Established in January 2007 with the aim of bringing about an immediate withdrawal of all U.S. troops from the Middle Eastern battlegrounds of the Iraq War, Americans Against Escalation in Iraq (AAEI) described itself as “a major, multi-million dollar national campaign to oppose the President’s proposal to escalate the war …” After Democrats had won control of Congress two months prior to AAEI’s founding, President Bush did not, contrary to many leftists’ expectations, announce that he would bring America’s military presence in Iraq to an end. Instead he responded with a plan to deploy an additional 21,000 troops in an effort to quell the insurgency there. This prompted MoveOn.org’s Washington, DC Director Tom Matzzie to create AAEI. “We realized we needed a big campaign on the war because there was this mandate out of the election,” said Matzzie “but the Democratic majorities were thin and they hadn’t been united on the war, ever.”
After forming AAEI, Matzzie quickly recruited a large team of left-wing activists to join his new organization, which was structured as a coalition of groups devoted to a consistent antiwar objective. Though AAEI claimed that its member groups represented points “across the political spectrum,” its coalition members in fact hailed exclusively from the political Left. They included, among others, Americans United for Change, the Campaign for America’s Future, Campus Progress Action, the Center for American Progress Action Fund, MoveOn.org, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the United States Student Association, USAction, Vote Vets, Win Without War, and Working Assets.
From its earliest days, AAEI’s principal source of funding was MoveOn.org. SEIU also contributed heavily, as did a number of individual donors whose identities Matzzie refused to publicly disclose. By September 2007, AAEI had spent $12 million on a combination of grass-roots organizing, polling (Matzzie hired the prominent Democratic pollsters Stan and Anna Greenberg), and television advertisements aimed at persuading the American public and Washington legislators that U.S. involvement in the Iraq War was bad policy. Matzzie explained that shaping the media’s coverage of the war, and thereby “influencing the environment that the debate is taking place in,” constituted “a huge part of what we [AAEI] do.”
AAEI’s efforts were focused most intensely on fifteen target states: Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.
In the summer of 2007, AAEI hired Shari Yost Gold as its fundraising coordinator. Three years earlier, Gold had held that same title with America Coming Together.
In mid-2007, AAEI launched its “Iraq Summer” campaign, a three-month “organizing initiative to end the War in Iraq.” “Those of you who are old enough will remember Mississippi Summer that helped pass the civil rights laws,” said AAEI, “and Viet Nam Summer that helped end the Viet Nam War. Iraq Summer will be the 21st century edition of those historic projects.” In an effort “to help fracture critical elements of the Republican base of support for the war by early fall,” AAEI deployed nearly 100 organizers to the political home turf of 40 key House and Senate Republicans who steadfastly supported “the President’s disastrous policy in Iraq.” In all of these places, writes Katrina vanden Heuvel, the organizers used “field operations, coalition building, media strategies, volunteer events, and messaging” to “turn up the heat on Republican members of Congress who are blocking a safe end to the Iraq [W]ar.” As part of this initiative, AAEI gave each of its organizers a $125 video camera which they could use to upload footage of their confrontations with supporters of the war.
According to a September 2007 New York Times piece, AAEI coordinated its activities “extensively with Democrats on Capitol Hill.” Matzzie himself acknowledged that he was meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid “maybe once a month,” and was speaking to their staffers “once a day, or at least a couple times a week.” The Times also noted that “senior Democratic aides sometimes even join AAEI’s conference calls,” which “might entail discussions of political strategy or more substantive policy briefings by experts from AAEI’s member think tanks.”
AAEI’s modus operandi bore little resemblance to that of the Vietnam-era antiwar demonstrators, who had adopted a counterculture “hippie” image and swarmed the streets in massive numbers. By contrast, AAEI heeded the advice of the late organizer Saul Alinsky, who urged radicals to adopt the dress and appearance of the middle class, so as not to make themselves vulnerable to the charge that they were nothing more than fringe extremists. “Nixon’s strategy was to demonize his opponents,” explained Matzzie. “Some of the politicians who are supporting the war want to be protested by fringe groups. We’re not going to play that game — we’re not going to let them off the hook. We’re going to put their own constituents in their faces.”
Because AAEI viewed the election of Democratic political leaders as essential to achieving its antiwar objectives, the organization generally avoided getting involved in the Democratic presidential primaries — so as not to “split the coalition,” as Matzzie put it.
In January 2008, Politico reported that AAEI was “backing away from its multimillion-dollar drive to cut funding for the war and force Congress to pass timelines for bringing U.S. troops home.” Rather, in light of “hard political reality,” its member groups had decided instead to “lower their sights and push for legislation to prevent President Bush from entering into a long-term agreement with the Iraqi government that could keep significant numbers of troops in Iraq for years to come.”
On February 9, 2008, longtime activist Tom Hayden posted a blog entry stating that AAEI had permanently closed its doors. But Tom Matzzie said that this was untrue, and that his organization was merely entering a transition phase. On February 25, 2008, AAEI announced the launch of a $20 million Iraq/Recession Campaign that used paid advertisements, congressional lobbying, and “campaigning in key Senate states and House districts” to advance the message that America’s war-related spending was a major cause of the nation’s economic downturn.
Soon after the election of Barack Obama as U.S. President in November 2008, AAEI — reasoning that its anti-war efforts had been vindicated — formally disbanded.
Further Reading: “About Us” (NoIraqEscalation.org); “Can Lobbyists Stop the War?” (NY Times, 9-9-2007); “Americans Against Escalation in Iraq” (by Katrina vanden Heuvel, The Nation, 8-14-2007); “What Is Iraq Summer?” (NoIraqEscalation.org, 2007); “Iraq Summer” (NoIraqEscalation.org, 2007); “Americans Against Escalation in Iraq” (Sourcewatch.org); “Anti-War Groups Retreat on Funding Fight” (Politico.com, 1-17-2008); “Antiwar Group Collapses” (by Tom Hayden, The Nation, 2-9-2008); “Iraq/Recession Campaign” (Sourcewatch.org); Party in the Street: The Antiwar Movement and the Democratic Party after 9/11 (by Michael T. Heaney & Fabio Rojas, 2015, p. 157, re: AAEI’s dissolution after Obama’s election).