It’s time for the antiwar movement to take the US threats against Iran and Syria very, very seriously. Not only are stories of such threats appearing at an increasing rate in antiwar journals and websites, they are now a topic of concern on Capitol Hill and at the United Nations.
Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, the war hound that she is, made it quite clear that the White House considers it to be its prerogative (and only its prerogative) to militarily attack Iran and Syria if it so desires. We’re not talking covert actions or even armed clashes like those between US and Syrian troops that were recently reported in the New York Times (James Risen & David E. Sanger, “GI’s and Syrians in Tense Clashes on Iraqi Border,” 14 October 2005). No, we are talking about an invasion of one or both of these countries by air and (probably) land forces. These attacks will be undertaken with the goal of regime change in mind.
The reasons for the invasions (or incursions if you prefer) will be twofold. One excuse will be that both of these countries’ governments are aiding some elements of the insurgency in Iraq, either intentionally or by default because they won’t close their borders. The other reason will be to (we’ve heard this one before) prevent the development and spread of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs). The latter excuse is more likely to be believed by the susceptible US public, especially in the case of Iran, because the compliant, if not downright collaborationist, US media has already laid the groundwork for the assumption that Tehran has such WMDs, will develop more, and wants to spread them around the world. In addition, the murky relationship between certain elements of the Iranian government and certain mainstream political parties in Iraq makes the claim that Tehran is supporting the Iraqi insurgency a little difficult to make — at least for now.
Will the US wars be expanded? Let’s take a look at just a couple of recent statements by Condi Rice. On October 19, 2005, Rice told the Senate Foreign Relations committee that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were part of a plan to “redesign” the Middle East. This statement followed her statement earlier in the week that US troops could be in Iraq for ten or more years. The senators’ reaction to her statements varied, but none seemed to oppose the overall strategy presented by Ms. Rice.
One GOP senator, George V. Voinovich from Ohio, noted: “We have to level with the American people,” he said. “This is another world war” (Sue Pleming, “Rice Defends U.S. Policy on Iraq to Lawmakers,” Reuters, 19 October 2005). Voinovich, who opposed the appointment of John Bolton to the United Nations because Bolton alienated potential US allies in its war for millennial world hegemony, was not so much asking for a change in policy as he was asking for the White House to stop misrepresenting its intentions. The senator was joined from the other side of the aisle by Senator Barak Obama (D-IL). Now, to some folks opposed to the Iraq War, Obama is a potential ally. However, like Voinovich, he is not opposed to the project to remake the world (especially those parts of the world where the oil is) in Washington’s image but opposed to the current administration’s unilateralism. “This broadening of the mission is disturbing and difficult for us in the Senate to deal with as it requires a leap of faith on our part that a mission of that breadth can be accomplished in a reasonable time frame,” Mr. Obama said (Pleming, 19 October 2005). Notice that his concern is with the time frame involved in dominating the world, not with the underlying philosophy that says such a project is the right thing to do.
In summation, Washington does intend to change the governments in the Middle East that it opposes. Syria and Iran are the next two such governments on its agenda, and any excuse for regime change will be exploited, no matter how contrived or flimsy. George W. Bush’s insistence that the UN Security Council must do something immediately in response to Detlev Mehlis’s findings that some elements in the Syrian government may have been involved in the murder of Lebanese businessman Rafik Hariri is but the most recent example. Mehlis’s investigation was itself flawed:
[A]ccording to [Seymour] Hersh, the Mehlis report is built on the same anemic foundations as Powell’s UN presentation in February, 2003. “He is relying on intercepts of an unnamed source inside the Iranian air force, someone without inside stuff. It’s not empirical.” (Michael Posner, “The Washington Gadfly,” Globe and Mail, 31 October 2005)
It doesn’t matter to Washington how true the charges are, however — it only matters that they be used to instigate the dismantling of the current Damascus government and its replacement with one compatible with US designs for the region.
Obama and Voinovich are but two senators, but, unfortunately, with the exception of perhaps two or three other congresspeople, they represent the strongest opposition in the US legislature to the Project for a New American Century (PNAC) — the neocon blueprint being used by the Bush administration in its endeavor to dominate the planet.
Indeed, the Democrats have their own plan that has a similar goal. The title of the plan, which was unveiled during the Kerry campaign for president, is “Progressive Internationalism: A Democratic National Security Strategy.” Like the PNAC document, the Democrats’ paper uses the tragedy of 911 as a starting point. It continues by supporting the wars on Afghanistan and Iraq while decrying the fact that no other capitalist country except for Britain is paying the same price for those adventures as the United States is. As it rambles on, the paper emphasizes repeatedly the Democratic Party’s tradition of aggressive military intervention throughout the twentieth century: Korea, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Vietnam, the former Yugoslavia, and so on. The litany is meant to prove that the Democrats are just as warlike as the so-called GOP neocons. As the statement succinctly puts it in one of its early paragraphs: “We therefore support the bold exercise of American power.” The paper attacks the antiwar movement for its unwillingness to support US aggression abroad and its opposition to the ravenous appetite of corporate globalization — an appetite that feeds the gluttonous rich at the expense of working people around the world and needs the armed wing of the US government to keep its larder full.
As has been said many times before, both political parties in the US are two sides of the same coin. In recent years, the GOP has proven itself to be a stronger opposition party while the Democrats seem to fold as soon as they are out of power. The reason for this is simple: the Democratic agenda is so similar to the more aggressive Republican one that it is unable to present any fundamental policy differences, especially when it is not in the driver’s seat. Consequently, it can only play a role comparable to that of the good cop in the precinct interrogation room. While the GOP bullies its suspect, the Democratic “opposition” tries to coax him into doing the interrogators’ bidding, whether he’s guilty or not. Then, if he refuses both cops’ efforts, they gang up and beat him until he confesses to anything just to save his life. The similarities between the two parties are certainly greater than the differences, which means that those who oppose the present and future US wars can’t count on either party to come out in opposition to them.
There are a few elected members of each party, however, who have expressed some degree of opposition. They should be pressured to amplify it. Those who are beginning to call for a timetable for withdrawal should be moved to demand immediate and unconditional withdrawal, and those who have yet to even ask for a timetable, but have begun to ask questions (even questions like Obama’s), need to be pushed into demanding a withdrawal. The same goes for funding for the wars.
What about Syria and Iran? As Ms. Rice made clear, the current administration wants to “redesign” the Middle East, and so does the mainstream wing of the Democratic Party. Just like in Iraq and Afghanistan, the apparatuses of both parties are essentially useless for those who oppose wars or sanctions on them.
So what can the antiwar movement do? The most obvious answer is this: It should do everything possible to prevent attacks on Syria and Iran. Even if it seems pointless, write your senators and representatives (who knows what might happen if enough voters write threatening them with unemployment unless they oppose the wars); inform the public about the growing possibility of invasions of Syria and Iran; step up opposition to military recruiting and oppose a new military draft no matter what it’s called. In short, make these potential expansions of the wars in the Middle East and Central Asia part of the antiwar movement program.
It is still possible to stop attacks on Syria and Iran. If we fail to stop them, however, then we must expand the antiwar movement accordingly. Our actions should create a sense of crisis. (Indeed, this should be the case even now, until all occupying troops are removed from Iraq and Afghanistan.) If we organize properly, millions of people will be ready to immediately oppose any expansion of the wars. No city or town will be void of protest if the US wars are expanded. Remember that a similar explosion of opposition to the US invasion of Cambodia in May 1970 created such a state of crisis in the United States that the Nixon administration was forced to officially withdraw US troops from that country. This administration is arguably more warlike than Nixon’s, but that only means that the protest must be broader and more determined.
Ron Jacobs is author of The Way the Wind Blew: A History of the Weather Underground, just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch‘s new collection on music, art and sex: Serpents in the Garden. He can be reached at <email@example.com>.