now in every statement that we have made, this action has nothing to do with engaging directly in Syria’s civil war on one side or the other. It has to do with enforcing a norm of international behavior that has protected people against chemical weapons.  And it is one of the things — chemical, biological, nuclear warfare, we have decided as a world we are going to protect people against those weapons.

And today at 2, the Center for American Progress, founded by progressives and Clinton exiles in the Bush years, will play host to U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power, when she will "discuss the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons against Syrian civilians and the need for an international response." Both the Hayes interview and the Power event are geared at progressives who might be tempted to side with the anti-war left, but had in the pre-Iraq years been open to humanitarian intervention.

So: The anti-war left isn't dead. It's reorganizing. Our president, who rose to prominence at an anti-war rally, and our secretary of state, who did the same, are battling that segment of the left.

*If you're asking "did he 'expand' the war in Iraq," congratulations, you have found the logic hole.

**Seems a nicer term than "bloggers."

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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