If you sometimes find yourself at a bit of a loss of what to make of the on-again, off-again drumbeat for war with Iran, you should at least have the consolation that you're in good company. Close students of U.S. and Israeli policy who oppose war have expressed divergent views about how great the threat of war is, especially in the shorter run. (There is much less divergence about the long-term prospects: if there is no progress on the diplomatic front, the weight of expert opinion is that the long-term prognosis is very bad, from the point of view of avoiding war.)
The problem of accurately perceiving the danger is complicated by the multiple motivations of those currently being the war drums. Clearly, among other things, the war drums are a political gambit to attack President Obama and elect Romney. The war drums are also a channel-changer from the continued dispossession of the Palestinians and the political shifts in the Middle East brought about by the Arab Spring. At the same time, the war drums are part of a campaign to constrict political space for a diplomatic resolution with Iran, thereby making war with Iran more likely in the future.
The lack of urgency resulting from this murky picture presents a dilemma for anti-war activists. If people were convinced that there were a 90% chance of war in the next three months, if the White House were leading a crusade for war, many people would be in the streets.
But that is not the situation we are in. Our situation is more akin to what one analyst described as a "slow-motion Cuban missile crisis." We are on a path to war with Iran, but we are not on a quick path to war with Iran. We are on a slow path to war with Iran.
Life has a way sometimes of throwing two superficially unrelated things across your path simultaneously in a way that forces you to contemplate their underlying connections.
Even at this late date, press reports suggest that President Obama is still considering nominating Larry Summers to be the next President of the World Bank.
Yesterday morning, my mother passed away.
So, as I'm contemplating the sweep of my mother's educational, professional, and personal accomplishments across the course of her life, I'm also contemplating reports that President Obama is still thinking about nominating the guy who suggested that women innately can't compete at the top of math and science to be the next President of the World Bank.
I can't offer my mother as a direct counterexample to Larry Summers' infamous suggestion that you can explain the relative absence of women in the top reaches of math and science on the basis of innate differences between men and women, at least in a narrow sense. As it happens, my mother did not especially excel in math and science.
But the arc of my mother's professional and intellectual life is evidence of a broader and more fundamental counterclaim, one that should by rights stand in the ranks of "obvious insights," but which political experience shows must be continuously nailed to the wall of public consciousness: the life choices that people make and the aptitude that they display in different arenas are massively and continuously shaped by their perceptions of social expectations.
Early last week the New York Times reported that despite all the previous fine rhetoric about the G20 and consultation and open process, the US Treasury Department had decided to rule by decree and impose its own candidate for the next president of the World Bank, the G20 be damned. U.S. officials informed G20 officials that the US intended to "retain control of the bank," as the Times put it. According to the Times, the G20 countries grumbled but showed no sign of being willing to fight Treasury. The U.S. candidate would be a "lock," the Times said, "since Europe will almost certainly support whomever Washington picks."
Since the International Monetary and the World Bank were created, the US and Europe - which control around half of the voting shares of these institutions - have colluded behind closed doors to determine the institutions' top leaders, with Europe selecting the head of the IMF with US support and the US selecting the head of the World Bank with European support. In recent years, developing countries have complained loudly about this practice - a practice which would be illegal if the World Bank were subject to the Illinois Open Meetings Act - and under pressure the World Bank has adopted governance reforms that are supposed to guarantee an "open, merit-based process" in selecting the President. But Treasury was claiming that there wasn't going to be any open process, it was going to be Treasury diktat.
But over the course of the last few days, the world has changed.
This week, peace groups around the country are calling Congress with the message: end the Afghanistan war now! Call your Representative at 877-429-0678 and tell him or her to support and co-sponsor H. 780, which would limit funding for the war to funds that are necessary for a safe and orderly withdrawal. Check the link to see whether your Rep is already a co-sponsor--if so, thank him or her for their support, and tell them to everything in their power to promote the bill and its mission.
When you're done with your call, report it below.
94 Reps. urge Clinton to suspend aid to Honduras; 7 Senators ask State for info on Honduran compliance
On March 12, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and 93 fellow House members sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to raise the alarm over human rights violations in Honduras where human rights defenders, journalists, community leaders and opposition activists are subject to death threats, attacks and extrajudicial executions.
The letter asks the State Department “to suspend U.S. assistance to the Honduran military and police given the credible allegations of widespread, serious violations of human rights attributed to the security forces.” The letter also asks the State Department to continue efforts to pressure the Honduran government to protect the fundamental human rights of its citizens, investigate and prosecute abuses in the Bajo Aguán region and throughout the country, give an accounting of the specific status of cases, and hold accountable private security companies that have acted with impunity.
The Schakowsky letter is here.
On March 5, Sen. Barbara Mikulski and six other Senators sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, raising concerns over human rights violations in Honduras and requesting information from the State Department concerning whether Honduran authorities are adequately complying with provisions of the FY2012 Appropriations Act.
The Mikulski letter is here.
Kenya appears to be the first country to publicly declare itself for a candidate for President of the World Bank; it has declared for Jeffrey Sachs.
“On behalf of the Government of Kenya and that of myself, it is my esteemed pleasure, honour and privilege to nominate Professor Jeffrey David Sachs for appointment to the position of President of the World Bank. Professor Sachs is one of the world’s leading global economic development experts who has advanced innovative solutions on poverty alleviation, health, environmental sustainability and aid policy that are relevant and proven to have worked in a number of developing economies… I have known Professor Sachs for more than 2 decades, and I am certain that my views represent not only myself but also hundreds of African leaders, scientists, private sector executives, development practitioners and hundreds of communities in Africa.”
–Raila Odinga, Prime Minister of Kenya
John Conyers: Encourage President Obama to Nominate Professor Jeffrey Sachs as the Next President of the World Bank
This letter was sent on Friday, March 16.
Signers were: John Conyers, Hansen Clarke, Jesse Jackson, Jr., Barbara Lee, Zoe Lofgren, Jim McGovern, Lynn Woolsey, Raul Grijalva, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Keith Ellison, Robert Brady, Rubén Hinojosa, Peter DeFazio, Steve Cohen, Maxine Waters, Bob Filner, Anna Eshoo, Andre Carson, Chaka Fattah, Rush Holt, Charlie Rangel, Yvette Clarke, Donna Edwards, Jim McDermott, Sheila Jackson-Lee, Jerrold Nadler, Hank Johnson.
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Call your reps today to oppose AIPAC's push for war with Iran! Here's what you do:
1. Call the congressional switchboard using this toll-free number provided by the Friend's Committee on National Legislation: 1-855-686-6927.
2. Ask to be connected to one of your representatives' offices.
3. Urge your Senators to oppose and vote NO on S. Res. 380. Urge your Representative in the House to oppose and vote NO on H. Res. 568.
4. Tell your representative's office that you oppose this legislation because:
i. It supports going to war with Iran in order to prevent it from developing a “nuclear weapons capability,” a vague threshold many experts believe Iran has already reached. In other words, the legislation supports going to war at the earliest convenience, even if Iran has no intention of actually developing a weapon.
A funny thing happened on the way to the Showdown at the AIPAC Corral, where pro-war Republicans and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have been planning to ambush President Obama with charges of being "soft on Iran" because U.S. military commanders have said that an Israeli military attack on Iran would be a very bad idea.
Someone asked the Israeli public what they thought.
And it turns out that the majority of Israelis have their shekels on the lanky guy from Chicago.
In a poll conducted this month by Professor Shibley Telhami of the University of Maryland and Israel's Dahaf Institute, only 19 percent of Israelis said they would support an Israeli military attack on Iran if it is not approved by the U.S.
But that's not even the most striking result of the poll.
The poll suggests that the reason that the majority of Israelis don't support an Israeli military strike on Iran without U.S. approval is not because they are afraid of making the U.S. angry. The poll suggests that the reason that the majority of Israelis do not support an Israeli military strike on Iran without U.S. approval is that they share the cautions of U.S. officials against an Israeli strike on Iran: they think that the costs would be high, and the benefits small or nonexistent.
That is, they see the assessments of U.S. officials of the dubious merits of an Israeli strike as good data - better data than they are getting from Prime Minister Netanyahu.
The media war fever for military confrontation with Iran has grown so great that even the media noticed. Writing in the New York Times, Scott Shane asked the reasonable question: how is it that we're having a war fever with Iran, when polls show that after ten years, the American public is weary of war?
A key part of the story is that we've had a one-sided political debate about Iran. Major media are often ambivalent about the degree to which it's really their responsibility to educate the public about basic facts - like the fact that the U.S. government is quite confident that Iran is not now trying to build a nuclear weapon. Instead, the media's default position often is to reflect what they perceive to be going on in the political debate. And what the media largely perceive is that one side - the non-Ron Paul Republican presidential candidates, the Lieberman-Graham-McCain axis, and the pro-Likud lobby groups and think tanks - is pushing aggressively toward military confrontation, and the other side - the Obama Administration - is saying, well, not so fast, without strongly and consistently challenging some of the core assumptions of the pro-war voices.
Largely missing from the recent political debate, until now, has been a full-throated defense of diplomatic engagement with Iran towards negotiated agreements that would resolve or mitigate international concerns about its disputed nuclear program, thereby pushing back the prospect of military confrontation.
But that could change. Representatives Keith Ellison [D-MN] and Walter Jones [R-NC] are currently circulating a Congressional letter to President Obama urging the President to redouble U.S. efforts towards a diplomatic agreement.