Peace movement leaders are debating the future of antiwar activism if President Trump announces Monday evening that he is sending more U.S. troops to the nearly 16-year-old war in Afghanistan.
When President Barack Obama bombed Syria, about two dozen mostly gray-haired activists protested at the White House. It was a good turnout for an antiwar effort that shriveled during the Nobel Peace Prize winner's two terms.
Some longtime activists doubt the return of a mass movement, saying Afghanistan rarely attracts much public interest. But other organizers foresee anti-war advocacy rising alongside and within an energized anti-Trump movement that regularly draws a crowd.
Ben Becker, a New York organizer with the Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER) Coalition, said the group will raise the war at a September meeting of anti-Trump groups called the People's Congress of Resistance.
"Antiwar organizing is going to be a big part of it because we feel the Trump administration has a strategy that's going to ramp up its militarism and aggression as a way of consolidating a level of support at home -- whether it's North Korea, Venezuela or Afghanistan," he said.
Becker said there has been talk of protests on Oct. 7, the 16th anniversary of the war.
"The chants of the Vietnam era — ‘Hey, hey, LBJ: How many kids did you kill today?' — that chant has a particular resonance, it's about the death of innocent people. We could very much have a movement where Trump's name is substituted there for LBJ," he said.
Trump is expected to announce that he's sending thousands of additional troops, nearly three years after Obama ended regular U.S. combat operations there but left a contingent of almost 10,000 troops supported by a large number of contractors.
If there is more opposition to the war, however, activist Cindy Sheehan fears it will be only because of who occupies the presidency.
"Unfortunately, through all of Obama's wars in the past 8 years it seems like there is no discernible antiwar movement in the United States," said Sheehan, who manned a long-term antiwar protest camp outside President George W. Bush's Texas ranch after her son's death in Iraq.
Sheehan believes "nothing but total withdrawal to give the people of Afghanistan autonomy over their own country will be acceptable" but said that she's concerned about the sincerity of possible protests.
"If Trump announces that there will be a continued U.S. military presence or an increased presence, I am afraid any opposition from the ‘left' will only be anti-Trump, because, of course, Obama escalated in Afghanistan and maintained that illegal war for the entire eight years of his presidency with not a peep from those same pro-DNC forces," said Sheehan, who authored a book calling Obama "an award winning war criminal."
Medea Benjamin, the Code Pink co-founder who led an antiwar Capitol Hill heckling campaign throughout the Bush and Obama administrations, said she will be protesting Monday evening with a small group near the site of Trump's announcement, but that she's not expecting an immediate rebound for the movement.
"I say it regretfully, I think it is still going to be hard to mobilize a physical on-the-streets kind of response," she said. "If the ‘new strategy' is the same as the old strategy, it will be difficult to organize against it."
Benjamin said she expects the issue to become one of many represented at generally well-attended anti-Trump protests, but she can't see it becoming a major standalone cause without an increase in U.S. deaths or a large-scale deployment.
The Code Pink leader said the group will prioritize an effort to encourage pension funds, schools, and religious groups to divest funds from weapons makers she called war profiteers.
"I think that's a way to build an anti-war movement that could be more effective than having a sporadic protest," Benjamin said, adding she can imagine increased interest in revising war authorizations among lawmakers opposed to Trump.
Justin Raimondo, the editorial director of Antiwar.com, also doubts a large, visible reaction in the streets. He believes a large antiwar movement is likely only if Trump starts a new military conflict.
"Even in that case, much of the anti-Trump ‘Resistance' is on board with U.S. military intervention abroad," he said in an email. "You'll recall that the response from many Democrats and media (or do I repeat myself?) to the bombing of that Syrian air base was, ‘He's acting presidential!'"
"The anti-Trump movement," he added, "is based almost entirely on two sentiments: 1) Identity politics and 2) Russophobic conspiracy theories about how Putin ‘stole' the 2016 election. This is an unlikely vessel for a revived antiwar movement. The great irony is that antiwar sentiment is much more likely to come from Trump voters, who took his anti-interventionist rhetoric seriously."
Before becoming president, Trump repeatedly advocated pulling out of Afghanistan -- tweeting in 2013, "We have wasted an enormous amount of blood and treasure in Afghanistan. Their government has zero appreciation. Let's get out!" -- but he prepares to make the announcement faced with a potential Taliban takeover, with the jihadi movement controlling much of the country.
"History has shown that can lead to mass movements, as people understand they have been lied to," Becker said of Trump's evolving position. "There is a potential for a mass antiwar sentiment to come back if people believe Trump is not acting out of any national security concerns but out of his own interest."
Referring to the anticipated troop deployment, Becker said "4,000 people is not going to change the military dynamic, but what it will do is send more people to kill and be killed. When Americans are dying it becomes more front-page news, and when they see that up close they ask: Is it worth it?"