February 26, 2007

Dispatch from Germany, Summer of 1939 (III): Building an Effective Resistance

[Part I; and Part II]

There is an obvious and vital difference between our situation in the United States today and that in Nazi Germany in 1939: as Americans, we are still essentially free to say whatever we want about political matters. What is often unforgivable in our case is how little use we make of that freedom -- use that is effective and that might crucially tip the balance away from the criminal gang now running the executive branch of our government.

Let me deal briefly with a few preliminary matters. Some may view my concern, which I am hardly unique in feeling, about the likelihood and consequences of a U.S. attack on Iran as "alarmist." I desperately hope such critics will turn out to be entirely correct. I have never wished so deeply to be wrong about any issue in my life. However, in light of the large body of evidence to date, that is not a chance I myself am willing to take.

"Regime change" in Iran has been an essential part of this administration's plan for "rearranging" the Middle East from the beginning; the origins of this plan date back to the 1990s. In many ways, Iran has always been the primary goal. Iraq was supposed to represent the "low-hanging fruit" -- the easy victory that would provide a critical staging ground for the much more important target. See this essay for only a few out of countless examples on this particular point.

The fact that Iraq has turned into an incomprehensible disaster has not changed this to the slightest degree. All the events of recent months support only the conclusion that Iran remains the essential target: from the movements of carriers into the Middle East, to the unceasing and increasingly bellicose statements, to the identification of Iran as the reason for our failure in Iraq -- all of it supports only one conclusion. Please keep in mind one further point: time is running out for the Bush administration -- which means it is also running out for those of us who oppose their determination to realize their remaining goals before leaving office.

If you want to more fully appreciate the hell on earth that an attack on Iran could lead to, read or reread the second half of this post: "Unleashing Armageddon." I've seen comments in various places to the effect that, if this criminal gang does attack Iran, "we" will have to get out in the streets, make our opposition known in forceful ways, and so on. No: at that point, it will be far too late. The repercussions of such an attack will already be playing out, across the Middle East and perhaps across large parts of the world -- to say nothing of the consequences here, possibly including martial law. If action needs to be taken, and it absolutely does, it must be taken now.

Two or three years hence, no one will be happier than I to look back on this time and laugh about how worried we were about what turned out to be nothing in the end. But as I said, that is not a chance I am willing to take. Even if my assessment should turn out to be completely wrong, the steps suggested below would be wonderfully good practice, in the awful event that an equally maniacal administration should hold power in the future. It would be enormously useful and comforting to know that an effective force of resistance can be built to check the mad ambitions of those who hold the reins of power.

With regard to the following specific suggestions, two fundamental guidelines should be kept in mind all the time. They can be stated very briefly, but they are absolutely critical:

1. The criminal and immoral nature of an attack on Iran in the present circumstances and in the foreseeable future must be identified and stated with all the force imaginable, without qualification, in virtually every interview, every television appearance, and every news story that any politician (or any other public figure) takes part in, beginning tomorrow. THE INSANITY AND CRIMINALITY OF SUCH AN ATTACK MUST BE MADE NATIONAL TOPIC NUMBER ONE, UNTIL THIS ADMINISTRATION FULLY AND COMPLETELY DISAVOWS ANY AND ALL SUCH INTENTIONS AND PLANS -- AND UNTIL THE MAGNITUDE OF PUBLIC OPPOSITION CONVINCES US THAT THEY MEAN IT.

2. In every statement about an attack on Iran, no opponent of this administration can accept any of the terms of debate chosen by the administration. Such opponents must argue on completely different terms. If you argue within the framework they prefer to any extent at all, you will lose -- and the next global war may begin.

On the first point, I refer you once again to "Morality, Humanity and Civilization: 'Nothing remains...but memories'" for the full explanation as to why an attack on Iran would be shockingly, unforgivably immoral and criminal in the current circumstances. On the second point, see "Trapped in the Wrong Paradigm" for a discussion about why these sorts of battles must be fought on the terms you choose, together with three especially important examples.

Let me give perhaps the major example of how these two guidelines work together. One argument about Iran (and about Iraq, as well) is absolutely wrong and completely ineffective: the idea that we need "Congressionally-authorized, well-managed" wars of aggression. If a crime is "well-managed" and "competently" executed, that makes it worse, not better. If you're arguing for "competent" wars of aggression followed by "well-managed" occupations, you're not genuinely opposed to this administration in any way that matters, or with regard to any significant principle. As I explained in "Trapped in the Wrong Paradigm," you're arguing over secondary matters, that pale in comparison to the fundamental issues involved -- and you thereby concede the basic terms of the argument to your opponents. If you proceed in this manner, you will always lose in the end.

One other general point is equally important: I've been writing about the general motives and goals of U.S. foreign policy for the last hundred years in my ongoing series, "Dominion Over the World." But with regard to what follows, the major points can be very simply and briefly stated. Keep in mind that there is no argument in the world that cannot be stated in one or two sentences, or in many very lengthy books. It all depends on the nature of the argument you make, and the amount of supporting detail you provide or omit. (I also note that it obviously isn't necessary for anyone to agree with my argument in the "Dominion" series in its totality. You can disagree on a number of points, but still think an attack on Iran is criminally insane at present.)

Here are a few examples on other issues of special importance, specifically about a possible attack on Iran. If you're being interviewed on television, for example, you can offer this as an opening statement:
Every knowledgeable, independent expert agrees that Iran is at least five to ten years away from having nuclear weapons. Iran is not any kind of serious threat to the United States now or in the foreseeable future. Any attack at present or in at least the next several years would be an act of aggression that violates one of the cardinal Nuremberg Principles. [Principle VI -- The crimes hereinafter set out are punishable as crimes under international law: (a) Crimes against peace: (i) Planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances; (ii) Participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the acts mentioned under (i).] Are you seriously proposing that we commit the kind of unforgivable act that we condemned the Nazis for?
That should shut your opponents up, and fast.

On another point: the administration is now attempting to convince everyone that Iran is the source of all our problems in Iraq. This is demonstrably false; see here for example. But many people, including almost all politicians, remain deplorably susceptible to a secondary ploy. If they're confronted with the argument, "But we have to protect our troops in Iraq! So if Iran is threatening them directly or indirectly, we have to do something about that!," they are all too likely to say: "Oh, of course we have to protect our troops! I would never recommend anything that undermined our troops!"

In this context, that or any similar response is completely wrong. It also happens to be the administration's argument. Try this response instead:
Iraq was never a threat to us either. And it's not true that "everyone thought Iraq had WMD." [Insert here any three or four of your favorite 300 citations on this point.] So we have no right to be in Iraq at all. Our presence in Iraq is only making a horrific situation worse. If we want to protect our troops, we should get them out of there as soon as possible, in six months at the most. And let me ask you this: how would you feel if Communist China "liberated" Canada, and had 150,000 Communist troops in Canada today? Would you buy China's argument that the U.S. was "improperly meddling" in Canada's affairs? Wouldn't you expect and demand that we do everything possible to get the Chinese the hell out of there?
Or as I put it more formally:
[O]ur war of aggression against Iraq and the current occupation constitute an enormous and continuing war crime. Because Iran shares a long border with Iraq, and because our criminal presence in Iraq includes 150,000 U.S. troops, Iran can hardly be blamed if it attempts to protect itself from our extraordinarily dangerous militancy.

I stress that no proof whatsoever has been presented that Iran is in fact directly attempting to aid those in Iraq who attack U.S. troops. But even if Iran were acting in this manner, we are in no position to complain -- not morally, not legally, and not strategically. We have no right to be in Iraq at all. If we wish to avoid further "sacrifices" by members of the American military, then leave. Our presence only worsens this disaster each moment that we remain. Because we commit additional war crimes with every day that passes, we would leave -- if we recognized even minimal moral constraints on our actions, constraints that we apply to all other nations.
These are just two of the many examples of how you reject your opponent's terms, and argue on your own. Even if you utter only one sentence setting forth your opposition to an attack on Iran, it must be on terms entirely separate and apart from those utilized by the administration.

Now, on to some specifics. Jonathan Schwarz outlined several actions you can take a few weeks ago. Those are all very good ideas, and you should do what Jon suggests if you care about this issue. But I also think those actions are not nearly enough.

The major goals here are to educate, to lead, and to motivate a critical number of Americans to take action themselves:

ONE: If I had the money, I would take out full-page ads in the leading national newspapers -- at a minimum, in the NYT, the Washington Post, and the LA Times. The major focus of the ads would be the explanation of why an attack on Iran by the United States directly or by proxy (via Israel) in the present circumstances would be a criminal war of aggression, and a blatant violation of basic precepts of international law, including the Nuremberg Principles. If I had a lot of money, I would run a series of ads, or even the same ad every day for at least a week. After that, I would continue to run the ads (adding new material as appropriate and necessary, depending on events) at least every few days, two or three times a week in at least one of those papers, and preferably all three.

The ads should be written simply and directly, and they could provide supporting evidence needed to make a convincing case as required (there isn't that much needed in this respect; the case against an attack is starkly clear if one knows the relevant facts). At the conclusion, the ads should urge readers in the strongest possible terms to contact their Senators and Representatives, and demand that they take action along the lines noted in Point Two, below.

I don't know an individual or an organization that has the money or the willingness to run a series of ads of this kind. I hope someone who reads this might, or might be able to convince a person(s) or an organization(s) to undertake this critical task. In this connection and with regard to any of the other steps I suggest, if anyone thinks that some of my writing in my many essays on these topics would be helpful, I hereby grant full and irrevocable permission to use as much of my writing as you wish for this purpose, without credit and without compensation in any amount. In other words: steal whatever you want from this site and as much as you want, please.

TWO: Contact your Senators and Representatives, and demand that they take the actions I outlined here. Two of those are absolutely required: they must rescind both Authorization for the Use of Military Force resolutions, the one passed immediately after 9/11 and the one on Iraq. The Bush administration uses the AUMFs as the "justification" to launch any war of aggression of its choice, while they simultaneously use them to destroy our remaining liberties here at home. Wipe the AUMFs off the books.

You should also tell those in Congress to pass resolutions in both the House and Senate stating that if Bush attacks Iran without a Congressional Declaration of War, as provided in the Constitution, he will be considered to have committed an immediately impeachable offense. I myself prefer that the argument be made in this clean, straightforward form; let the lawyers and legal experts contend over how this fits into the relevant statutes, including the War Powers Act. I view that Act as pernicious in the extreme, and think we and the world would be infinitely safer if that too were wiped off the books. The founders got this one (and much else) entirely right in my view.

But at a minimum, Congress must tell Bush that he cannot attack Iran without specific, explicit Congressional authorization. If he does so, he will be impeached. As I also suggested, they should draw up Articles of Impeachment on this point now. Those too should be published in the major newspapers, with a brief explanation as to the reasons for them and their purpose -- which is to prevent a second war of aggression begun by the United States in less than five years.

Contact your Senators and Representatives and tell them this, as briefly as possible -- and tell them EVERY DAY. No, I am most certainly not kidding. EVERY DAY, until they do it. You only have to write the message once, and then deliver it repeatedly by fax, email and/or telephone as needed.

THREE: Tell every politician, Democratic or Republican, that they must stop repeating the Bush administration propaganda on Iran. Above all, they must stop saying that "all options are on the table," which in this context can only refer to a threat to launch an unprovoked war against Iran.

"All options" -- to do what? To start a war of aggression against a non-existent threat? To begin a second criminal war, in violation of every principle of international conduct that we demand all other nations follow? To act as Nazi Germany did? Are those the "options" we have to keep "on the table"? Every single time any politician repeats this and similar phrases, it makes an attack on Iran more likely, and provides invaluable help to the Bush gang. [Also read Gareth Porter on this issue and the Democrats' failure.] What they ought to suggest is blindingly obvious: the grant of full diplomatic recognition to Iran, with everything that entails, as I discussed it here:
[T]hink what might happen if we granted recognition to Iran -- and if we did so right now. Again, the entire dynamic would shift very profoundly. And such moves are not unknown in the history of our foreign policy, Nixon and China being perhaps the prime example. This is the kind of courageous and daring gesture that breaks stalemates apart -- and that possibly could halt the bloody insanity that threatens to engulf the entire Middle East. It requires at least one statesman of vision and bravery, one who knows what he is doing and is willing to take the long view. We have no such statesmen at the moment. The great loss is ours, and the world's. (I note that, at one time recently, even the otherwise detestable Christopher Hitchens saw the wisdom of this approach to Iran.)
If I were an influential blogger active in Democratic politics, I would inform every presidential candidate and would-be candidate that, until and unless they stop using this kind of gutter language about leaving "all options on the table," THEY WILL RECEIVE NO SUPPORT FROM ME AT ALL. I would urge everyone else to similarly refuse to support them. If that eliminates all the candidates you have at the moment, THEN FIND BETTER ONES. Alternatively, do everything you can to convince the candidates you have to become BETTER ones themselves.

This is, as they say, where the rubber meets the road. How one acts in this circumstance depends on how much one values his or her contacts with the Democratic establishment, as opposed to how much one cares about preventing the next catastrophe -- a catastrophe that could spread across the world, and destroy what remains of our own liberties. I will not prejudge how anyone will act in this situation and I recognize that an individual's specific personal context can be immensely complicated, but I will watch to see what people do with more than a little interest.

FOUR: Contact every politician you know who appears on television or gives newspaper interviews, and tell them they must be sure to explain briefly in every appearance they make why an attack on Iran at present would be a monstrous crime. IN EVERY APPEARANCE. As I noted above, if this catastrophe is to be stopped, it must be made the NUMBER ONE TOPIC IN THE NATION. If you're well-known enough to create interviews or appearances for yourself, THEN DO IT. Talk about Iran, and why we must not attack that country in the present circumstances.

FIVE: Talk to everyone you can, at work, in your family, among friends, and at social gatherings. Explain the issues to them in a way that is appropriate for the relationship and the occasion, and urge them to take all these actions themselves. Explain briefly why this might be the most important battle they will ever fight.

Talk to them as much as you have to, and take all the time you can afford. Where you can, create more time for this work. Talk to as many people as you can, every single day.

As is true of many actions in life, this work will become easier as more and more people are convinced to act. A greater number of people will be contacting Congressmen and women, more people will be talking about it privately and publicly, and once a critical number of people are involved, this movement will begin to take on a life of its own. My fantasy, and I hope that is not all it is, is that four or five weeks from now, there will not be a single television or radio program or issue of a newspaper that does not discuss these issues, with someone explaining why we must not attack Iran. That reminds me of a further point:

SIX: If you are a writer well-known to any extent at all (and even if you're not well-known, in which case you can contact your local paper), write several op-eds on this subject, and submit them to every newspaper you can. As I say, I look forward to the day very, very soon when every major newspaper will have at least one article every day explaining the immorality and criminality of an attack on Iran in the current circumstances. (Needless to say, I think every blogger who agrees with my overall perspective on this issue should write at least one post a day on this subject, and more if possible. Those entries can be very short, and perhaps only link to lengthier discussions elsewhere with a brief comment. But at least mention it once a day.)

I'll write about further ideas as they occur to me. But taking action on at least several of these suggestions would be a tremendous start.

I want briefly to comment on a general related issue. In a number of essays, especially over the last year, I've remarked that, if the United States does launch a second war of aggression, we will deserve everything we get, and more. When I use "we" in this sense, I refer to the United States as a social-political entity. It is certainly true that, to the extent we as Americans allow our government to continue to commit criminal actions, we are in a very broad way "responsible" for those actions, simply by virtue of our being members of this society at this time (except and to the extent that we individually protest and act to oppose those policies with which we disagree).

But that is not to say that we are all guilty of committing those actions ourselves. We obviously are not. Guilt and responsibility are often used interchangeably, but they do not in fact refer to the same kinds of judgments -- or they should not, if we use the terms precisely. These are complex issues, and I'll try to analyze them in more detail soon.

Even though I think that the "United States" will, in the broad sense, "deserve" what it gets if we attack Iran, I would certainly not say that about many Americans as individuals. I would not for one primary reason: as I am discussing in the "Dominion" series, we have suffered the effects of a monolithic foreign policy establishment for a century in this country. Every leading politician, with only a handful of exceptions, believes in "American exceptionalism." They all think, as William Pfaff puts it, that "history has an ultimate solution, and that the United States is meant to provide it" -- a solution, as I went on to note, "which is unique and so supremely good that we are obliged to share it with others, by force as necessary."

Most Americans have never heard an alternative point of view -- because almost no one in national life has an alternative point of view. That is why I say that a critical part of this campaign must be educational in nature: to explain, however briefly, an alternative view, specifically with regard to Iran. And consider a related point: most of you reading this are seriously engaged with political issues to one degree or another. But in many ways, that kind of involvement is a luxury unknown to most Americans. The great majority of Americans spend all their days, and often sleepless nights, worrying about very basic concerns: how to pay next month's rent, how to afford the medical care that one of the children needs very badly, whether they can afford to go to the movies -- or if they have to save that money for food next week. I think a lot of you who may read this forget how many Americans live. I don't forget it, in large part because I've lived with those kinds of concerns myself for the last few years, and continue to live that way now.

Most Americans rarely think about politics at all; they can't afford to, in any sense of that phrase. When they very briefly pay attention, they simply absorb the ideas that predominate on television or radio, or in newspapers they may occasionally glance at. Today, virtually everything they hear or read tells them that Iran is the "greatest threat" we face, and that an Iran with nuclear weapons is "intolerable" and "unacceptable." None of that is true: see here and here for more on those points.

They don't hear another point of view, because there isn't one. It's past time for those of us who approach these issues in a radically different way to provide it to them, on the largest scale possible. For many of you reading this, your involvement in and knowledge about politics is a great luxury, one you often take for granted. But I would suggest that, along with that luxury, comes greatly increased responsibility. You know more, you are able to spend more time on these subjects, and so more can rightfully be expected of you.

Yes, this is a monumental battle. Yes, the odds are not in our favor. But the stakes are the greatest ones in the world -- peace, and freedom. In different ways, many of you have indicated this was the kind of battle you wanted. Many of you have said this was why you got involved in politics in the first place.

We cannot choose the moment in history during which we happen to spend our lives. But we can choose what we do about it, and how we try to affect the course of events, to the extent we can. We are living during an especially critical time, one that is filled with terrible dangers -- and one that might change the world and our country for the rest of our lives. We may not have chosen this battle, but it is here whether we want it or not. So I hope some of you will choose to join it, on the side of peace, liberty and the infinitely precious value of a single human life.

And I hope some of you start, or continue with renewed dedication, today.