More than 7,000 miles separate Chicago and Tehran. But on May 14, the city council of the American city will consider whether to take a stand on an event that would have far reaching consequences for residents of both: a US attack on Iran.
A resolution introduced into the council by one of its members, Alderman Joe Moore, would put the city on record as opposing a preemptive strike against Iran by the US. The resolution urges all congressional representatives whose districts include parts of the city to "clearly express the will of the people of Chicago in opposing any attack on Iran, and urging the Bush administration to pursue diplomatic engagement with that nation."
The resolution is the result of an initiative launched by Chicago's No War On Iran Coalition, a broad-based grouping of local anti-war, social justice and faith organisations. Ranging widely in viewpoints, the goal that unites us all is preventing the United States from launching another elective war that we believe would prove even more disastrous than the five-year-old one next door in Iraq.
Recent events have added urgency to the goal. In April, General David Petraeus, the commanding officer of American forces in Iraq, and Ryan Crocker, US ambassador to that country, testified to several congressional committees. In their testimony, both struck a common theme: the role of Iran in promoting insurgent attacks in Iraq. Both men accused so-called "special groups" of Iran's Revolutionary Guards of being responsible for the deaths of American troops and rocket strikes on the Green Zone.
That testimony flies in the face of the opinion of the American intelligence community, expressed in a 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (pdf) that Iran "is not likely to be a major driver of violence" in Iraq. It nevertheless allowed the Bush administration to assign blame for the Iraq debacle to Iran and provide the rationale for military action if they so chose. The president issued a thinly veiled threat in insisting that Iran cease supplying weapons in Iraq or "America will act to protect our interests, and our troops."
Signs of war go beyond rhetoric. April also saw the forced resignation of Admiral William Fallon as chief of Central Command, responsible for Pentagon operations in the Middle East. Fallon had been quoted a month earlier in an Esquire article as being opposed to attacking Iran. His replacement will be Bush's favourite general - Petraeus, whose congressional testimony so carefully mirrored Bush administration talking points.
No War on Iran Coalition members are prepared to answer those who suggest that local government bodies have no business involving themselves in matters of foreign policy. We point to the enormous burden the Iraq occupation has placed on the city, in terms of lives disrupted and what economists refer to as 'opportunity costs.'
The occupation has cost the citizens of Chicago roughly $5.5bn (and counting). That translates to $105m for each of the city's 50 Wards (districts), each represented by a member of the city council. Those funds could have bought 112,543 public safety officers for one year; 365 elementary schools; 39,567 units of affordable housing; 84,067 elementary school teachers for one year; and so on.
And if you think the costs of the occupation are horrendous, the costs associated with an attack on Iran, both in terms of lives and dollars, would be much worse.
Support for the resolution comes from diverse ideological quarters, as a glance at those testifying in support attests. Scott Ritter, a 12 year veteran of US Marine intelligence and former UN chief weapons inspector in Iraq; John Mearsheimer, a realist international relations expert from the University of Chicago who voted for Bush in 2000; veteran New York Times foreign correspondent (and CiF contributor) Stephen Kinzer. They represent the breadth of opposition to further military adventurism in an unstable part of the globe.
No one harbours any illusions that the resolution will stop a US attack on Iran. Rather, the measure is seen as a vehicle to raise the profile of the issue - right in the country's heartland - and demonstrate broad opposition to a wider war. Several US cities have passed such resolutions, but Chicago would be by far the largest and most prominent to do so. A Chicago success could inspire activists in other cities to press their local governments to pass similar measures.
The goal is to influence policy by showing there would be serious political consequences to any attack. With an American leadership seemingly indifferent to (if not contemptuous of) its record-low approval ratings, activists are shifting their sights to representatives closer to home. Hopes are that pressure rising from below will curb the bellicose rhetoric and ominous manoeuvres of the Bush administration in the short run and thwart the impulse to seek security through wars of aggression in the longer run.
Will the local strategy work? An answer may begin to emerge on May 14. Stay tuned.
Michael Lynn represents to No War on Iran Coalition.
© 2008 The Guardian