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Andrews on the Front Lines of Peace Movement

When Tom Andrews surveys the political landscape from his Dupont Circle office, the director of the anti-war group Win Without War likes what he sees. [IMGCAP(1)]

For starters, he says, there are few signs that 2000 Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader will reprise his role as a spoiler, as he is widely believed to have been in the presidential election four years ago.

A former Democratic Congressman from Maine, Andrews believes that voters who oppose the war in Iraq will nevertheless support Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in November, despite his vote authorizing the use of force.

“I have yet to see any serious traction within the community I’ve been speaking to about a Ralph Nader candidacy, and I’m talking to people a lot,” he said of anti-war voters. “I’m not losing sleep” over it.

Despite his organization’s neutrality in the presidential election, Andrews makes no secret of the fact that he is supporting Kerry. He said he’s spent “a great deal of effort” making presentations to left-leaning Democratic groups and their allies highlighting “the distinctions between [Kerry and President Bush] and their positions on national security.”

And Andrews said he would consider taking to the hustings for Kerry if he were asked.

While Win Without War — a coalition of 42 national organizations, ranging from the NAACP to MoveOn.org, opposed to the U.S. war in Iraq and the subsequent occupation — does not endorse candidates for elective office, Andrews said it does “encourage our members and all Americans to vote, and we advance a particular point of view on Iraq and national security.”

Andrews said Win Without War attempts to speak to Americans “with a mainstream voice” and has steered clear of inviting more radical groups to join its coalition.

“We are not pacifists,” he said. “There is an appropriate place for military action, but this is not it.”

Andrews acknowledges that there are policy disagreements between liberal, anti-war voters and Kerry. But he maintains that most of these voters are pragmatic enough to cast their ballot in favor of a viable candidate whose views are closer to their own than for one who, like Nader, shares their beliefs but has no chance of ever moving into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

“It’s inconceivable to everyone I’ve spoken to that there’s any alternative to changing this disastrous course of the country than by voting for and supporting a candidate that has a chance to actually win,” he said.

What’s more, he said, most anti-war liberals such as himself don’t believe Kerry is too far off from their own stances, though he did concede that the Senator’s election was unlikely to bring a swift end to the Iraqi conflict.

“There’s not very much to swallow” with Kerry, he said. “It’s a tactical difference.”

This weekend, with the release of Michael Moore’s movie “Fahrenheit 9/11” and the June 30 deadline for the U.S. handover of sovereignty in Iraq right around the corner, Andrews said “a good part” of the anti-war action will be centered on the controversial film.

“Our member organizations and others are promoting [the film] and urging people to use it as an opportunity to get up and talk about the administration and Iraq policy,” he said.

A Win Without War ad campaign set to be rolled out early next week will also address the handover and “lay down as clearly as we can that this is once again something that is being promoted in such a way that expectations are quite high … but the facts belie that optimism.”

“We are about to release a series of announcements and statements about the steps we need to take to turn this around,” he added.

Furthermore, Andrews said his group expects to continue to be “engaged in advertising on the issue” through the November presidential election.

Andrews noted that as the situation in Iraq has continued to unravel, the Bush administration has sounded increasingly conciliatory notes toward the United Nations and other international groups — as demonstrated by the U.S. willingness to allow the United Nations a greater role in overseeing the transition of power in Iraq.

“The Bush administration has been moving to the Kerry position not because it woke up and decided it was wrong … all this has happened because of pressure within the United States and from abroad,” he said.

“We believe the key to moving this administration away from this radical policy is through public pressure,” he added.

But isn’t there a danger that the group could be a victim of its own success?

After all, if Bush proves adept at embracing a more multilateralist approach in Iraq, as Kerry has long advocated, what’s to stop a blurring of the lines, similar to what happened in 2000? Back then, Nader captured 3 percent of the vote by contending there was no real difference between the two major-party candidates.

It won’t happen, Andrews said, because of Bush’s “radical agenda.” Bush’s tenure has been marked by such extreme positions he will be unable to reprise his 2000 tactic of “looking as much like Al Gore and Bill Clinton as possible.”

But will nuanced differences on national security between Kerry and Bush be enough to rally the anti-war crowd to the polls on Nov. 2? And once they get there, to vote for Kerry?

Andrews believes it is.

“The first galvanizing factor is the policies of the Bush administration,” he said. “There is a very meaningful distinction between these two candidates.

“Part of the job for us is to make sure that people understand those differences,” he said, adding that any so-called “protest vote” will likely be about Bush and therefore break almost completely in Kerry’s favor.

Recent national polls showing Kerry leading Bush in the presidential election would in part seem to buoy Andrews’ argument that this time around, voters on the left are willing to hold their tongues when it comes to disagreements over policy. Still, Kerry’s lead decreases in most cases when Nader is thrown into the mix.

As for the future of Win Without War, Andrews — who continues to also run a consulting firm, New Economy Communications — said that even if there is a Kerry administration, his anti-war group’s work will continue.

“Any president is going to be facing pressure on national security questions,” Andrews said. “We are going to be certain we are at the table.”

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