The Campaign for Peace and Democracy1 has chosen to interpret our “Riding the ‘Green Wave'” article2 as a “vitriolic and dishonest attack” on its authors, and an “offensive impugning of [their] integrity.” In fact, it is nothing of the sort. Instead, it is concerned with issues of central importance to the left in the United States and beyond. Not only did we make no derogatory personal remarks, we find nothing objectionable in four people expressing “solidarity with the Iranian protestors.” But the CPD’s “Question & Answer on the Iran Crisis” has a grander purpose, which is didactic, educational — to instruct the left and American progressives about how we should understand and respond to events inside Iran (reinforced by the arrogant notion that anyone who doesn’t get it might be guilty of suffering “leftist confusion”3). For this reason, its Q&A operates on a categorically different level. Hence, our sole reason for taking it up.
One principle that we stress is that the Iranian election was Iranian business, not the business of the Western left, especially the left in a country like the United States, which has been intervening continuously and destructively in Iran for years and which is still, in alliance with Israel, threatening Iran militarily. Furthermore, we believe that in the interest of peace as well as democracy in Iran, the focus of the Western left should be on stopping the U.S. and Israel from threatening and intervening in Iran, including their manipulation of the IAEA and UN Security Council into sanctioning Iran from 2006 on for its nuclear program, while ignoring Israel’s and the United States’ nuclear arms and threats. Instead, the CPD spends its scarce resources urging the left’s “need for solidarity with the anti-Ahmadinejad movement.”
Another principle that we believe important is that the left should be especially active where it can have a clearly positive influence. This is not the case for Iran, where U.S. relations with Iran are poor and the left’s aggressive support of the anti-Ahmadinejad forces could have perverse effects like intensifying internal repression and/or foreign hostility towards the Iranian state. Positive effects of left-campaigning would be much more likely in the case of Honduras, which is the site of U.S. military bases and where the military and government depend on U.S. support. Here, left focus, anger, and pressure on Washington could have a beneficial impact. We point out that the New York Times features Iran with intensity and indignation, but does not do this for the coup and new military dictatorship in Honduras. That is traditional with the Times, as it follows the U.S. party line: Focusing critically on the country which the United States is trying to destabilize, and playing down Honduras, where the military coup and displacement of democracy fit a U.S. policy tradition. But why should a purported left organization based in the United States do the same? The CPD doesn’t explain this. Their excuse is poverty, limited resources, and a modest staff of volunteers. But the choices they make are the product not of their budget, but of their consciences and beliefs. In their timely and decisive selection of events inside Iran, these choices have been perfectly aligned with U.S. foreign policy. We consider the CPD’s priorities badly out of whack.
A third principle on the basis of which we criticize the CPD’s Q&A, implicit in the first two principles, is that the U.S. left should have as its first priority — and focus intensively on — what we should do about the current situation in the United States — a question the CPD fails to raise, asking instead “What should we do about the current situation in Iran?” The United States has huge problems, many of which pose threats to global peace and democracy, to global welfare, and even to survival. Our own elections are problematic: They are vetted by an unelected economic elite; the 2000 and 2004 elections may well have been stolen; and in 2008, the incumbent, ultraconservative, white-nationalist party very possibly lost the White House only because of the dramatic financial and economic collapse that occurred during the final eight weeks before the election. Our government is projecting power on a global scale, warring and intervening and stoking arms races across Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Central and South Asia, all with the help of Israel and its imperial pitbull, NATO. Our government incarcerates a greater percentage of its citizens than any other government in the world,4 and operates an illegal gulag that is global in scale.5 In short, “What should we do about the United States?” is a truly global problem, and should also be problem number one for the left.
The CPD’s reply to our critique questions our alleged attack on their service to imperialism. It is true that we question their priorities and in that respect are claiming such service, but we don’t believe it’s “witting” or anything other than well-meaning. We acknowledge, too, that the CPD has sometimes harshly criticized Western policy, as when, in December 2002, the CPD bravely opposed “both” Saddam Hussein “and” U.S. aggression against Iraq, and in May 2006, courageously came out against “both” Iran’s clerical-regime “and” U.S. aggression against Iran.6
As regards substance, the CPD authors did select and assail our query about whether they claim that there were “no” CIA agents stirring up the streets of Iran. But we did this only as a rhetorical ploy, responding to the CPD effort to downplay any foreign influence on the Iranian election process and its tumultuous aftermath. We think it is important to look at the Iranian election in the international context, because we believe that the U.S.-Israeli power projection and threats of regime change in one country after another are the most important and urgent global issues today. Claiming that events inside Iran are completely separate from this international process (i.e., are strictly “homegrown” and “indigenous,” as one advocate likes to put it) and also therefore deserve first-order left interest in the United States, we think, is a big mistake.
1 Stephen R. Shalom, Thomas Harrison, Joanne Landy, and Jesse Lemisch, “Reply to Edward S. Herman and David Peterson’s ‘Riding the “Green Wave”. . . ‘,”, ZNet, July 28, 2009. Also see the CPD’s original “Question & Answer on the Iran Crisis,” July 7, 2009.
2 Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, “Riding the ‘Green Wave’ at the Campaign for Peace and Democracy and Beyond,” MRZine, July 24, 2009.
3 See Reese Erlich, “Iran and Leftist Confusion,” CommonDreams, June 29, 2009. Typical of someone performing in an enforcer’s role, Erlich closes by asserting that “leftist critics must answer the question: Whose side are you on?” That such Stalinist arrogance has been so well received among the CPDers and at least some of the left in the states is no cause for celebration.
4 As of June 30, 2008, the total number of inmates held in custody in U.S. federal and state prisons, and local jails, was 2,310,984 (see Heather C. West and William J. Sabol, “Prison Inmates at Mid-Year 2008 Statistical Tables,” Bureau of Justice Statistics, March, 2009, Table 15, p. 16). According to an earlier report by the Pew Center on the States, “for the first time, more than one in every 100 [U.S.] adults is now confined in an America jail or prison.” What’s more, dramatic racial and ethnic inequalities dominate. Overall, whereas 1 in every 245 white Americans was behind bars in 2006 (and 1 in 136 white males), for black Americans, the rate was 1 in 41 (and 1 in 21 black males), and for Hispanic Americans, 1 in 96 (and 1 in 54 Hispanic males) (Jenifer Warren et al., One in 100: Behind Bars in America 2008, February, 2008, esp. Table A-6, p. 34). At the end of 2008, the world prison population stood at approximately 9.8 million inmates, or 145 inmates per 100,000 people. At 756 inmates per 100,000, not only did the United States have by far the highest incarceration rate in the world, but the number of people locked up behind bars in the states accounted for roughly 23% of the world’s total, even though the U.S. share of the world’s population was only 4%. At the same time, Iran incarcerated 222 per 100,000. (See Roy Walmsley, World Prison Population List, International Centre for Prison Studies, January, 2009, p. 1.)
5 See, e.g., Deborah Pearlstein and Priti Patel, Behind the Wire: An Update to Ending Secret Detentions, Human Rights First, March, 2005, esp. pp. 1-11; and Dick Marty et al., Secret detentions and illegal transfers of detainees involving Council of Europe member states: Second report (AS/Jur/2007/36), Council of Europe, June 7, 2007.
6 Joanne Landy, Thomas Harrison, and Jennifer Scarlott, “We Oppose Both Saddam Hussein and the U.S. War on Iraq,” Campaign for Peace and Democracy, November, 2002; and Joanne Landy, Thomas Harrison, Jennifer Scarlott, “IRAN: Neither U.S. Aggression nor Theocratic Repression,” May 15, 2006.
Edward S. Herman is professor emeritus of finance at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania and has written extensively on economics, political economy, and the media. Among his books are Corporate Control, Corporate Power (Cambridge University Press, 1981), The Real Terror Network (South End Press, 1982), and, with Noam Chomsky, The Political Economy of Human Rights (South End Press, 1979), and Manufacturing Consent (Pantheon, 2002). David Peterson is an independent journalist and researcher based in Chicago.