Why a City Should Oppose Attacking Iran

By David Swanson

Tonight, Monday, October 6, 2008, a group of citizens in Charlottesville, Va., organized by the Charlottesville Center for Peace and Justice, will attend the City Council’s meeting to urge the Council to take up at its November meeting a resolution opposing a U.S. attack on the nation of Iran. Some members of the Council and of the public can be expected to respond with some well-intended but confused reasons to resist taking such a step. In hopes of clarifying the issue, let me suggest briefly three things: 1.-Why the United States should not attack Iran; 2.-Why there is a serious danger that the United States will attack Iran; 3.-Why Charlottesville City Council should pass a resolution opposing such an attack.

1.-Why the United States should not attack Iran.

We can begin with the fact that wars of aggression are illegal under international law and under treaties, including the United Nations Charter, that are the supreme law of the land under Article VI of the U.S. Constitution. Were the nation of Iran to attack the United States, everything I’m saying could be ignored. But nobody, as far as I know, is even fantasizing about the possibility of such a suicidal action.

Wars are illegal because nothing is worse than them, and because wars do not work as a tool for preventing wars. If the United States attacks Iran — and let’s say it honestly: if WE attack Iran — at a very minimum millions of people will very probably die, be wounded, be displaced, and have their environment rendered uninhabitable.

Numerous claims have been proven false that alleged the Iranian government was participating in attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq, but let’s assume for the sake of argument that Iran is conducting such attacks. We already know that Saudi Arabia is doing the same. Should we attack both Iran, which powerful people in Washington have long wanted to attack, and Saudi Arabia, which powerful people in Washington would never attack in a million years? And as we occupy Iran and Saudi Arabia, as well as Iraq and Afghanistan, having reinstituted the draft here at home, what should we do if additional nations aid the resistance there? You can see where this leads. Legally, morally, and practically aiding a population against a foreign occupation is not grounds for war. The United States aided France against a German occupation and considers that action its most legal, moral, practical, and glorious ever engaged in.

And, yes, the United States at the time was developing nuclear weapons. Possession of weapons is simply not grounds for war. The United States has more nuclear weapons and more illegal chemical and biological weapons than anyone else. This is not grounds to attack the United States. A U.S. National Intelligence Estimate in 2005 said that 2015 was the earliest Iran could possibly have a nuclear weapon. An improved National Intelligence Estimate in 2007 said that Iran had actually not worked on developing nuclear weapons at all since 2003. The best way to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon is not war. U.S. threats and provocations are boosting support in Iran for a militaristic leader. Bombing would do the same, as well as resulting in massive death and destruction and likely retaliation against U.S. troops in Iraq and against U.S. client state Israel.

It’s not always remembered that inspections worked in Iraq. Our government declared the inspections flawed, ordered the inspectors out, and bombed the nation flat, later dishonestly claiming that Iraq had ordered the inspectors out. If we want to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, we need to keep the inspectors in, and we need ourselves to begin adhering to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which bars new nations from developing nuclear weapons and requires that existing nuclear nations disarm.

Iran is open to negotiations. In 2003, Iran proposed negotiations with the United States with everything on the table, including its nuclear energy technology. President Bush refused. This past month, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited New York. While he is not the top of the government in Iran and does not control the Iranian military, he is an important member of that government. While presidential candidate John McCain claimed falsely during a debate that Ahmadinejad was in New York proposing the destruction of Israel, Ahmadinejad while in New York actually told the radio program Democracy Now that he was open to a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine. He said that such a solution should be up to the Palestinian people to accept. We already know that most Palestinians are, indeed, open to a two-state solution. You’d think all Americans would consider this good news, but there are Americans who want war.

During his visit to New York, Ahmadinejad also met with U.S. peace activists. Phil Wilayto of the Virginia Antiwar Network attended the meeting and reported that Ahmadinejad made a very similar statement on Israel and Palestine and also said the following:

“Neither the Iranian people nor nation will start a war … We’ve helped security in Iraq. The best help for security by the U.S. is to withdraw its troops from the region. … The Iranian people have good relations with people around the world. … The American people are friendly and lovable. One million Americans should visit Iran, and a million Iranians should visit the United States.”

Perhaps Charlottesville should form a twinship with a town in Iran and create a student exchange. We do this with other nations. Why not Iran?

Polls show that strong majorities of Americans are opposed to attacking Iran, and you can be certain that a strong majority of Iranians are opposed to being attacked. Make no mistake that an attack on Iran would not be motivated by humanitarian concerns. The motivation for attacking Iran was laid out in 2000 by the Project for a New American Century, and as early as 1992 in defense planning guidance — written for then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney by then-Pentagon staffers I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, World Bank Chief Paul Wolfowitz, and Ambassador to the United Nations Zalmay Khalilzad.

The people promoting an attack on Iran are the same ones who lied to us about Iraq. The results of those lies have been disastrous, including for Charlottesville.

2.-Why there is a serious danger that the United States will attack Iran.

The two major candidates for president of the United States have refused to commit to not aggressively attacking Iran. One of them has excited his supports by singing “Bomb bomb bomb bomb bomb Iran.”

Our representatives in Congress seem intent on escalating conflict with Iran, up to and including authorizing acts of war. A resolution that would encourage a blockade of Iran has enough cosponsors in both houses to pass if brought up for a vote. Thus far, public opposition has prevented that from happening.

However, the House this past month passed a bill requiring sanctions and divestment against Iran, including by local governments like the City of Charlottesville. The bill passed by a voice vote, so we do not know how our representative in the House voted, but I can guess. The bill failed to pass the Senate last week, but it is a safe bet that it will return. The Democratic leadership in the House has publicly expressed outrage at the Senate’s action.

So, local governments may soon be banned from making certain investments because there are those in Washington who want to antagonize Iran. I have not heard any voices in Washington objecting to this on the grounds that local governments are separate entities from Congress.

3.-Why Charlottesville City Council should pass a resolution opposing such an attack.

In February 2003, the Charlottesville City Council was wise and responsible enough to pass a resolution opposing an attack on Iraq. In retrospect, that was the right thing to do. At the time only 60 some cities had taken that step. Now hundreds have opposed the invasion and/or occupation. And while the occupation of Iraq continues, these actions by city, county, and state governments have helped to educate the public and to increase and organize citizen involvement on behalf of peace and justice. It is that citizen involvement that has prevented the resolution on blockading Iran from coming up for a vote.

Citizens of Charlottesville has thus far paid over $64 million for the invasion and occupation of Iraq. That’s not counting further expenses already authorized, the cost of veterans’ care, the effects of the rise in oil prices, the debt payments that will have to be made, etc. Based on the calculations in Joseph Stiglitz’ and Linda Bilmes’ book “The Three Trillion Dollar War,” it is a very conservative estimate to place the true cost to Charlottesville citizens at closer to $640 million. I wonder if Charlottesville City Council Members can think of some useful things they might be able to do with $640 million.

Of course, we haven’t seen our taxes raised this amount — yet. Much of the money has been borrowed and will be paid back to China and other lenders by our kids. But some of the money has been found by cutting back on useful spending here at home. I’m sure the city council members know what I’m talking about.

If a federal action has a significant negative impact on a city, then it is appropriate for the city to defend itself, its budget, and the lives of local members of the military and the National Guard. In fact, the National Guard should be available to protect this city and surrounding areas from natural disasters, and should not be sent to invade and occupy foreign nations.

Now, it is true that we are supposed to be directly represented in Congress. But our representative in Congress represents over 650,000 people and was not elected by a majority of the citizens of our city. He, like all members of Congress, is further removed from us than are our locally elected officials. He must represent more people than anyone can ever reasonably represent, and he must do so while also dealing with the enormous influences of money, party, and media. Local elected officials are under the same influences, especially if they aspire to grander things within a party structure, but the influences are much reduced, and responsiveness to people is much greater.

And this is as it should be. This is how our republic is supposed to work. Corrupting influences should be removed from all levels of government. But if they were, our local governments would remain more responsive to us. Our Mayor has admirably and appropriately supported a resolution against attacking Iran at the U.S. Conference of Mayors. At least 15 cities, large and small, that I know of have admirably passed resolutions opposing an attack on Iran. Charlottesville ought to get on this list early, once again, rather than late. And we ought to consider our city council members’ willingness to do so during our next local elections.

Most city council members in the United States take an oath of office promising to support the U.S. Constitution. In the state of Virginia, public officials, including at the local level, typically take this oath:

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support the Constitution of the United States, and the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Virginia, and that I will faithfully and impartially discharge all of the duties incumbent on me as
_____________ according to the best of my ability.”

City Council members don’t take an oath to fix potholes. If the Constitution is in danger, then their primary duty is to defend it. If it is safe, and they have time on their hands, then they can fix potholes. Right now it is in danger.

Cities and towns routinely send petitions to Congress for all kinds of requests. This is allowed under Clause 3, Rule XII, Section 819, of the Rules of the House of Representatives. This clause is routinely used to accept petitions from cities, and memorials from states, all across America. The same is established in the Jefferson Manual, the rule book for the House originally written by Thomas Jefferson for the Senate.

In 1798, the Virginia State Legislature passed a resolution using the words of Thomas Jefferson condemning federal policies penalizing France.

In 1967 a court in California ruled (Farley v. Healey , 67 Cal.2d 325) in favor of citizens’ right to place a referendum on the ballot opposing the Vietnam War, ruling:

“As representatives of local communities, board of supervisors and city councils have traditionally made declarations of policy on matters of concern to the community whether or not they had power to effectuate such declarations by binding legislation. Indeed, one of the purposes of local government is to represent its citizens before the Congress, the Legislature, and administrative agencies in matters over which the local government has no power. Even in matters of foreign policy it is not uncommon for local legislative bodies to make their positions known.”

Abolitionists passed local resolutions against U.S. policies on slavery. The anti-apartheid movement did the same, as did the nuclear freeze movement, the movement against the PATRIOT Act, the movement in favor of the Kyoto Protocol (which includes at least 740 cities), etc. Our democratic republic has a rich tradition of municipal action on national and international issues.

Karen Dolan of Cities for Peace writes:

“A prime example of how direct citizen participation through municipal governments has affected both U.S. and world policy is the example of the local divestment campaigns opposing both Apartheid in South Africa and, effectively, the Reagan foreign policy of “constructive engagement” with South Africa. As internal and global pressure was destabilizing the Apartheid government of South Africa, the municipal divestment campaigns in the United States ramped up pressure and helped to push to victory the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986. This extraordinary accomplishment was achieved despite a Reagan veto and while the Senate was in Republican hands. The pressure felt by national lawmakers from the 14 U.S. states and close to 100 U.S. cities that had divested from South Africa made the critical difference. Within three weeks of the veto override, IBM and General Motors also announced they were withdrawing from South Africa. This movement also serves as a model for the current local divestment campaigns from Burma and Sudan.”

Charlottesville City Council Member Holly Edwards recently wrote in a letter to the Daily Progress:

“I don’t think it’s appropriate to get involved with national issues when locally there is so much work to be done to stop gun violence here at home. My prayer is let there be peace on earth, let it begin with me and my neighborhood.”

Edwards expressed a desire to eliminate racism and violence in Charlottesville first, and only then to comment on national matters. But there is no local solution to either of those problems. Our representative in Congress, Virgil Goode, is perhaps the leading proponent of racism in the nation. For our city council not to formally condemn his racism is shameful and harmful. Similarly, Goode should be thanked for his vote against Paulson’s Plunder and censured for his votes on war. The same goes for our senators, who should be censured for their votes on both the so-called bailout and wars. Both major presidential candidates have said they would cut money for education in order to pay for Wall Street, rendering hopeless any argument that spending military levels of money on non-military matters is any less a local issue than wars are.

Gun violence cannot end with guns coming into the city from outside it, with state and national governments failing to control guns, with funding being cut for jobs, health, and education, and with our federal government daily teaching us that the best way to solve disputes is to shoot people. So, I think Council Member Edwards’ proposal to solve Charlottesville’s problems first is admirable but quixotic. And were it not, were we able to create an island of paradise in Charlottesville in the short run, nothing would protect Charlottesville from global warming or nuclear war. We might long to be an island. But such a dream is not humble or wise.

Over 1,500 people in Charlottesville have signed a petition advocating for passage of a resolution opposing an attack on Iran. There is no doubt that a majority of the people here oppose such an attack. Passing such a resolution is the work of five minutes at zero public expense. The Charlottesville City Council could draft its own resolution or use this one from the Charlottesville Center for Peace and Justice:


WHEREAS, the President and members of his administration have alleged that Iran poses an imminent threat to the United States, U.S. troops in the Middle East and U.S. allies; and

WHEREAS, these allegations are similar to the lead-up to the Iraq War and U.S. occupation, with the selective use of information and unsubstantiated accusations about Iran’s nuclear program and its supply of weapons to Iraqi forces as centerpieces of a case to the American people for aggression against Iran; and

WHEREAS, Iran has not threatened to attack the United States, and no compelling evidence has been presented to document that Iran poses a real and imminent threat to the security and safety of the United States that would justify an unprovoked unilateral pre-emptive military attack; and

WHEREAS, we support the people of Iran who are struggling for freedom and democracy, and nothing herein should be misconstrued as support for the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, but it should be understood that a unilateral, pre-emptive U.S. military attack on Iran could well prove counterproductive to the cause of promoting freedom and democracy there; and

WHEREAS, a 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) representing the consensus view of all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, concluded that Iran froze its nuclear weapons program in 2003, and an earlier NIE concluded that Iran’s involvement in Iraq “is not likely to be a major driver of violence” there; and

WHEREAS, an attack on Iran is likely to cause untold thousands of American and Iranian casualties, lead to major economic dislocations, and threaten event greater destabilization in the Middle East; and

WHEREAS, a pre-emptive U.S. military attack on Iran would violate international law and our commitments under the U.N. Charter and further isolate the U.S. from the rest of the world; and

WHEREAS, an attack on Iran is likely to inflame hatred for the U.S. in the Middle East and elsewhere, inspire terrorism, and lessen the security of Americans; and

WHEREAS, the Iraq war and occupation has already cost the lives of over 4,000 American soldiers, the maiming and wounding of over 38,000 American soldiers, the death and maiming of over one million Iraqi civilians; and

WHEREAS, the Iraq War and occupation has cost Charlottesville taxpayers more than $61 million before adding the costs of interest payments, care for veterans, or the increased price of oil, thus depriving us of much-needed funds for services and infrastructure; and

WHEREAS, except at our peril, we cannot ignore the history of U.S. government mis-information used to inspire U.S. aggression in Vietnam, and again in Iraq, as embodied in the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution and more recently in the false claims of weapons of mass destruction; and

WHEREAS, any conflict with Iran is likely to incur far greater costs and divert more precious national resources away from critical human needs; now therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED, that the City of Charlottesville, Virginia, hereby urges the Bush Administration to pursue diplomatic engagement with Iran on nuclear issues and ending the violence in Iraq; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the City of Charlottesville, Virginia, urges Congress to prohibit the use of funds to carry out any military action against Iran without explicit Congressional authorization; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that suitable copies of this resolution be forwarded to President George W. Bush, Vice President Richard B. Cheney, Senator John Warner, Senator James Webb, and Congressman Virgil Goode.

This makes a beautiful, if horrifying, poster. Click it for large, high-resolution version:

Designed by Rian Chandler-Dovis.

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