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Could We Make Opposition to Iran War Obligatory for Blue State Democrats?

On August 8, 2006, something world-historical happened in Connecticut: Joe Lieberman was kicked out of the Democratic Party as punishment for the crime of supporting the Iraq war. The retribution delivered to Lieberman established a "red line" for "blue state" Democrats: support the Iraq war, and something like this could happen to you.

Will blue state Congressional Democrats face a similar red line to stop them from supporting war with Iran and sabotaging President Obama's diplomacy to prevent war? Is it socially acceptable among Democrats if a blue state Congressional Democrat supports war with Iran? How about if that blue state Democrat self-identifies as "progressive" and raises campaign money from progressives nationally?

These questions have been placed on the table by the actions of New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez and his blue state Democratic collaborators, who, defying the demands of the Obama Administration to desist, have introduced legislation which if enacted would blow up the Administration's Iran diplomacy and set the U.S. on a path towards war. At this writing, 14 Senate Democrats, including 7 from clearly blue states, have co-sponsored Menendez' bill. On the other hand, 10 Democratic Senate committee chairs, led by Dianne Feinstein and Carl Levin, have written to Majority Leader Reid, warning that the Menendez bill would blow up President Obama's diplomacy and put the U.S. on a path to war.

Peter Beinart, writing at the Daily Beast, notes that the "anti-war left" has generally done better at punishing Democrats for supporting wars of choice in the past than we have at preventing Democrats from supporting wars of choice in the future. Of course, punishment for past crimes is supposed to deter future crimes. But for this deterrence to work, a clear connection must be perceived between the punished past crime and the potential future crime to be deterred. On the proposed war in Syria, the connection was clear, and that's a key reason we were able to get a lot of Congressional Democrats to say no to bombing Syria. But right now it's not obvious that most blue state Democrats understand that support for new sanctions on Iran now will be scored as support for war. How could we change the perceptions of Democrats about this?

What if we could make examples of some blue state Democrats who are vulnerable to pressure from the pro-war forces - not punishment examples, but deterrence examples? What if we could show by example that engagement by Democrats can keep these blue state Democrats from going over to the pro-war side?

I claim that what happens with Ohio Democrat Sherrod Brown will be a crucial indicator. He's been an early adopter of AIPAC pro-war initiatives in the past. But so far, he hasn't supported this one. That suggests that we might be able to keep him from going over to the pro-war side this time.

What if Ohio Democrats decided that they weren't going to allow Sherrod Brown to go over to the pro-war side this time? Friends don't let friends drive drunk. Democratic friends don't let Democratic friends support wars of choice. What if, for example, some brothers and sisters in the Ohio labor movement would sidle up quietly next to Senator Brown and say, "hey, Sherrod, you're not thinking of screwing the President on this, are you?"

You can urge Senator Brown to oppose the Menendez bill here.

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Robert Naiman

Robert Naiman

Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy. Naiman has worked as a policy analyst and researcher at the Center for Economic and Policy Research and Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch. He has masters degrees in economics and mathematics from the University of Illinois and has studied and worked in the Middle East. You can contact him here.

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