July 14, 2007

Still Another Call to Activism: Prove Me Wrong, I Beg You

If tyranny and oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy.

Of all the enemies to public liberty, war is perhaps the most to be dreaded because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few.

The loss of liberty at home is to be charged to the provisions against danger, real or imagined, from abroad. -- James Madison
Cowardice asks the question: is it safe? Expediency asks the question: is it political? Vanity asks the question: is it popular? But conscience asks the question: is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor political, nor popular – but one must take it simply because it is right. -- Martin Luther King, Jr.
This past week, the United States Senate passed unanimously -- 97 to 0 -- what amounted to a declaration of war against Iran. A few weeks ago, the House passed a resolution -- 411 to 2 -- that similarly provided an alleged rationale for war against Iran. In this manner, Congress, nominally controlled by the opposition party, has granted the Bush administration advance approval for the commencement of hostilities against Iran. Since the Senate has announced, with no dissenting votes at all, that Iran is itself responsible for acts of war against the United States, and the House has stated, with only two voices in opposition, that Iran is illegally and clandestinely developing nuclear weapons, no prominent Democrat will be able to offer any principled, significant policy objection when Bush announces that the bombs have already begun to fall.

These detestable actions by Congress represent the triumph of pure propaganda, and of warmongering fiction over reality. In fact, it has never been shown that Iran has violated even one provision of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, to which it is a signatory. Instead, the United States has deliberately engineered a situation whereby arbitrary, extra-legal demands are placed on Iran. Then, when Iran fails to comply with these nonbinding, illegitimate demands, Iran is declared to be the criminal -- when the "crime" has been created out of nothing. (See Gordon Prather's latest article on this subject, and read his many earlier articles, listed on the right side of that page, for a much fuller history.) In the same way, it is far from clear exactly what Iran's influence and actions in Iraq are. But even if it were true that Iran is aiding groups that attack U.S. forces in Iraq, the United States is in no position to complain -- since we have no right to be in Iraq in the first place. If we wish to take our personnel out of harm's way, leave Iraq. That is the right course of action, it is the only practical course of action, and it is the one thing we absolutely refuse to do. Even if our troop levels should be reduced over the next year or two, the plan is for the United States to remain in Iraq for decades to come.

The United States has already amassed a decades-long history of criminal interference in the Middle East, and of interference with Iran in particular. Among many other actions, we overthrew the Mossadegh government in 1953 and restored the shah to power, and we provided significant support to Hussein's Iraq in the devastating war with Iran in the 1980s (see Sheldon Richman's detailed article for a comprehensive review of our incessant interventions up to the time of its writing, all of which were uniformly disastrous in their ultimate results). On the other hand, Iran has invaded no one, and it is several years away from having even one nuclear weapon, if one assumes that is Iran's goal (which Iran denies). If the United States attacks Iran, it will be attacking a country that does not threaten it (again), and a country that cannot seriously threaten it (again).

This would be an indisputable example of criminal, aggressive war, a crime against peace condemned by the Nuremberg Principles -- those principles we ourselves devised after World War II to condemn the kind of horrors perpetrated by the Nazis. Now our governing class, with only two exceptions, has officially approved in advance a crime of the same exact kind. And if the United States were to use nuclear weapons of any kind, the crime would be ungraspably worse.

In half a century, the roles have been completely reversed, and the United States now assumes the part played by those we defeated in World War II. But the worst and most soul-shattering aspect of this development is the following: almost no one in the United States itself appears to have even noticed or begun to appreciate the nature of this profound shift -- although many people in the rest of world certainly understand it, and judge us accordingly. We have become the monsters, and we continue to insist that we represent the Good. We attack a comparatively defenseless nation like Iraq, and proclaim we are battling Evil. We murder a million people who never harmed us, and who never could have even had they wished to -- and our moral purity remains intact. We prepare to attack another country that does not threaten us, and we maintain that we are only "defending" ourselves, and even "civilization" itself.

The horrifying consequences of an unprovoked U.S. attack on Iran should be painfully obvious to everyone; over a year ago, I detailed those consequences at length. Possibly millions dead, chaos and war that spread across the globe, severe economic dislocation and possibly economic collapse, the complete isolation of the United States from the community of nations, and still more and still worse -- possibly including the imposition of martial law in the U.S. itself. The conclusion is stark and infinitely bleak: an attack on Iran would wipe every other issue and concern out of existence for the foreseeable future, probably for years to come if not much longer. Forget debates about global warming; nuclear clouds might be spreading across the globe. Never mind reforming our health care system; millions of people around the world, and possibly here at home, will be worried about survival of the most primitive kind. Nothing else will matter in the least.

Several days ago, I offered some harsh words about the lack of sustained protest to these developments on the part of those who say they are deeply opposed to the current administration. The truth appears to be still worse. In looking over some of the major liberal and progressive blogs last evening and this morning, I see that several of them have not even mentioned the Senate resolution from several days ago. Are these bloggers truly so unintelligent that they fail to see the significance of this action? I don't think so. So what explains this silence? Is it simply that they refuse to criticize the Democrats on a matter of such grave significance? Is their tribal loyalty the value of greatest importance to them?

In that severely critical post, I referred to the suggestions I offered almost half a year ago concerning a plan to build public resistance to an attack on Iran. I have no proprietary feelings about those ideas whatsoever, and I have often said that others can probably think of additional and better ones, if they only put their minds to it. I've also emphasized that writers and bloggers with huge audiences have an opportunity to galvanize action on the part of many people in a way that I myself, as just one example, do not. (My normal daily readership is well under a thousand unique visitors, in the absence of links from "big" bloggers.) I had hoped my suggestions might spur thought and discussion on this topic, and that they might indirectly help to at least try to avert catastrophe. Nothing remotely like that has occurred.

Perhaps people think that nothing they do at this point can alter what seems close to inevitable. It may be that even large-scale, continuing public protest would change nothing -- but we don't know that. Since it hasn't been tried, it is impossible to predict what the effects might be. And permit me to offer a recent example, an instance where activism on the part of a large number of "ordinary" Americans did in fact change an outcome of some significance.

In terms of substance, I view the example as a profoundly unfortunate one, for it has to do with the defeat of the immigration bill. I viewed that bill as a terrible one, but for reasons directly opposed to those offered by its loudest opponents -- for their opposition was obviously racist in nature. Of course, they denied their objections were racist, but they all finally resorted to discussions of "demographics," and what they viewed as terrifying changes in our "culture" and to "way of life." Such coded words fool no one, and this kind of viciously disapproving attitude toward immigrants has a long and awful history in the United States.

But with regard to the following observations, I am not concerned with why opponents of the immigration bill fought it so vehemently: I am focused only on the fact that they opposed it so strenuously, and that their opposition had the intended effect. I've mentioned that I listen to far too much talk radio, in part because I don't have television. I listened to a number of conservative talk radio shows during both recent periods when the immigration bill came up for consideration: Limbaugh, Hannity, Al Rantel here in Los Angeles, Mark Levin, and several others. On both occasions, all of the shows talked about the immigration bill all the time. They discussed what they viewed as its inevitable awful results, why it was "unAmerican," how it would destroy our country, and included the other standard rightwing talking points on this subject.

And they all did something else: they told their listeners to call and email people in Congress, and to call and email various Republican organizations, including the Republican National Committee, and to take all these actions repeatedly. They provided phone numbers and email addresses, and they indicated the general message that should be conveyed. They didn't do this only once in one show: they did it throughout their shows, on every show, for over a week both times. The message was unceasing and unrelenting. It was repeated over and over and over. You couldn't listen to one of the major conservative talk shows without hearing it within five minutes of tuning in. It went on all the time.

One part of the message deserves particular note, and all of the shows I heard made the same point: they condemned those Republicans, including Bush, who supported the bill without mercy. They told people to inform the RNC and all the appropriate Congressmen and Senators that they would receive no further support of any kind, including financial support, unless the bill was defeated. In their view, support of the bill was a betrayal of core conservative principles. They therefore maintained that any such alleged "conservatives" did not deserve to be in office. As one, they said that these betrayers of the conservative faith should not hold power any longer -- and that the principles they believed were imperiled were more important than the continuation in power by the Republican party.

As a result of all these shows hammering the identical theme without interruption, in every hour of every show on multiple shows for days at a time, Congress was inundated with calls and messages from deeply angry Republicans. And here is the point to take home: it worked. You can find many stories like this one:
Talk radio's role in killing immigration reform in Congress is spurring a backlash.

Some Democrats in Congress, maddened about radio attacks on the bill, would like to revive a federal rule that requires broadcasters to present opposing views on important issues.

Those on both sides of the issue agree talk radio played a major role in derailing the Senate immigration bill.

The constant drumbeat on talk radio stations across the country galvanized voters to jam the Senate's phone system with angry calls.

That helped persuade lawmakers to kill the bill, all but ensuring that comprehensive immigration reform is dead until after the 2008 election.

Talk show hosts say they merely gave voice to existing anger about legislation that would have given people who broke immigration laws a path to citizenship.

Critics say the hosts distorted a compromise bill and inflamed listeners actively to oppose it.
I repeat that my concern here is not whether conservatives' objections to the bill were valid (they weren't), or whether they "distorted" the bill's provisions (sometimes they did, sometimes they didn't). My point is the strategic one: they didn't want the bill passed, they mobilized massive, large-scale opposition, and their tactics worked.

I also listen to a number of liberal talk shows. Over the last few years, I have never heard anything similar on the liberal shows. Never. Not about the Military Commissions Act (see both "'Thus the World Was Lost'" and "America, Now Without the Revolution"), not about the Roberts, Alito or Gonzales nominations, not about ending the immoral and criminal occupation of Iraq -- and not about preventing an attack on Iran.

Not on any of these issues. Never. Nor have I ever seen a similar kind of effort on the liberal and progressive blogs. Never. Every once in a while, the liberal blogs will urge action on perhaps on a single day, maybe two -- and then the issue vanishes until some new development (not brought about by the bloggers themselves) might catapult it into public consciousness again. Such tactics are sporadic, severely limited in time and scope, very infrequent, and completely ineffective.

I hesitate to say that the conservatives who worked so hard to defeat the immigration bill are "serious" about their ideas. That word grants them a stature that is entirely undeserved, particularly since the reasons for their opposition are so viciously ignorant. But I will acknowledge that they care about their ideas and that they are committed to them, in a way that it appears liberals and progressives are not.

With the exception of Kucinich's proposal to defund the Iraq catastrophe entirely, not one of the Democrats' proposed plans for "redeployment" will end the occupation of Iraq: all of them allow for the presence of tens of thousands of American troops into the indefinite future. Do the liberals and progressives have any serious, sustained objection to that? Apparently not.

But much more significantly: do the liberals and progressives seriously object to an attack on Iran? The Congressional Democrats obviously don't. Do the liberal writers and bloggers? To judge from their actions, it doesn't appear they do either -- and certainly not when compared to the recent sustained assault mounted by conservatives.

I can only conclude that most liberals and progressives care only about maintaining and expanding their control and power, and that they are determined not to "rock the boat" too much before 2008. Never mind that the world may be entirely changed by that time, never mind that war may be spreading out of control and that our economy may be in free fall -- or that martial law may have been imposed. If we should survive until the fall of 2008 without the worst happening, it will not be because of anything the liberals have done, for they will have done nothing if they continue their current pattern of behavior. And if they win in 2008, that will only be a repeat of 2006: they will win because of the profound nausea and revulsion directed at the Republicans, and not because of a positive alternative offered by the Democrats. Certainly with regard to Iran, the Washington Democrats offer no alternative: they repeat the Republican propaganda in its entirety.

On this matter, I would be pleased and even thrilled, far beyond my capacity to express it, to be proven wrong. So go ahead, liberals and progressives: prove me wrong. Please.

Prove me wrong today. And tomorrow, and the next day. Prove me wrong for the coming 18 months, and even beyond that.

Prove me wrong. I beg you.

See also: It's Up to Us Now