Bipartisan Support for Sanctions Spells Bloodshed to Come
On Friday, 93% of the U.S. House of Representatives affirmed a resolution escalating America’s already aggressive position on Iran, from “crippling” sanctions to a zero-tolerance policy on nuclear weapons. The Congressional Research Service summarized the bill:
Affirms that it is a vital national interest of the United States to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability and warns that time is limited to prevent that from happening. Urges increasing economic and diplomatic pressure on Iran to secure an agreement that includes: (1) suspension of all uranium enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, (2) complete cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) regarding Iran’s nuclear activities, and (3) a permanent agreement that verifiably assures that Iran’s nuclear program is entirely peaceful. Supports: (1) the universal rights and democratic aspirations of the Iranian people, and (2) U.S. policy to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons capability. Rejects any U.S. policy that would rely on efforts to contain a nuclear weapons-capable Iran. Urges the President to reaffirm the unacceptability of an Iran with nuclear-weapons capability and oppose any policy that would rely on containment as an option in response to the Iranian nuclear threat. (emphasis mine)
The resolution passed the House 401-11, with a few representatives absent and a few abstaining. This means it had massive bipartisan support – for those of you who only consider Republicans to be warmongers: 166 of 190 Democrats voted in support, including some of its ostensibly most progressive members, such as Barney Frank and Rush Holt.
The language used bodes terribly for the United States’ already disastrous and destructive foreign policy. The House affirms not merely that Iran will not be allowed to manufacture nuclear weapons, but that it will not be permitted the capability of said manufacturing. Never mind that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta observed that Iran is not actually pursuing these weapons; given the extreme and persistent threats from the nuclear-armed Israel and United States, coupled with the U.S. forces surrounding Iran, we would have no right to prevent them if they were.
Further, examining the House’s reasoning for denouncing Iran as a repressive regime highlights severe hypocrisy:
Whereas, on December 26, 2011, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution denouncing the serious human rights abuses occurring in Iran, including torture, cruel and degrading treatment in detention, the targeting of human rights defenders, violence against women, and ‘the systematic and serious restrictions on freedom of peaceful assembly’, as well as severe restrictions on the rights to ‘freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief.’
Switch in that paragraph “the United States” for “Iran” and you might think we should be sanctioning ourselves. Regarding the first several accusations, consider this: the United States tortures foreign adversaries by proxy, abuses accused whistle-blowers in prison before trial, detains more prisoners than any country on Earth, and continues to pass state laws assaulting women’s rights. Perhaps the most hypocritical, though, is the accusation of the repression of peaceful assembly. Just two days after the House passed this resolution, Chicago riot police beat protesters with nightsticks, hit others with CPD vehicles, and used sound canons to disrupt peaceful demonstrators against the NATO summit. So the idea that the U.S. deems Iran a barbaric nation that represses political speech is extremely two-faced at best.
The worst part about the bill, though, is not what policies it specifically introduces or accusations it announces but rather what it signifies more broadly: the U.S. is taking the next step in the war on Iran that has already begun.
For one thing, Israel has already teamed up with a U.S.-backed terror group within Iran to assassinate nuclear scientists, serving both the temporary, practical purpose of inhibiting Iran’s nuclear progress and the long-term, psychological purpose of instilling fear within Iran and its fledgling nuclear program.
More insidiously, the U.S. has imposed severe sanctions on Iran that most describe as “crippling” and that all should describe as acts of war. Just today, the Senate voted unanimously to escalate those very sanctions. While President Obama may say that sanctions are intended to isolate Iran’s leaders in their nuclear position, it is citizens who bear the burden of these economic moves. Look to Iraq for the devastating effects, where a senior U.N. official estimated that U.N.-imposed sanctions in the 1990s killed a staggering 500,000 children under the age of 5. They don’t call ‘em “crippling” for nothing.
We should also look to Iraq to understand how this bipartisan process of escalation works, from sanctions to bombing to occupation. Arguing against sanctions on Iran in April 2010, Rep. Ron Paul recalled how sanctions on Iraq led inevitably to war:
Some of my well-intentioned colleagues may be tempted to vote for sanctions on Iran because they view this as a way to avoid war on Iran. I will ask them whether the sanctions on Iraq satisfied those pushing for war at that time. Or whether the application of ever-stronger sanctions in fact helped war advocates make their case for war on Iraq: as each round of new sanctions failed to “work” – to change the regime – war became the only remaining regime-change option.
This legislation, whether the House or Senate version, will lead us to war on Iran. The sanctions in this bill, and the blockade of Iran necessary to fully enforce them, are in themselves acts of war according to international law. A vote for sanctions on Iran is a vote for war against Iran. I urge my colleagues in the strongest terms to turn back from this unnecessary and counterproductive march to war.
The Iraq war did not begin with the 2003 invasion – it began with the 1990s embargo. Sanctions on Iraq not only killed hundreds of thousands, but they structured the narrative on Iraq to winnow out peaceful options on the path to war. And the same is true of Iran. Now debates on Iran focus on whether Ahmadinejad will relent in his pursuit of weapons, whether sanctions are “working” sufficiently, or where the U.S. and Israel should draw “red lines” for attack.
President Obama called last month’s “negotiations” with Iran that country’s “last chance,” effectively threatening to escalate sanctions or initiate an attack if Iran didn’t cease and desist its nuclear enrichment program entirely. How are those “negotiations”? How is that “diplomacy”? Threatening Iran to completely submit to the U.S.’s will to get nothing in return is not a discussion – it’s bullying.
What would Iran have to gain in that situation? Iran is seeking to defend itself from nuclear-armed bullies surrounding it constantly. Passively complying would only speed up the U.S. plan to replace the Iranian regime with one even more compliant.
But the United States will not relent on Iran – just as it did not relent on Iraq. Examine again the House resolution’s first principle:
…it is a vital national interest of the United States to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability and warns that time is limited to prevent that from happening.
Compare that with President Bill Clinton’s 1998 remarks on Iraq:
One way or the other, we are determined to deny Iraq the capacity to develop weapons of mass destruction and the missiles to deliver them. That is our bottom line.
This is how American bipartisanship – or more accurately, duopoly – works. Both parties want war with Iran, the way both parties wanted war with Iraq. It is in both of their interests – appeasing Israel and its chief lobby, AIPAC, and posturing for their respective bases. Republicans take the hard line on our “enemies,” using blatantly aggressive language, refusing to “apologize for America” and reducing our victims to less than human. Democrats take the more “pragmatic” approach, adopting “national security” rhetoric based in protecting Americans that disguises the exact same policies. The Senate vote to go to war with Iraq, after all, didn’t barely squeak through on Republican support: it passed 96-4. (Now, 9/11 catalyzed the whole process in Iraq and made dissent even less popular, but the biggest antiwar protest in recorded history couldn’t sway more than four measly votes in the Senate.)
This endless posturing is how President Obama can be accused of being “soft on terror” and simultaneously escalate sanctions on Iran and massive drone campaigns in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia.
This is why, in the interest of war, sanctions by one party is a huge gift to the other. If Mitt Romney is elected this year, he’ll likely announce that Obama’s sanctions were insufficient and encourage an Israeli attack on Iran behind closed doors. If Obama is re-elected, he’ll continue on the path he’s currently on: allowing Israel to assassinate Iranian scientists, officially recognizing the terror group seeking regime change in Iran, and escalating sanctions that cripple the Iranian people and isolate its leaders.
Citing Glenn Greenwald and Greg Sargent on liberal support for Obama’s escalated drone strikes, here’s Stephen Walt on ‘Why Hawks Should Vote for Obama’:
Obama can do hawkish things as a Democrat that a Republican could not (or at least not without facing lots of trouble on the home front). It’s the flipside of the old “Nixon Goes to China” meme: Obama can do hawkish things without facing (much) criticism from the left, because he still retains their sympathy and because liberals and non-interventionists don’t have a credible alternative (sorry, Ron Paul supporters). If someone like John McCain, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, or George W. Bush had spent the past few years escalating drone attacks, sending Special Forces into other countries to kill people without the local government’s permission, prosecuting alleged leakers with great enthusiasm, and ratcheting up sanctions against Iran, without providing much information about exactly why and how we were doing all this, I suspect a lot of Democrats would have raised a stink about some of it. But not when it is the nice Mr. Obama that is doing these things.
So if you vote for Barack Obama because you think that Mitt Romney would put troops on the ground, you’ll only be doing it to make yourself feel better. You’ll be playing right into the partisan posturing that seeks to fabricate a meaningful difference between the two major parties, both with long histories of support for wars of aggression. You’ll be fundamentally misunderstanding how American duopoly works: both parties decry each other for tactically approaching the same policies differently in the interest of electing their own representatives to power. Both parties want war – they just want to play it to their respective bases properly.
If you think Al Gore wouldn’t have invaded Iraq, that Ralph Nader ruined the antiwar movement and George Bush is all to blame, point me to where Gore opposed Clinton’s sanctions on Iraq when he was Vice President. In the meantime, read how Gore argued for regime change in Iraq a few short months before Bush invaded: “Iraq’s search for weapons of mass destruction has proven impossible to deter and we should assume that it will continue for as long as Saddam is in power.”
If you think Bush’s war was a terrible mistake that warranted John Kerry’s election in 2004, read Kerry on Iraq two months before the invasion:
Without question, we need to disarm Saddam Hussein. He is a brutal, murderous dictator, leading an oppressive regime … He presents a particularly grievous threat because he is so consistently prone to miscalculation … And now he is miscalculating America’s response to his continued deceit and his consistent grasp for weapons of mass destruction … So the threat of Saddam Hussein with weapons of mass destruction is real…
Find more quotes from Democrats leading up to and supportive of Bush’s 2003 invasion here.
Liberals criticize President Obama for escalating drone strikes, failing to close Guantanamo, aggressively persecuting Bradley Manning, illegally invading Libya, offering cuts to Social Security, and immunizing the war crimes and torture of the Bush administration – but many same liberals say that despite all of these transgressions, the ostensible likelihood of Mitt Romney attacking Iran makes them feel they have to re-elect the president.
If this were true, wouldn’t these liberals be criticizing Obama’s sanctions on Iran? Wouldn’t they have abandoned Clinton, Gore, and Kerry after their comments on Iraq? More to the point, if these liberals despise war so much, why aren’t Obama’s surge in Afghanistan or expanded wars in Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen deal-breakers for re-election?
If you actually don’t want war with Iran, you have to help end duopoly. You can’t support either of the two establishment parties who feed the military-industrial complex and fear-monger voters into submission. We must make it known that the people want peace – meaning no sanctions, no assassinations, no threats of war.
We must make war making and fear mongering unacceptable. Come Election Day, we can vote third party, or boycott the election, or protest to shut down military recruitment centers or drone bases. But we can’t fund or vote for the war parties – our victims can’t afford it. No votes for empire, no money for war. No exceptions.
[This article also appeared in CounterPunch, Antiwar, and Dissident Voice.]