Yesterday, by a vote of 76-22, the Senate passed the Kyl-Lieberman amendment in support of military actions against Iran. This is the second such endorsement of the president by a senate majority in just three months. In July, the Lieberman amendment to "confront Iran" passed with the far stronger majority of 97-0.
The original draft of Kyl-Lieberman had asked U.S. forces to "combat, contain, and roll back" the Iranian menace within Iraq. But the words "roll back" were all too plainly a coded endorsement of hot pursuit into Iran; and the senators did not want to go quite so far. To assure a larger majority the language was accordingly trimmed and blurred to say "that it should be the policy of the United States to stop inside Iraq the violent activities and destabilizing influence of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, its foreign facilitators such as Lebanese Hezbollah, and its indigenous Iraqi proxies."
The inclusion of Hezbollah deserves some notice. It is part of a larger attempt, already apparent in the Lebanon war of 2006, to manufacture an "amalgam" of all the enemies of Israel and the United States throughout the region, and to treat them all as one enemy. Those who believe in the amalgam will come to agree that many more wars by the United States and Israel are needed to crush this enemy.
More provocative is a secondary detail of the amendment, which received less notice from the mainstream media. Kyl-Lieberman approves the listing of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard of Iran as a "foreign terrorist organization." Now, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard is the largest branch of the Iranian military. By granting Vice President Cheney's wish (a distant dream in 2005) to put the Iranian guard on the U.S. terrorist list, the Senate has classified the army of Iran as an army of terrorists. The president, therefore, as he follows out the Cheney plan has all the support he requires for asserting in his next speech to an army or veterans group that Iran is a nation of terrorists.
It was said during the Vietnam War that "a dead Vietnamese is a Viet Cong." It will assuage the conscience for U.S. bombers of Iran to know that a dead Iranian is a terrorist. The Senate, by this classification, has absolved the bombers in advance.
Hillary Clinton voted in favor of the Kyl-Lieberman amendment to press the army toward war with Iran. This was an important step, for her, and a vote as closely considered as her vote to authorize the bombing and occupation of Iraq.
Here are the senators who voted against Kyl-Lieberman:
Biden (D-DE) Bingaman (D-NM) Boxer (D-CA) Brown (D-OH) Byrd (D-WV) Cantwell (D-WA) Dodd (D-CT) Feingold (D-WI) Hagel (R-NE) Harkin (D-IA) Inouye (D-HI) Kennedy (D-MA) Kerry (D-MA) Klobuchar (D-MN) Leahy (D-VT) Lincoln (D-AR) Lugar (R-IN) McCaskill (D-MO) Sanders (I-VT) Tester (D-MT) Webb (D-VA) Wyden (D-OR)
John McCain and Barack Obama did not vote.
It is a remarkable fact that the war meditated against Iran, like the war on Iraq, is sought most keenly by a vice president and president who went further than most of their generation to avoid serving their country in Vietnam. The fact becomes the more remarkable in view of the contempt shown by both men for those who did not cheer and avoid, but opposed the Vietnam war by conscientious dissent. The same is true across the range of non-combatant neoconservative war architects and propagandists. Psychological compensation of an astonishing kind (to say no more) is at work in this display of rashness disguised as courage in the later careers of our war leaders behind the lines. For several years now, the mainstream press and media have said as little as possible about it.
Two votes against Kyl-Lieberman were issued from veterans with considerable experience and firsthand knowledge of war, Chuck Hagel and Jim Webb. If these two men were now to sharpen their dissidence, if they could make their reasons articulate and see the present as a time that calls them to the sustained work of opposition-- we might have the beginnings of a potent resistance which will never come from Harry Reid.
What of the absence of Barack Obama? In a speech in Iowa on September 12, he addressed by anticipation the matter before the Senate in Kyl-Lieberman: "We hear eerie echoes of the run-up to the war in Iraq in the way that the President and Vice President talk about Iran. They conflate Iran and al Qaeda. They issue veiled threats. They suggest that the time for diplomacy and pressure is running out when we haven't even tried direct diplomacy. Well George Bush and Dick Cheney must hear--loud and clear--from the American people and the Congress: you don't have our support, and you don't have our authorization for another war."
It is baffling that a man who spoke those words two weeks ago could not find the time or the resolve to cast his vote in a conspicuous test for authorizing war on Iran. This seems to be one more demonstration of Obama's tendency never to take a step forward without a step to the side. As for his own message about Iran, it has not been "loud and clear," but muffled, wavering, experimental.
With Hillary Clinton, we know where we stand. Yesterday she voted to bring the country a serious step closer to war against Iran. And she did so for the same reason that she voted to authorize the war on Iraq. She thinks the next war is going to happen. She hopes the worst of its short-term effects on America will have died down before the election. She suspects the media and voters will show more trust for a candidate who supported than for one who opposed the war. She wants a ponderous establishment of American troops and super-bases to remain in the Middle East for years to come. If she wins the presidency, she will inherit the command of that army and those bases, and she believes she can manage their affairs more prudently than George W. Bush.
Hillary Clinton is consistent. Every move is calculated, her actual intentions are masked, but the total drift is easy to comprehend. It is not so with Obama. How can he expect anyone to back a man who will not back himself?
David Bromwich teaches literature at Yale. He has written on politics and culture for The New Republic, The Nation, The New York Review of Books, and other magazines.
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