war with iran
On Wednesday and Thursday, the House is expected to take up consideration of the National Defense Authorization Act. Amendments will be offered to expedite military withdrawal from Afghanistan, to oppose war with Iran, to cut the military budget, and to stop "signature" drone strikes that target people without knowing who will be killed.
According to the way the House operates, the authorization bill is the most open opportunity to challenge current policy. When the House considers the appropriations bill, amendments can be offered to cut money for specific programs. But it is difficult to otherwise alter policy when the appropriation is considered, according to the rules of the House. On the authorization bill, there is much more scope to try to direct policy.
Every American who cares about war and peace ought to be calling Congress. The Friends Committee on National Legislation has established a toll-free number that connects you to the Capitol Switchboard: 1-877-429-0678. Then you can ask to be transferred to your Representative's office. [If you can't call, you can write here.]
What should you tell your Representative's office? Whatever else you do, you should tell them that you are a constituent and give them your address to document that fact.
Then you have some choices to make about what to emphasize. Many amendments have been offered. At this writing, we don't know which amendments will be allowed on the floor by the Rules Committee. Once the Rules Committee has decided which amendments it will allow, there might not be much time before voting begins. So it's better to call when you can and emphasize broad themes.
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.
Before we have a war with Iran, shouldn't the Senate and the House have at least one debate and vote on it? Isn't that what the Constitution demands? Isn't that what is demanded by the War Powers Resolution (which, despite its name, is binding law)?
If you agree to the principle that Congress should debate and vote on a war with Iran before any such war takes place (which also happens to be the Constitution and the law), when do you think a good time would be for the Senate and the House to start taking up the question? Should we wait until after there is further escalation? Should we wait until after some real or invented Persian Gulf of Tonkin incident, when Members of Congress can be steamrolled by cable news and right-wing talk radio? Or should we start having the debate now, when rational argument still has a chance, so that Members of Congress will be forced to choose sides between American generals, who oppose war with Iran, and the Israeli Prime Minister, who wants war with Iran?
Kentucky Senator Rand Paul thinks we should have the debate right now.
On Tuesday, Sen. Paul took to the Senate floor to oppose unanimous consent of a new Iran sanctions bill so he could introduce an amendment that would ensure that nothing in the act shall be construed as a declaration of war or an authorization of the use of force against Iran or Syria, and affirm that any use of military force must be authorized by Congress.
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.
For all it has done to promote confrontation between the United States and Iran, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee has worked to avoid the public perception that AIPAC is openly promoting war. In AIPAC's public documents, the emphasis has always been on tougher sanctions. (If you make sanctions "tough" enough - an effective embargo - that is an act of war, but it is still at one remove from saying that the U.S. should start bombing.)
But a new Senate effort to move the goalposts of U.S. policy to declare it "unacceptable" for Iran to develop a nuclear weapons capability - not a nuclear weapon, but the technical capacity to create one - gives AIPAC the opportunity to make a choice which all can observe. If the Lieberman resolution becomes an ask for AIPAC lobbyists at the March AIPAC policy conference, then the world will know: AIPAC is lobbying Congress for war with Iran.
Sponsors of the Lieberman resolution deny that it is an "authorization for military force," and in a legal, technical sense, they are absolutely correct: it is not a legal authorization for military force. But it is an attempt to enact a political authorization for military force. It is an attempt to pressure the Administration politically to move forward the tripwire for war, to a place indistinguishable from the status quo that exists today. If successful, this political move would make it impossible for the Administration to pursue meaningful diplomatic engagement with Iran, shutting down the most plausible alternative to war.
Can Joe Lieberman Block Diplomacy with Iran that Would Prevent War? by Robert Naiman There's no question that some people in Washington would very much like for the U.S. to have a policy towards Iran whose endgame is war or externally-induced regime change. And they have a long-term strategy to bring this about, which is to block efforts at meaningful diplomacy, so that the only thing left on the table is war or externally-induced regime change.
Now, according to reports from DC, come Joe Lieberman and Lindsay Graham with a new bill. What does their bill seek to do? According to reports from people who have seen the draft bill, in its current form it seeks to block the President from having a policy to "contain" Iran if it develops nuclear weapons capability.
Jasmin Ramsey wrote Wednesday at LobeLog:
The key lines in the resolved [clauses] have been highlighted by a Washington policy expert:
"(6) Strongly rejects any policy that fails to prevent the Iranian government from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability and that instead would settle for future efforts to "contain" a nuclear weapons capable Iran;
(7) Urges the President to reaffirm the unacceptability of an Iran with nuclear-weapons capability and to oppose any policy that would rely on containment as an option in response to the Iranian nuclear threat." [my emphasis on variations of the word "capable" - RN]
It's deja vu all over again. AIPAC is trying to trick America into another catastrophic war with a Middle Eastern country on behalf of the Likud Party's colonial ambitions, and the New York Times is lying about allegations that said country is developing "weapons of mass destruction."
In an article attributed to Steven Erlanger on January 4 ("Europe Takes Bold Step Toward a Ban on Iranian Oil "), this paragraph appeared:
The threats from Iran, aimed both at the West and at Israel, combined with a recent assessment by the International Atomic Energy Agency that Iran's nuclear program has a military objective, is becoming an important issue in the American presidential campaign. [my emphasis]
The claim that there is "a recent assessment by the International Atomic Energy Agency that Iran's nuclear program has a military objective" is a lie.
As Washington Post Ombudsman Patrick Pexton noted on December 9,
But the IAEA report does not say Iran has a bomb, nor does it say it is building one, only that its multiyear effort pursuing nuclear technology is sophisticated and broad enough that it could be consistent with building a bomb.
Indeed, if you try now to find the offending paragraph on the New York Times website, you can't. They took it down. But there is no note, like there is supposed to be, acknowledging that they changed the article, and that there was something wrong with it before. Sneaky, huh?
But you can still find the original here.
Rick Santorum is running as the "more AIPAC than thou" candidate. But David Gregory wants people to think of him as a "journalist." We can hold David Gregory to a higher standard.
On Sunday, Republican Presidential Rick Santorum told David Gregory on NBC's "Meet the Press" that, unlike President Obama, he would "be saying to the Iranians, you either open up those [nuclear] facilities, you begin to dismantle them and, and make them available to inspectors, or we will degrade those facilities through airstrikes and make it very public that we are doing that."
David Gregory did not challenge Santorum's statement. But Gregory knows - or should know - that Iran's nuclear facilities are already under the inspection of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Politicians will say whatever they can get away with, but journalists have an obligation to correct serious misstatements of fact.
Of course, one can try to come up with excuses for why David Gregory didn't correct the record. Let's consider some potential excuses, and why they are no good.
"Journalists can't correct everything candidates say." This was a one-on-one interview, and the topic of discussion was Iran's nuclear program, and Rick Santorum's claims that he would be tougher than President Obama in confronting Iran about its nuclear program. Is there another context where it would be more appropriate for David Gregory to correct the record about what is known about Iran's nuclear program?
Will the news media let Ron Paul raise serious questions about U.S. foreign policy? It's a crucial test case not only of the prospects that the media will serve the interests of the 99% rather than the 1%, but of the prospects for a foreign military and economic policy that reflects the values and interests of the 99%, rather than those of the 1%.
Economist and media critic Dean Baker recently posed this question in a forum at Politico. Politico's David Mark convened the forum under the headline, "Can Ron Paul Take a Punch?"
Now that Rep. Ron Paul is a top-tier candidate in Iowa rivals are likely to gang up. They may target the Texan's associations with unsavory characters, or a sometimes less-than-pure libertarian stance on congressional earmarks. Middle East politics could also complicate Paul's presidential bid - he once likened Israel's defensive blockade of Hamas-ruled Gaza to "a concentration camp."
Can Ron Paul take a punch?
Dean Baker responded:
The better question is whether the media will allow Paul to raise serious questions about the nature of this country's foreign policy. I recall watching one of the Republican presidential debates in 2008 where the moderator asked whether the president could unilaterally take military action against Iran.
Mayor Giuliani answered first and gave a characteristic Giuliani answer to the effect of the president can do whatever he wants. Gov. Romney then gave a conditional this and that answer, and then said that if the question was one of constitutional authority, you would have to call in the lawyers.