I marched through downtown Washington Saturday afternoon with the "#OccupyDC" folks. One of the most popular chants around me was: "How to end this deficit? End the wars, tax the rich!" Apparently the 99% in DC have no trouble talking about ending the wars and taxing the rich in the same breath. I hope that others will emulate them.
I take it as obvious that "end the wars" means not only that we should get all our troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan, but that we shouldn’t start a new war with Iran. Don’t you? Surely a key lesson of the last ten years is that once a war is started, it can be incredibly difficult to end it. This is one of the reasons that the neocons love starting wars. Starting a war allows them to create a long-term structural change in the political terrain – one that can long outlast their time in office – sucking resources and focus from the productive, domestic economy that employs and nourishes the 99% to the military economy that makes the military contractors rich but creates few jobs in the U.S. compared to domestic private and public spending.
And another key lesson of the last ten years is this: if we want to stop wars in the future, we can’t wait to act until the war advocates have all their ducks in a row. We have to "disrupt their plots," to borrow a phrase. Millions marched worldwide a month before the start of the Iraq war. As an expression of popular clamor for peace, it was great. But as a means of stopping the war, it was too late. The war train had already left the station.
Right now, the prospect of war with Iran may seem remote to the multitude. But try this little experiment: go to the web, and search on "Romney" and "Iran." "Key Romney Advisers Advocate War With Iran," notes Ben Armbruster at Think Progress. Then search on "Perry" and "Iran." Rick Perry is running as the "hawk internationalist," reaching out to such neocon "experts" as former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Doug Feith, a key architect of the Iraq war, reports Josh Rogin at Foreign Policy.
Imagine the world after January 2013, if Romney or Perry is President, neocons resume control of our foreign policy, and Republicans control the House. (Unfortunately, whether Democrats nominally control the Senate might not matter that much, given the propensity of so many Democratic Senators to vote with the war party.) That would be similar to the political terrain at the beginning of the George W. Bush administration, before most of the neocons were purged from the Bush Administration and Democrats retook the House. In other words, it would produce political terrain similar to that which existed in the U.S. before the Iraq war.
Suppose that the Netanyahu government or something similar were still in power in Israel – unfortunately, an extremely likely scenario. And then consider that the neocons would then have four years to line up ducks for their desired military confrontation with Iran. And then it could well be the peace movement standing alone against the well-resourced Netanyahu amen corner, with its agents controlling the executive branch and Congress and its privileged access to the nation’s media megaphone. Do you want to see the end of that movie? I don’t. We’d stand our ground as best we could, but the probability is high that the Netanyahu amen corner would roll over us like an Israeli occupation bulldozer.
If we want to prevent this outcome, we have to "disrupt the plot." How can we do this?
A key tool for disrupting the plot would be to achieve a diplomatic agreement with Iran now which moves Iran significantly further away from the capacity to produce a nuclear weapon. Maybe you don’t actually care that much, intrinsically, how close Iran is to developing the capacity to produce a nuclear weapon. If so, it’s not my job to make you care more. But know this: in the world of practical affairs in which we live at present, it doesn’t matter that much how much you care. What matters most is that the closer Iran is perceived in Washington to be to developing the capacity to produce a nuclear weapon, the better conditions are for the neocons to jack up the confrontation between the US and Iran. Jacking up the confrontation with Iran would serve the interests of the 1% and hurt the interests of the 99%: it would produce more spending and focus on the military economy at the expense of the productive, domestic economy that employs and nourishes the 99%. It would also increase the probability of a new war.
It’s important to keep in mind that Iran also has its Mitt Romneys, its Rick Perrys, its Abraham Foxmans, and its Ileana Ros-Lehtinens: people who want to jack up the confrontation with the U.S. because it serves their political interests to do so. So we can’t assume that the confrontation will not escalate, if there is no effective action to de-escalate it, even if the U.S. is not driving the escalation.
And you should also know this: there is a modest, feasible diplomatic proposal on the table right now that would have the effect of moving Iran further away from the capacity to produce a nuclear weapon. By saying yes to this proposal, the Obama Administration – which came into office, you may recall, on a promise of meaningful diplomatic engagement with Iran – could disrupt the plot of the neocons.
The proposal is that the U.S. provide fuel for Iran’s medical research reactor, in exchange for Iran agreeing to suspend the enrichment of uranium above the 5% level. This proposal would have the effect of significantly moving Iran further away from the capacity to produce a nuclear weapon.
In addition to de-escalating the confrontation with Iran over its nuclear program, this proposal would have a side benefit that may be of interest to some: it would guarantee the supply of medical isotopes for the treatment of 850,000 Iranian cancer patients. I realize that no-one ever lost an argument in Washington as a result of underestimating the concern of the nation’s foreign policy establishment about whether human beings who happen to live in "enemy" countries live or die as a result of U.S. policy. But if you happen to be someone who cares about such things, that’s an added benefit for you: 850,000 Iranian cancer patients, at least some of whom are completely innocent of any Iranian government policy, would have their access to treatment ensured.
This proposal has been endorsed by the Iran nuclear experts at the Federation of American Scientists, in an op-ed in the New York Times; and by the director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard’s Kennedy School, in an op-ed in the Washington Post. These "validator" endorsements strongly suggest that the implementation of this proposal is a moderate, feasible demand.
So, to those establishment media pundits who persist in claiming that the 99% protesters have no practical demands, I would like to have a word with you. I have a practical demand. Say yes to the Iran medical nuke deal.
Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy.