Middle East historian and blogger Juan Cole recently wrote a polemic against progressive U.S. critics of the new U.S. war in Libya. In his polemic, he wrote, "I hope we can have a calm and civilized discussion of the rights and wrongs here."
I strongly agree with Juan that it is important for progressive critics of U.S. foreign policy to try to have a calm and civilized discussion about the issues that have been raised by the U.S. military intervention in Libya. In general, it's important to try to have calm and civilized discussions about all issues of public policy, even when - especially when - the underlying issues are matters of life and death. The alternative is nasty polemics, and a principal effect of nasty polemics is to exclude people from discussion who don't want to engage in nasty polemics. In this way the effect of nasty polemics is anti-democratic; nasty polemics tend to demobilize people and cause them to disengage, when what we need is the opposite: more engagement and more mobilization.
In this particular case, the decision of the Obama Administration to engage the country in a new Middle East war without Congressional authorization represents a long-term threat to the U.S. peace movement, because the U.S. peace movement is engaged in a long struggle to try to influence U.S. policy in the direction of less war, and Congress is a key arena in which the peace movement tries to assert influence over U.S. policy. If you take away power from Congress to determine issues of war and peace, you substantially reduce the power of the U.S. peace movement to influence issues of war and peace. Taking away Congressional war powers is to the peace movement like taking away collective bargaining is to the labor movement: a direct threat to our ability to move our agenda on behalf of our constituents.
As you may have noticed in 2007 - timetable for Iraq withdrawal, anyone? - in our system of government as it is presently constituted, the executive branch has a tiny modicum of autonomy from the legislative branch, particularly with respect to foreign policy.
On Wednesday - burying the news in the post-election media frenzy - the State Department gave us a little taste of what the executive branch can do without waiting for Congress to say, "Simon Says." At long last, the State Department formally designated the Iranian terrorist organization Jundallah as a "foreign terrorist organization."
The United States has officially designated Iranian extremist group Jundallah as a foreign terrorist organization, the State Department said Wednesday.
Jundallah, also known as the People's Resistance Movement of Iran, operates primarily in the Iranian province of Sistan-Baluchestan, which borders Pakistan.
The State Department said Jundallah "has engaged in numerous attacks resulting in the death and maiming of scores of Iranian civilians and government officials. Jundallah uses a variety of terrorist tactics, including suicide bombings, ambushes, kidnappings and targeted assassinations."
Most recently, the Sunni group claimed responsibility for suicide bombings in July at the Zahedan Grand Mosque. The attacks targeting Shiite worshipers killed 27 people. Iranian leaders said the United States was behind the attacks.
In response to David Broder's op-ed in the Washington Post calling for
President Obama to orchestrate a war fever against Iran as a way of
stimulating the US economy, Just Foreign Policy formally announces its
"Fox on 15th" Campaign.
The purpose of the campaign is to delegitimize the Washington Post by
constantly reminding people how on a range of issues, from war to
torture to Social Security, the Washington Post, editorially, is
politically indistinguishable from Fox News.
How to participate: if you have a blog, anytime you take the
Washington Post to task for a pro-war editorial or op-ed, give it the
tag, "foxon15th," in addition to any other tags.
And when you post such a blog to twitter, or comment on such an
editorial or op-ed on twitter, use the hashtag #foxon15th, in addition
to any other hashtags.
Dean Baker responds to Washington Post columnist David Broder's op-ed calling for a drive towards military confrontation with Iran as a way to boost the economy:
Is there a man or woman in America today who is willing to stand at noon in the public square and claim that demands to bomb, invade, and occupy other people's countries have anything to do with human liberation?
If such people can be found, let them answer a few simple questions about the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq.
How many Iraqis did we "liberate" from the companionship of their loved ones?
How many Iraqis did we "liberate" from dwelling in the houses and towns and the country of their birth?
How many Iraqis did we "liberate" from life on Earth?
If any American who claims to believe that indefinite continuation of the war in Afghanistan - or a US/Israeli military attack on Iran - is justified by humanitarian concerns cannot give a fact-based and intellectually coherent answer to the question of how many Iraqis have lost their lives as a result of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, do not that person's claims for "humanitarian" war, bombing, and occupation deserve zero credence?
To state that we cannot know how many have died is outrageously false. It is vacuously true that we cannot know exactly how many have died. But in the diverse fields of human inquiry and endeavor, there are many large numbers that are important which we cannot know exactly. If understanding the magnitude of a number is important, we do not throw up our hands and say, "we can never know." Imagine a reference book that said, "we don't know how many humans are alive on Earth today, because no-one has counted them all."
If we want to understand the magnitude of a large number that we cannot count, we estimate it.
Campaigning for the Democratic Presidential nomination in 2008, Senator Barack Obama said: "I don't want to just end the war, but I want to end the mindset that got us into war in the first place."
But as Andrew Bacevich notes in his new book, "Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War," as President, Barack Obama has done the opposite: he has promoted and acted on behalf of the mindset that leads to war.
Most prominently, President Obama has so far missed every major exit ramp for starting to get out of Afghanistan, instead escalating militarily and "doubling down" on "counterinsurgency" in Afghanistan - Vietnam 2.0 - even as the war has become increasingly unpopular in the United States - as it has been in Afghanistan and in the rest of the world. The majority of Americans, three-quarters of Democrats, and three-fifths of House Democrats want President Obama to establish a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces. But the White House so far refuses to even publicly discuss such a move, even as it claims to support "Afghan-led reconciliation" with leaders of the Afghan Taliban, which, if real, almost certainly would require a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign forces, a key demand of Afghan insurgents.
This is all the more striking as the Administration celebrates the drawdown of U.S. forces from Iraq, because the centerpiece of the present relationship between the U.S. government and the Iraqi government is an agreement stipulating the total withdrawal of U.S. forces from the country by the end of 2011. That which is now the centerpiece of U.S. relations with Iraq is still mostly taboo for discussion among the "national security elite" regarding Afghanistan: a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign forces.
With all the ballyhoo about the alleged "existential" conflict between Israel and Iran, you might think that the news that Iran is trying to send an aid boat to Gaza, in the wake of the Israeli military attack on the Turkish aid boat that killed eight Turks and an American, would occasion a great wailing and gnashing of teeth in the American media. But the American reaction so far seems rather muted, and Iranian government officials, who in the past have at times seemed followers of the Saddam Hussein school of propaganda ("you will be buried in the sand while your wives sleep with rich Arabs,") now seem more loyal to the Maz Jobrani school ("I am Persian, like the cat. Meow!")
Iran's Fars news agency also reported that top Iranian officials will allow two other ships to leave, but its navy will not escort them.
"Maj. Gen. Salami, deputy commander IRGC (Islamic Revolution Guard Corps), discussing the humanitarian aid ships to Gaza, said that protecting these ships is not on the agenda of the IRGC," Fars said.
You may have heard that the IRGC has a force called the "Qods Brigade." It's a provocative name - Qods is the Arabic name of Jerusalem. Imagine if, during the struggle against apartheid, the government of Angola had an elite fighting force called the "Johannesburg Brigade." Presumably some white South Africans might have regarded that as provocative.
Brave words. And yet: now that the Iranian aid ship could clearly use a bit of protection - if it truly intends to sail to Gaza, as opposed to just claiming that it will do so - the bravely-named "Qods Brigade" apparently has other business to attend to.
The United Nations Security Council approved a resolution calling for new sanctions against Iran today. Wait, did you just yawn? Pay attention, there's real news here. The man-bites-dog story is that two countries - Brazil and Turkey - voted no, while Lebanon abstained.
That's a record. There's never been more than one no vote before; there's never been less than 14 yes votes before; it's only the second time that there were any no votes at all. And it's the first time any non-Muslim country voted no (Brazil.)
This is the sixth Security Council resolution attacking Iran's nuclear program since July 2006. Here's the scorecard:
Resolution 1696, July 31, 2006: Fourteen votes in favor to one against (Qatar.)
Resolution 1737, December 23, 2006: passed unanimously
Resolution 1747, March 24, 2007: passed unanimously
Resolution 1803, March 3, 2008: passed by a vote of 14-0-1, with one abstention (Indonesia.)
Resolution 1835, September 27, 2008: passed unanimously
Resolution 1929, June 9, 2010: passed by 12 votes to two against (Brazil and Turkey) and one abstention from Lebanon
Why did Brazil and Turkey vote no?
Until quite recently, it seemed that Turkey had a clearly defined role in the Middle East, from the standpoint of U.S. policy. They were the "good Muslims," who were part of NATO, who contributed troops to U.S. wars, and who had good relations with Israel.
In the past few weeks, therefore, some Americans may have been startled to see the government of Turkey seemingly playing a very different role. First, together with Brazil, Turkey negotiated a nuclear fuel swap agreement with Iran to defuse the standoff over Iran's nuclear program and forestall a controversial U.S./Israeli push for new sanctions against Iran at the U.N. Although the deal was very similar to one proposed by the Obama Administration - and Brazil and Turkey had a letter from Obama encouraging them to press forward with the deal - Obama Administration officials dismissed the deal, and far from being grateful to Turkey and Brazil, made a show of being angry. But instead of being chastened, Turkey and Brazil insisted their deal was good - invoking their letter from Obama to demonstrate their case - and insisted that the U.S. should pursue it.
In the past few weeks, Turkey and Brazil have elbowed their way to the Big Table of international diplomacy: first by negotiating a nuclear fuel swap agreement to try to push the US back towards diplomatic efforts to resolve its conflict with Iran, and then - in the case of Turkey - by its support of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla's efforts to break the Israeli-Egyptian-US siege of Gaza's civilian population - efforts that continue today as the Irish-flagged Rachel Corrie proceeds towards Gaza, amid silence - not enough protest, apparently - from the Obama Administration.
But it appears that if Turkey and Brazil want to have effective input at the Big Table, they are going to have to play hardball effectively with the United States: they have to continue to show the U.S. that they have the power to obstruct the U.S. from getting what it wants if the US continues to ignore their concerns.