Until recently, the power struggle within the Bush administration over whether to attack Iran seemed to be going badly for the hawks. Their disastrous record in Iraq coupled with flimsy arguments for attacking Iran meant they were gaining little support. But now it appears congressional Democrats may be riding to the rescue of those pushing for war.
In the fall of 2007, top Bush administration officials began stoking up the rhetoric about the danger of Iran and its nuclear weapons program. But then the National Intelligence Estimate came out showing that efforts to develop nuclear weapons were dropped in 2003, in large part because of international pressure. Wow -- diplomacy does work!
Claims that Iran was arming insurgents fell apart due to flimsy evidence -- weapons that were supposedly supplied by the Iranian government appear to have been purchased on the open market or acquired through means other than official Iranian support.
So with the case for attacking Iran in tatters, why are congressional Democrats taking up the cause?
House Resolution 362, sponsored by Rep. Gary Ackerman, a New York Democrat, is moving quickly through the House. The resolution urges the Bush administration to prohibit the export to Iran of refined petroleum products, impose "stringent inspection requirements on all persons, vehicles, ships, planes, trains, and cargo entering or departing Iran," and to prohibit all Iranian officials not involved in negotiating the suspension of Iran's nuclear program from travel outside the country.
Imposing "stringent inspection requirements" would amount to a naval blockade, many believe, and thus constitute an act of war. At the very least, it would be perceived by Iranians of all political persuasions as a hostile act, further marginalizing moderate voices, unifying the country behind the most belligerent leaders, and bolstering the argument of those within Iran who are pushing for the rapid development of nuclear weapons as a defense against U.S. attack.
Why are 96 House Democrats (along with 111 House Republicans) co-sponsoring this resolution? Aren't these the Democrats who rode into majorities in both houses on public revulsion against war in the Middle East?
According to a recent story on CBS News, the answer seems to be a "full-court press" by the government of Israel and the American-Israeli lobby AIPAC. CBS ran the story Tuesday as Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen was on his way to the Middle East to confer with Israeli government officials. "Israelis are uncertain about what would be the policies of the next [U.S.] administration vis-ÃƒÂ -vis Iran," CBS consultant Michael Oren says in the report.
Hence the rush to war?
There are alternatives. In his article in the foreign policy issue of YES! Magazine, Robert Naiman, of JustForeignPolicy.org shows that we avert the killing and maiming of Iranian civilians, by talking with Iran instead of bombing their country. Doing that could avert taking Middle East mayhem to a new level. Even better, we could actually work with Iran in an international effort to bring stability back to the region.
Indeed, Iran offered to negotiate peace in 2003 -- including a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict (thereby recognizing Israel's right to exist), full cooperation with inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, and pressure on Hizbollah to join the political process in Lebanon, rather than act outside the law. In exchange, Iran asked for a halt to hostile U.S. actions, an end to sanctions, and recognition of Iran's security interests. We ignored their overtures.
What about the nuclear threat? In my interview with George Shultz, secretary of state under Ronald Reagan, Shultz calls for the abolition of all nuclear weapons. He's not alone. His partners in this effort include former Senator Sam Nunn, William Perry, who was secretary of defense under Bill Clinton, and Henry Kissinger.
How much easier it would be to hold Iran accountable to the provisions of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty if we complied with it ourselves, including the provisions calling for the nuclear powers to reduce stockpiles eventually to zero. How extraordinary it would be to, as Shultz says, do "something that people feel good about."
Such a move would not be naive. In fact, it may be naive to think we can allow nuclear fuels and weapons to continue to fall into the hands of governments that are feeling cornered by U.S. threats and into the possession of stateless militants. Even during the time Shultz held office, when there were fewer fingers on fewer nuclear triggers, "there were more close calls than you were comfortable with," he told me. An international agreement to abolish nuclear weapons could bring these dangerous loose nukes back under control and eventually eliminate them.
The reduction in the world's nuclear stockpiles, combined with an assurance that the U.S. will not attack Iran unless Iran attacks another country, would be major steps towards building the foundations for peace and the restoration of stability and security for all parties in the Middle East. And it would begin repairing the damaged reputation of the United States, showing that we can be a leader for global peace and democracy.
Whatever your views on war with Iran, now may be your last best chance to speak out.
Note: As has become the norm lately, the most sane policies are coming not out of Washington, DC, but out of state and local government. In her article in YES! with Ben Manski, Karen Dolan, of Cities for Peace, shows local governments setting a different direction on issues ranging from climate change to foreign policy; in her recent op-ed, she tells of the 32 U.S. mayors who have passed resolutions opposing war on Iran.
You can find additional resources on stopping the next war here.
Sarah van Gelder is Executive Editor of YES! magazine.