Unfortunately, the strong results of the mid-term election did not end the threat that our government will attack Iran.
Discontent with the war in Iraq was noted by commentators of all political persuasions. Both political parties have announced at least cosmetic changes in course in the election’s aftermath. Bush fired Rumsfeld. Top Democrats called for troop reductions to begin in the next few months â€“ though it is not clear if this means full withdrawal within a definite time period.
But more fundamental lessons about the kind of foreign policy the American public will tolerate may have been missed. Specifically, the political class missed the clear signal that Americans do not want attacks on other countries, unleashing dreadful violence, based on flimsy charges.
More to the point, Americans do not support an unprovoked attack on Iran. In late October, Newsweek found that 54 percent of Americans are opposed to air strikes (38 percent in favor) and 76 percent are against a land invasion (with only 18 percent supporting).
Dealings with Iran continue to resemble the run-up to war in Iraq. Unsubstantiated allegations of WMD programs. Referral to the UN Security Council and demands that it act. A refusal to talk to Iran. A policy of regime change.
One week before the election, Washington staged provocative naval war games off the coast of Iran. Iran responded with its own games and by test-firing missiles proving it can defend itself against an attack.
Now that the Democrats have control of the entire Congress, with a substantial margin in the House, will they put a brake on the administration’s war ambitions? Without continuing public pressure, it is not clear that they will.
Just before the election, there was a troubling bipartisan vote to pass the Iran Freedom Support Act promoting regime change and imposing stronger sanctions at a time when Europe and Iran seemed to be making progress in talks. (Those talks have since collapsed.) In the Senate, this bill passed by the unanimous consent of all senators, indicating that many Democrats may also be hawkish on Iran.
Hopefully, that vote was only ill-advised election posturing by Democrats. More troublesome is the Congressman expected to play an important role in the Democrats’ foreign policy in the House of Representatives: Tom Lantos. Lantos, while liberal on other issues, was a co-sponsor of the Iran Freedom Support Act, and supported both Gulf Wars and the recent Israeli invasion of Lebanon. He is likely to be chairman of the International Relations Committee, a powerful seat he could use to back aggressive actions like an attack on Iran.
The saving grace, of course, is that Democrats would like to keep their majority. Endorsement of another disastrous war â€“ this time on their watch â€“ could turn sentiment against them in 2008 or 2010. The American public needs to reinforce this message through continued mobilization. If the Democrats learn it, they may rein in hawkish members for the good of the party.
That is needed, because pressure for war continues to be applied elsewhere. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert visited President Bush in the White House this week. During their joint press conference, President Bush said they “spent a great deal of time on Iran” in their discussions. He continued, “I recognize the threat to world peace that the Iranians pose, as does the Prime Minister.”
For his part Olmert, after stating his inexplicable admiration for American policy in Iraq, which he claimed had brought stability, repeated that Iran is a threat to the “whole world.” He accused Iranian president Ahmadinejad of threatening “the very existence” of Israel. Presumably, the Prime Minister is referring to a faulty translation of Ahmadinejad’s comments that the Israeli occupation of Palestine should “disappear from the pages of time.” (Some major news outlets translated Ahmedinajad’s remarks provocatively and incorrectly as, “Israel should be wiped from the map.”)
The next day, the right-wing British broadsheet, the Daily Telegraph, published absurd allegations on its front page that Iran is training the next generation of al-Qaeda leaders. Al-Qaeda’s ideology is based in part on an extreme version of Sunni Islam, while Iran is ruled by Shi’a clerics. There is no sympathy between the country and the terrorist group; in fact, Iran was actively supportive of the US invasion of Afghanistan, which was intended to deny al-Qaeda a base of operations there.
There are also outside events that may be used to justify war. Yesterday, the Associated Press reported that the UN nuclear agency found tiny amounts of plutonium and highly enriched uranium on some Iranian equipment. Though this is far from proof that Iran has a more advanced enrichment program (some of that equipment may have come from other countries that are known to have such fuels), it could be used to justify war to a skeptical public.
All of this means that we have to stay active. The clear opposition to the war in Iraq expressed in the elections will help. But Congress needs to hear that an attack on Iran will also not be tolerated.
There are many ways to act. At Just Foreign Policy, we are still working with Peace Action to collect signatures on a petition against war that we will present to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as well as the chairmen of Congressional foreign policy committees (both lame duck Republicans and incoming Democrats). You can sign here (http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/involved/iranpetition.html). We will be calling for more actions in the months ahead.
You can join the major march called by the national anti-war organizations in Washington, DC , on Saturday, January 27, 2007, to welcome in the new Congress with a strong anti-war message. You can meet with your senators and congressmen when they are at home in their districts or call them to express your views. You can organize with others in your area and educate yourselves and your neighbors about Iran, Iraq, and the continued tendency of our government to make dangerous military threats.
There are many different ways to get involved. The threat of a new war â€“ this time with Iran – has not gone away.
Patrick McElwee is a national organizer with Just Foreign Policy (www.justforeignpolicy.org). He can be reached at patrick [at] justforeignpolicy.org.