Concerned that the Bush administration is actively pursuing plans to take military action in Iran, members of the Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Madison Area Peace Coalition, and several other groups put together a panel of five local experts on U.S. policy on Iran with the goal of educating the audience and organizing a proactive, vocal anti-war group.
"The U.S. has been assisting in aiding and abetting a range of clandestine militant groups operating in Iran for some time. It has been doing so in what amounts now to a covert, low-intensity proxy war, the possible prelude to something far larger, more dangerous," said Allen Ruff, a local historian, author and activist.
Ruff said that while officially condemning them as terrorist organizations, the United States has continued to assist groups such as the People's Mujahedin of Iran (MEK) and separatist Kurdish group PEJAK. Among other sources, he referenced U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich's 2006 letter to President Bush stating the United States was supporting insurgent activity as a way to take action against the Iranian government. The letter also asked Bush to report to Congress on military operations in Iran.
Of most recent concern to peace activists is House resolution 362, introduced on May 22, in which Congress urges the administration to "initiate an international effort to immediately and dramatically increase the economic, political, and diplomatic pressure on Iran to verifiably suspend its nuclear enrichment activities."
Co-sponsored by Wisconsin representatives Paul Ryan, Ron Kind and Steve Kagen, the resolution states that it is not intended as authorization of the use of force against Iran. Yet some are concerned that other language in the resolution -- specifically clause 3, which demands " stringent inspection requirements" on transportation and people entering and exiting Iran -- allows the administration to effectively impose a naval blockade against Iran.
"I am very concerned about the very bellicose tone this administration has sounded on Iran," said Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin in an e-mail message. "There is a drumbeat of fighting words, including 'keeping all options on the table' and threats to use nuclear bunker busting bombs to take out underground facilities suspected of being used to enrich uranium.
"(House Resolution) 362 is precisely the type of resolution that might be misread or misinterpreted by this administration. That is why I have chosen not to sponsor it, and unless it is modified in committee or on the floor, it is why I am considering opposing it."
Rep. Kind issued a statement defending his support of the resolution: "I believe that the Iranian government's deliberate disregard (of U.N. resolutions) coupled with the volatile situation in the Middle East necessitates a firm and thoughtful response from the United States and our allies, using both diplomatic and economic measures."
"The resolution does not authorize or urge the president to use any military force against Iran."
Speakers at the town hall meeting remain concerned that the White House is preparing for using military force in Iran. Organizers circulated petitions urging Baldwin and Wisconsin senators Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl to actively work to prevent the administration from taking steps toward violent action against Iran.
In addition to opposing military action on principle, Jeff Patterson, a physician active in Physicians for Social Responsibility, spoke about the uncertainty of whether Iran actually possesses nuclear weapons as well as the sheer logistical challenge of launching a military attack.
"Many military people have said there are no good military options," said Patterson, also pointing out the high number of nuclear material sites that exist in Iran, a country four times as large as Iraq. Patterson also said that if the United States were to begin military action, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) would lose the ability to follow nuclear activity in Iran.
"I cannot and will not vote for legislation that would appear to condone military action in Iran. While I feel that any threat imposed by Iran must be addressed swiftly and skillfully, I believe that it is vital that our country first employ diplomatic, not militaristic measures," said Baldwin in a statement passed out by a representative from her office who attended the meeting.
"If we do go to war with Iran, it's going to be devastating," said panelist Tsela Barr, an active member of the group Jewish Voice for Peace and the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project. "I have seen a real political ennui that exists for most of America. Here we have this horrific war in Iraq and people dying, and there aren't a lot of protests. People are sort of used to it.
"We need to make it normal to protest. I think that the typical protest may not be the answer, so we need to think differently. If we really want to change things, it's the grass roots that have to change things."
Panelist Joe Elder, a UW sociology professor born in Iran, spoke about the history of U.S.-Iran relations and the need to follow the international "rule of law" that he said the United States has arrogantly flaunted.
Majid Sarmadi, a UW human ecology professor, also spoke about the horrible human and economic costs of war.
"I feel like I do when my parents are fighting," said Iranian-American Sarmadi. "I love this country, but sometimes feel like my mother and father are fighting, and I want to go to the corner and cry."
"We can be opinion leaders," said panel moderator Bonnie Block, who visited Iran in 2005 with a delegation from the Fellowship for Reconciliation. She said that the key to preventing violence against Iran is to be vocal at every opportunity -- in church, at work, in one's neighborhood.
"Some people may be overwhelmed, others maybe don't want to know, but I think that if we talk to people, eventually that makes a difference."
© 2008 The Capital Times