Iran: War Is Not Even the Question

(Remarks prepared for Richmond Peace Education Center Event in Richmond, Va., May 24, 2012)

I have a friend who’s a compulsive liar.

OK it’s not a friend. It’s my television. And my newspaper.

According to them, the United States, as one among equals, in coalition with most of the world’s good countries, is asking the evil nation of Iran for some very reasonable requests, Iran is refusing, and the result, very regrettably and reluctantly — as an absolute last resort, albeit one we will celebrate with flags and music — will be war.

An op-ed in the Washington Post last Friday (and you know you can trust the Washington Post, because its fervent push for war on Iraq worked out so well) said:

“If Iran is willing to put hard ceilings on all aspects of its nuclear program, it can avoid a near-term conflict, but if it pushes forward, it will invite a strike that will be much more painful for itself than it is for the United States. . . . This proactive approach should help calm nerves in the region about Obama’s mettle, and could forestall Israel from taking matters into its own hands.”

Let me ask you this: if someone threatened to bomb you, would it calm your nerves?

In WaPo Land, the strange region where the Washington Post dreams up its own reality, Iran is threatening war, and the way for the good countries of the world to prevent that outrage is — you guessed it — to threaten war first. This makes sense to people. Or at least people who want to be on television badly enough are able to pretend it makes sense to them. Here’s why I think it’s crazy.

Iran has never threatened the United States or any of its allies. Since the United States overthrew Iran’s democratically elected government in 1953, Iranians have had an interest in recovering both democracy and independence. They have progress to make, as do we in the United States. But attacking a nation empowers anti-democratic forces within it. And attacking a nation because it is not an ideal democracy fails as a pretended motivation as long as the United States is funding and supporting dictatorships, including right nearby in Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, etc, not to mention our own democratic failures which we’d prefer not to be bombed over.

The United States and NATO and Israel blatantly violate the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Israel does not claim to support it. The United States does claim to, yet violates it by refusing to work for nuclear disarmament, and by keeping nuclear weapons in non-nuclear states — not to mention on ships threatening Iran. Iran, in contrast, is not accused of violating the Nonproliferation Treaty or any other law. Iran is permitted to develop nuclear technology for energy and medical purposes, and to enrich uranium to the levels used for both of those purposes. Yes, the world should be rid of nuclear technology entirely. Yes, it’s ludicrous that U.S.-imposed sanctions are preventing Iran from developing renewable energy sources. But if you’re going to disguise a war as law enforcement, it’s important to point out that only the police have violated any laws.

The United States pushed nuclear energy technology on Iran a couple of generations back. If you go to my website you’ll see a U.S. magazine ad from nuclear power companies with a big photo of the Shah of Iran, the dictator the U.S. imposed on Iran following the coup, and the ad brags about how the Shah is developing nuclear power plants, suggesting that the United States should be doing more of the same itself.

Despite Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann’s promise to close our embassy in Iran if elected president, the U.S. has not had an embassy in Iran since the 1979 hostage crisis, an episode Americans have a harder time moving past than the 1953 coup because, unlike that coup, they’ve heard of it. Yet, Iran has not been unwilling to talk to other nations, including the United States — despite the United States’ assistance to Iraq in making war on Iran during the 1980s. Iranians like the United States, and Iranian ships keep saving U.S. ships from pirates, including just yesterday.

Iran assisted the United States in Afghanistan in 2001. Iran tried to negotiate with the United States after its attack on Iraq in 2003. Two years ago, Iran tried to agree to ship its uranium abroad for refining, but on October 18, 2010, the day before a meeting was to be held to firm up that deal, a U.S.-backed terrorist group attacked a group of top Iranian Revolutionary Guard commanders. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei issued a statement on Oct. 19 condemning the terrorists, whom he charged “are supported by certain arrogant powers’ spy agencies.” The West could not be trusted, and the deal was off, exactly what the U.S.-friendly Green Movement had been pushing for.

Iran is not obliged to ship its uranium abroad. It is not violating any law by not doing so. On the contrary, it would do so in order to persuade the United States to stop violating the law. Iran is under what Washington proudly calls crippling sanctions. Our government and its allies have blockaded Iran’s economy, resulting not in diminished power for its current government, but in intense suffering, illness, and death for its people. Our government did this to Iraq during the 1990s, killing at least a half a million children, which then-Secretary of State Madeline Albright said was a price worth paying. You may have seen her a few weeks ago joking it up on the Jon Stewart fake news show, which should really stick to comedy and stop trying to interview people. Iran wants a murderous crime to end (not to mention the assassinations of its scientists). It doesn’t want to begin one. No treaty requires Iran to allow inspections of military sites. The United States made sure that requirement was not included in the Nonproliferation Treaty. Iran would agree to such measures to ease its people’s suffering, and to discourage the crime of threatening war — a crime engaged in by the U.S. president, and Congress, not just the Washington Post.

I don’t want Iran to develop nuclear weapons. I wish the CIA had not been so stupid as to give Iran the plans to do so. I wish President Obama were not prosecuting as a spy the U.S. journalist who reported that story. We need to know what our government is up to, no matter how embarrassing. I wish the U.S. weren’t flying drones over Iran, losing them, and allowing Iran to reverse engineer them, just as I wish the United States were not giving and selling weapons to most of Iran’s neighbors, and weren’t stationing its own troops and weapons all over that region. I’m opposed to militarization. I wish the United States had not made certain that Iraq had no nuclear weapons and then bombed it. I wish the United States had not made certain Libya had no nuclear weapons and then bombed it. I wish the United States had not threatened North Korea right up until it had nuclear weapons. I wish the United States were not so supportive of spreading nuclear technology to other countries, including India. I’m opposed to teaching countries that only nuclear weapons provide safety and respect.

I’m not going to tell you Iran has no nuclear weapons program. But only because I don’t have to. The U.S. Secretary of Defense has said so, as has the U.S. Director of National Intelligence, the various intelligence agencies, and their Israeli counterparts. They say Iran has no nuclear weapons and no nuclear weapons program. Iran is open to allowing the IAEA more inspections than it is legally entitled to. But in exchange Iran wants sanctions lifted and threats of war curtailed. The current talks suggest the possibility of a deal that will preserve peace. The struggle is to overcome the influence of those in Washington who want war no matter what.

The talks last month, the first in years, scared the heck out of the warmakers. Iran was far too reasonable. The chance for peace threatened to get in the way of beautiful plans for war. Let’s not forget that the inspections in Iraq were working in 2003, the inspectors believed they could give more conclusive findings if allowed a little more time, and President Bush pulled the inspectors out in order to begin the shocking and awing. Bush and his subordinates then frequently falsely claimed that Iraq had kicked out the inspectors.

And let’s not forget — or let’s learn now, if we never did — that the Taliban offered after 9/11 to turn bin Laden over to a third country to be put on trial. Instead, our government chose a decade of war in Afghanistan, followed by an assassination, followed by the continuation of the war for additional years.

In fact, as documented in my book, War Is A Lie, peace offers and offers to talk have been rejected and hushed up prior to or during World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and many other wars stretching back in U.S. history to countless broken treaties with Native Americans. During the U.S. war on Vietnam, peace settlements were proposed by the Vietnamese, the Soviets, and the French, but rejected or sabotaged by the United States. The last thing you want when you’re trying to start or continue a war — and when trying to sell it as a reluctant action of last resort — is for word to leak out that the other side is proposing peace talks.

NPR informed me today that we’d have to have a war “if diplomacy should fail.” But as long as you haven’t had a war, diplomacy has succeeded; it fails by launching a war — which is a worse thing than anything else it might be used to prevent.

What we have going for us is the public’s memory of the recent lies that started a war in Iraq. But we don’t have a representative government in Washington that we can count on to refrain from launching wars opposed by the public — kind of ironic in that our unpopular wars are usually announced as a means to help other countries acquire democracies like ours. The U.S. House of Misrepresentatives sent very mixed messages this past week. It passed a bill drawing a line, not at an Iranian nuclear weapon, not at an Iranian nuclear weapons program, but at Iranian capacity to begin a nuclear weapons program — arguably where we are right now. It also required the positioning of planes, bombs, ships, and munitions in the Straight of Hormuz. It continues tightening the sanctions. And at the same time, it undeclared war by including language in the same giant bill with some of these other steps denying that any war was being declared.

Now, the Senate may strip out that language and reject tougher language from Senator Rand Paul that would deny funding for any military action against Iran. Or the President, this one or a future one, may simply ignore it. Congress hasn’t declared war since 1941. Congress opposed Kosovo and Libya and was ignored. Leon Panetta has told Congress explicitly to its face that it will be informed of where the U.S. military goes to war only after the fact. Sending ships to the Straight of Hormuz may be a more significant act here than the undeclaration of war. It remains to be seen, and to be determined — including by us.

We imagine the government ignores us, and mostly it does. But when we are sufficiently active, it listens — even while pretending not to. Responding to public pressure is not respectable, as contempt for democracy runs so deep, but it happens unacknowledged. We helped prevent an attack on Iran in 2007. We helped scale back and force a deal to end the war on Iraq in 2006 through 2008. Nixon heeded the Vietnam war protesters while pretending not to. Kennedy heeded anti-nuclear protesters while pretending not to. We have a responsibility to remind the country of the Iraq lies and to point out the far greater disaster looming if we allow ourselves to be lied into bombing, or facilitating the Israeli bombing, of Iran.

Remember that possessing weapons, something not even alleged here, is not a justification for war. The Hague treaties from over a century ago require Iran and the United States to seek arbitration. The Kellogg Briand Pact of 1928 commits Iran and the United States to peaceful means of settling every dispute, banning every war of every variety. The UN Charter forbids wars not authorized by the U.N. or fought in actual defense. The US Constitution denies presidents or militaries the power to launch wars without Congressional declaration. Congressman John Conyers, who refused to impeach George W. Bush year after disastrous year, swore he would finally do it if Bush attacked Iran. What if Obama does? Would that be OK? Would the 70-million people under attack count for less? Would the children blown to pieces cry out in less agony? Would the potential for escalation into global and even nuclear conflict be less? Last week, Russia threatened nuclear war against the United States in response to our construction of missile offense bases along its borders. We hadn’t heard that talk between the United States and Russia since Russia went back to being Russia.

Iran would not attack the United States if it could. Doing so would be suicide. But a nuclear Iran would be harder for the United States to push around. That’s what’s at stake here. Will Iran answer to the Pentagon like good little Bahrain, and its people’s human rights be damned? Or will Iran defy directions from Washington, like Iraq or Libya, and its people’s human rights — likewise — be damned?

I encourage you to visit DontAttackIran and to spread the word in every way you’re able. We have a memorial day next week for the U.S. dead from our wars. Proportionately we would need a memorial year for the non-US dead, most of them civilians, disproportionately the very old and the very young, and almost none of them white. We object to racist rhetoric directed at our president, but do we object to racist wars launched by our president? Does it bother us that his allies in Libya attacked people because they were black?

There is no such thing as a good war. There is no such thing as a just war. There is no such thing as a humanitarian war. There is no such thing as trying too hard for peace. There is no such thing as a wasted effort to achieve peace.

Let’s end the next war before it begins.

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