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Anti-War Movement Racing the Clock, Support for Bush

They don't look like '60s-style hippies, haven't coined catchy slogans like "Make Love, Not War," and maybe weren't even alive when John Lennon wrote "Give Peace a Chance."

But members of the American anti-war movement are already busy in their efforts to oppose President Bush's campaign to forcibly disarm Iraq -- even though a military effort against Saddam Hussein is by no means assured, or that it seems to be backed by a majority of Americans.

"We definitely think there's a growing movement -- there’s no question about that," insisted Mike Zmolek, outreach coordinator for the National Network to End the War Against Iraq.

Modest anti-war rallies have already been held in a number of cities across the country. But organizers are preparing for perhaps their biggest effort on Saturday, in a series of events billed by some as the movement's last chance to convince the American public that there are alternatives to war in Iraq.

Perhaps because the groups have come together so quickly -- it took years for the leading Vietnam-era anti-war groups to form -- some of the biggest names in this young movement are anything but.

"The American people have very little time left to tell President Bush that he can't ignore the fact that they don't want our United States of America to become an aggressor nation and attack Iraq," said Ramsey Clark, a former U.S. attorney general and longtime anti-war activist.

Still, critics say it will take more than passion. A resolution that gives Bush the power to strike in Iraq easily passed both houses of Congress last year. Public opinion polls consistently show Americans strongly favor a regime change in Baghdad, by force if necessary. And the Iraqi dictator and his supporters in the Arab world are hardly sympathetic figures.

"Why don't you and all you kum-ba-ya liberals out there accusing the president of genocide, why don't you go to Iraq?" Fox News' commentator and Hannity and Colmes host Shawn Hannity recently asked members of the Green Party, which is against the war. "And why don't you protest the 1.5 million people slaughtered by this man? I have pictures of dead babies that he used chemical weapons on. Why don't you go protest him?"

The anti-war movement's critics also say it's no secret Saddam's regime has not lived up to disarmament promises in the past. Just this week, the U.N.'s chief arms inspector Hans Blix has said that Iraq has not done enough.

Such criticisms have failed to deter the anti-war activists, who say the United States nonetheless has no right to invade nations like Iraq.

"We're concerned about the resolution and committing troops without knowing what's going to happen post-Saddam," said Carol Shirley, a spokesman for Common Cause, which has funded advertising campaigns urging a slowdown in war deliberations.

Much of the movement's activities have taken place on the country's newspaper pages. The Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities -- a group of business executives and retired military officers -- recently sponsored an ad in The New York Times featuring pictures of Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that read: "They're selling war. We're not buying." The ad went on to say a war would wreck the U.S. economy, breed terrorism, discredit America and take a "terrible toll" on human life.

And last month, more than 100 Hollywood figures joined to publicize a letter, saying war with Iraq would "increase the likelihood of terrorist attacks, damage the economy and undermine our moral standing in the world."

But whether such groups have the organization or popular support to rally the peace troops in time is a matter of debate.

"We believe it's not too late for young people in this country to take to the streets and stop this war before it starts," said Peta Lindsay, national youth and student coordinator of International A.N.S.W.E.R.

But it may be hard for the anti-war movement to gain momentum as Americans continue to focus on the almost 3,000 who died in the Sept. 11 attacks, the rein of terror Saddam has held against his own people, and the vise grip of oppression in which the Taliban held the Afghan people.

"There's been a healthy skepticism about the war from the beginning," said Edward Hudgins, director of the Washington office of The Objectivist Center, which promotes author Ayn Rand's objectivism theory of urging people to hold themselves and their lives as their highest values.

"But there's also been a realization that we live in a new and dangerous world and that the principal function of government is to protect the life, liberty and property of Americans -- that includes from terrorists."

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