Don't Ruin the New Year with War on Iran

US military veterans and peace activists protest US Senator in Chicago

US military veterans and peace activists closed out 2014 with an appeal to one of the U.S. Senate's most prominent members: Don't ruin the New Year with a new war on Iran.

More than two dozen U.S. military vets and their allies gathered in the bitter cold and biting wind on the last day of the year outside the downtown Chicago office of U.S. Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) to push back against Kirk's controversial new bill targeting Iran. Vets charge that Kirk's bill -- S. 1881 -- could undermine the recent easing of tensions between the U.S. and Iran, and could increase the threat of war by thwarting ongoing diplomatic initiatives. Vets say Kirk should instead be supporting current opportunities to strike a diplomatic solution to the long-simmering and dangerous international dispute with Iran over its nuclear program.

The U.S. and its diplomatic partners are currently negotiating with Iran over the terms of its nuclear program, within the framework of a tentative agreement to slowly lift sanctions as progress in negotiations are made. But on December 19th, Kirk introduced a punitive new bill which has the strong support of AIPAC -- the American Israel Public Affairs Committee -- that could threaten the recent easing of tensions and play into the hands of Iran's hardliners. Kirk and his cosponsor, Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), are currently expected to advance the provocative bill to the next legislative stage in the Senate on January 6.

"We believe this bill will destroy negotiations with Iran and make war with Iran possible," said Vietnam military veteran Barry Romo. "We need to respect the international community and the American public, who overwhelmingly want a peaceful settlement with Iran."

Kirk's bill includes a provision that states that "If the Government of Israel is compelled to take military action in legitimate self-defense against Iran's nuclear weapon program, the United States Government should stand with Israel and provide, in accordance with the law of the United States and the constitutional responsibility of Congress to authorize the use of military force, diplomatic, military, and economic support to the Government of Israel...."

Military veterans charge that that language sets the stage for U.S. support -- including the use of military force -- for a pre-emptive strike by Israel against Iran, a prospect long feared in the region. The bill, they argue, is essentially a potential march to war at a time when diplomatic solutions are at their most promising stage in years.

The veterans and peace activists are urging Kirk to forgo pushing the bill and undermining the diplomatic initiatives of the Obama administration and its partners, as part of a commitment to respect for the international community, the diplomatic process and the American public, who overwhelmingly want peace with Iran.

The stakes, say military veterans, are enormously high.

"We need to let the agreed settlement work -- and respect the diplomatic endeavors of the Obama administration and our allies," said Alejandro Villatoro, a U.S. military veteran of both the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. "Veterans know the consequences of war, the price that veterans have to pay and also the suffering that civilians endure in war zones. We should let the diplomacy of the Obama administration and its partners work."

The mililtary veterans, who included representatives of Iraq Veterans Against the War, Vietnam Veterans Against the War, and Veterans for Peace, had choice words for Illinois' junior senator on Tuesday: "Senator Kirk, don't be a jerk." Their key demands to Kirk -- "Negotiations Not Sanctions" and "Diplomacy not War" -- have been embraced by partner peace and civic projects that include the Civilian Soldier Alliance, which supports GI resistance within the ranks; United Electrical Workers/Western Region, which has been active in organizing low-wage workers in the Midwest, and the American Friends Service Committee, which has been active locally and nationally in the peace movement. Local vets groups endorsing the pushback against Kirk's bill include Iraq Veterans Against the War/Chicago, Vietnam Veterans Against the War/Chicago, Veterans for Peace/Chicago and Civilian Soldier Alliance/Chicago.

Tuesday's action was the military veterans' first public volley in their effort to discourage Kirk's hardline approach, with plans underway to step up the campaign with actions that include a follow-up call-in day -- starting Thursday -- to Kirk's local and national offices.

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