A simultaneous global protest! Collectively these mid-February rallies against war on Iraq have been the largest such demonstrations in history and, individually, the largest turnouts in the history of the United Kingdom, Italy, Australia and maybe Spain.

This thunderous, popular "No!" has emboldened, at least for now, France and Germany, and undercut the UK's Tony Blair. Nor can a man with as keen an eye for the political temparature as UN Arms Inspector Hans Blix have been oblivious to the emotions of Old Europe.

Here in the United States, city after city reported turnouts far in excess of what organizers had hoped for. We're thinking of towns like Flagstaff, Ariz., which had a peace rally of 1,500 in downtown, as big an event for Flagstaff as was the 200,000 in San Francisco. The block-by-block pens imposed by New York's Mayor Bloomberg managed to paralyze the East Side far more dramatically than would the rally and march originally requested by the organizers and shamefully denied by the NYPD and then by the federal courts.

The numbers here and overseas overwhelmed the studious indifference of the mainstream press, which had previously thought it safe to use the word "thousands" about rallies of a quarter of a million. Efforts to stigmatize the rallies as the work of tiny Marxist sects failed miserably. Organizers such as Leslie Cagan in United for Peace and Justice, and the ANSWER crowd drew on years of organizing experience to manage tremendous events.

The protests got under the skin of Bush and Blair regimes. After the weekend, the Washington Post ran an inside-dopester item reporting that the White House was beginning to regard Defense Secretary Rumsfeld as a political liability.

So we have a mass citizens' movement, bursting up from below, without any major presence by organized labor or the mainstream environmental movement, a reassertion of the vigor of the early rallies against the WTO, starting in Seattle, except here there was no "black bloc" of anarchists, no violence, for the press to seize upon and demonize.

Where is this peace movement expressing itself politically? In the U.S. House of Representatives there are 30 co-sponsors to a toughly worded antiwar resolution put forward by Pete DiFazio of Oregon, a Democrat, and Ron Paul of Texas, a Republican. In the U.S. Senate, Robert Byrd of West Virginia and Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts stand almost alone in their vehement opposition.

In other words, the U.S. Congress is deeply intimidated. The week before the rallies, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a full-throated endorsement of Israel 411-2, with only two voting against (Ron Paul, plus Nick Rahall of West Virginia, a Democrat). Three voted Present, and eighteen were Absent.)

Among the candidates for the Democratic nomination, Dennis Kucinich and Howard Dean are edging (more rapidly after the big weekend) toward the outright opposition to war of Al Sharpton, armor-plating themselves with heavy emphasis on the need for continued inspections and UN endorsement. Very few mainstream politicians dare state the obvious: that Bush, Powell and Rumsfeld have definitively failed to make their case.

A lot of Democrats are sitting on their hands with their mouths shut because they think time is on their side. If there is a war, they calculate that by mid-2004, the political payoff for the 43rd president will have had as short a lifespan as it did for the 41st president back in 1994. And that's assuming a rapid installation of a new U.S.-backed tyrant in Baghdad, without too many U.S. casualties.

If, against the odds and by dint of continuing protests, there isn't a war, Bush's political capital will dwindle even more rapidly, undermined anyway by anxieties about the economy and his overall competence.

In the end, an antiwar movement has to head somewhere beyond the basic "No," flesh out political platforms, and get into "divisive" issues. And if Bush starts the war, it will all get much tougher. But for now, let's savor one of history's great weekends.

Alexander Cockburn is coeditor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. To find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2003 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.