NEW YORK – With President Bush set to essentially declare victory in Iraq on Thursday night, anti-war and self-described peace groups are regrouping.
The groups had gained some attention in the run-up to the war and after the fighting began, as millions rallied in cities around the world. But the shooting ended quickly, and the images of anti-war activists were soon replaced by the symbolic felling of Saddam Hussein statues all over Iraq.
The groups have since changed focus, designing strategies to make sure U.S. forces quickly leave Iraq. They also want to discredit Bush's foreign policy and work to unseat the popular commander-in-chief in next year's presidential election.
Some observers say that won't work.
"They'll have to find another tactic," said Scott Swett, chairman of the Free Republic Network (search). "The war was popular, it was successful, their efforts against it failed. Probably their best bet is to move on to something else and hope everybody forgets what they stood for this time."
That hasn't stopped the political left from blasting the coalition's war and post-Saddam efforts as aggressor actions. But the right has been fighting back, arguing Hollywood celebrities and other anti-war talking heads should just admit they were wrong, give Bush and his team a pat on the back and shut up, already.
"They were wrong on every level going into this conflict … every prediction has been proven false," said Sean Hannity, radio talk show host and co-host of Fox News' Hannity and Colmes. "It's really all built on a foundation of antipathy and animosity toward George Bush.
"The people that won't admit the president was right in the liberation, that said we were in a quagmire from the very beginning, now they've come out with new lines."
David Horowitz (search), of the Center for Popular Culture, said on FrontPage.com, "In the aftermath of a successful war it opposed as a certain disaster, the left is attempting to rewrite the script, counting on others to forget what it said and did."
Still, some anti-war groups say they were right all along, and that the Bush administration is nothing less than the bully on the international playground.
"Metaphorically, I would say, they're playing with Armageddon," said Bill Fletcher, co-chair of United for Peace and Justice. "I think that the additional factor that's going to keep the sentiment going out there is the nervousness many people in the United States feel … around the war with the apparent recklessness of the administration and the unpredictability of it."
That kind of thinking only demonstrates how out of touch the anti-war movement is, according to some.
"I think we saw, during the war, significant reductions in the number of anti-war protesters," Swett said. "The leftists' motivation to protest, I think, was reduced by the fact that Saddam was losing the battle on the war in Iraq."
Anti-warriors say they still have plenty of other targets — the Bush administration's "first-strike" foreign policy, the White House's stance on Syria and post-Saddam humanitarian efforts in Iraq.
"I think there will be an interest in staying involved," said David Cortright (search), president of the security research group Fourth Freedom Forum (search). The anti-war movement is "like a whale," he said. "It periodically breaches and is visible above the water like what we saw these last months. Then it goes down under water … it hasn't disappeared, it will come back again."
Another group, United for Peace and Justice (search), insists it is "well positioned" to challenge the "disastrous direction of our government's foreign policy and the misguided and discriminatory domestic priorities of the Bush administration." But it also concedes the movement "faces serious challenges."
And what of the Hollywood celebrities who spoke out so forcefully against the war?
Musicians United to Win Without War (search) and Artists United to Win Without War (search), the latter of which includes Hollywood celebrities like Janeane Garofalo, Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon, have received some heat in recent weeks for their vocal anti-war stance.
Most of the artists have been eerily quiet since the fighting stopped. Despite Garofalo's promise to crawl on her knees on glass to the White House with a cake and flowers if the war went well, she has yet to utter a single "I was wrong."
Some say they're not in hiding, but just waiting for an opportunity to pounce on their next big agenda item.
"What's the point of me saying anything right now, while they're in the end zone doing the dance and spiking the football?" actor Mike Farrell said to Reuters. "We'll be heard when it's appropriate."
One group, International ANSWER (search), meets in New York City next month to decide its next move. It is still protesting what it considers Bush's "endless war" to target Syria, Iran, southern Lebanon, North Korea and other countries.
Other groups more clearly state the intention to defeat Bush's re-election bid as their true goal.
"I think it [anti-war movement] will be visible and I think it will be a force in 2004," said Cortright, adding that many political anti-war groups are "pretty clear they not only want to change the policy but change the policymakers."
But even the anti-war groups acknowledge defeating Bush will be no small feat.
"There's some concerns that would be a misallocation of energies if it's unsuccessful," Mike Zmolek, of End the War in Iraq Now, said. But "that's certainly high on people's agenda — to find an administration that's not going to be threatening multiple invasions and so on."