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Entries tagged "Iran"
February 15, 2013 · By Phyllis Bennis
Ten years ago people around the world rose up. In almost 800 cities across the globe, protesters filled the streets of capital cities and tiny villages, following the sun from Australia and New Zealand and the small Pacific islands, through the snowy steppes of North Asia and down across the South Asian peninsula, across Europe and down to the southern edge of Africa, then jumping the pond first to Latin America and then finally, last of all, to the United States.
And across the globe, the call came in scores of languages, “the world says no to war!” The cry “Not in Our Name” echoed from millions of voices. The Guinness Book of World Records said between 12 and 14 million people came out that day, the largest protest in the history of the world. It was, as the great British labor and peace activist and former MP Tony Benn described it to the million Londoners in the streets that day, “the first global demonstration, and its first cause is to prevent a war against Iraq.” What a concept — a global protest against a war that had not yet begun — the goal, to try to stop it.
It was an amazing moment — powerful enough that governments around the world, including the soon-famous “Uncommitted Six” in the Security Council, did the unthinkable: they too resisted pressure from the United States and the United Kingdom and said no to endorsing Bush’s war. Under ordinary circumstances, alone, U.S.-dependent and relatively weak countries like Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Guinea, Mexico and Pakistan could never have stood up to Washington. But these were not ordinary circumstances. The combination of diplomatic support from “Old Europe,” Germany and France who for their own reasons opposed the war, and popular pressure from thousands, millions, filling the streets of their capitals, allowed the Six to stand firm. The pressure was fierce. Chile was threatened with a U.S. refusal to ratify a U.S. free trade agreement seven years in the making. (The trade agreement was quite terrible, but the Chilean government was committed to it.) Guinea and Cameroon were threatened with loss of U.S. aid granted under the African Growth & Opportunity Act. Mexico faced the potential end of negotiations over immigration and the border. And yet they stood firm.
The day before the protests, February 14, the Security Council was called into session once again, this time at the foreign minister level, to hear the ostensibly final reports of the two UN weapons inspectors for Iraq. Many had anticipated that their reports would somehow wiggle around the truth, that they would say something Bush and Blair would grab to try to legitimize their spurious claims of Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction, that they would at least appear ambivalent enough for the U.S. to use their reports to justify war. But they refused to bend the truth, stating unequivocally that no such weapons had been found.
Following their reports, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin responded with an extraordinary call, reminding the world that “the United Nations must remain an instrument of peace, and not a tool for war.” In that usually staid, formal, rule-bound chamber, his call was answered with a roaring ovation beginning with Council staff and quickly engulfing the diplomats and foreign ministers themselves.
Security Council rejection was strong enough — enough governments said no — that the United Nations was able to do what its Charter requires, but what political pressure too often makes impossible: to stand against the scourge of war. On the morning of February 15, just hours before the massive rally began at the foot of the United Nations, the great actor-activist Harry Belafonte and I accompanied South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu to meet with then-Secretary-General Kofi Annan on behalf of the protesters. We were met by a police escort to cross what the New York Police Department had designated its “frozen zone” — not in reference to the bitter 18 degrees or the biting wind whipping in from the East River, but the forcibly deserted streets directly in front of UN headquarters. In the secretary-general’s office on the 38th floor of the United Nations, Bishop Tutu opened the meeting, looking at Kofi across the table and said, “We are here today on behalf of those people marching in 665 cities all around the world. And we are here to tell you, that those people marching in all those cities around the world, we claim the United Nations as our own. We claim it in the name of our global mobilization for peace.”
It was an incredible moment. And while we weren't able to prevent that war, that global mobilization, that pulled governments and the United Nations into a trajectory of resistance shaped and led by global movements, created what the New York Times the next day called "the second super-power.”
Mid-way through the marathon New York rally, a brief Associated Press story came over the wires: “Rattled by an outpouring of international anti-war sentiment, the United States and Britain began reworking a draft resolution….Diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the final product may be a softer text that does not explicitly call for war.” Faced with a global challenge to their desperate struggle for UN and global legitimacy, Bush and Blair threw in the towel.
Our movement changed history. While we did not prevent the Iraq war, the protests proved its clear illegality, demonstrated the isolation of the Bush administration policies, helped prevent war in Iran, and inspired a generation of activists. February 15 set the terms for what “global mobilizations” could accomplish. Eight years later some of the Cairo activists, embarrassed at the relatively small size of their protest on February 15, 2003, would go on to help lead Egypt's Arab Spring. Occupy protesters would reference February 15 and its international context. Spain’s indignados and others protesting austerity and inequality could see February 15 as a model of moving from national to global protest.
In New York City on that singular afternoon, some of the speakers had particular resonance for those shivering in the monumental crowd. Harry Belafonte, veteran of so many of the progressive struggles of the last three-quarters of a century, called out to the rising U.S. movement against war and empire, reminding us that our movement could change the world, and that the world was counting on us to do so. “The world has sat with tremendous anxiety, in great fear that we did not exist,” he said. “But America is a vast and diverse country, and we are part of the greater truth that makes our nation. We stand for peace, for the truth of what is at the heart of the American people. We WILL make a difference – that is the message that we send out to the world today.”
Belafonte was followed by his close friend and fellow activist-actor Danny Glover, who spoke of earlier heroes, of Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman, and of the great Paul Robeson on whose shoulders we still stand. And then he shouted “We stand here today because our right to dissent, and our right to participate in a real democracy has been hijacked by those who call for war. We stand here at this threshold of history, and we say to the world, ‘Not in Our Name’! ‘Not in Our Name!’” The huge crowd, shivering in the icy wind, took up the cry, and “Not in our Name! Not in Our Name!” echoed through the New York streets.
Our obligation as the second super-power remains in place. Now what we need is a strategy to engage with power, to challenge once again the reconfigured but remaining first super-power. That commitment remains.
Phyllis Bennis’ book, Challenging Empire: How People, Governments and the UN Defy U.S. Power, with Foreword by Danny Glover, is on the legacy of the February 15 protests. She was on the steering committee of the United for Peace & Justice coalition helping to build February 15, 2003.
September 21, 2012 · By Saul Landau
30-plus years ago Iranian zealots grabbed some CIA and Embassy folk in Teheran and held them hostage, and then let them go, and Reagan took credit. But before we plunge into military conflict with Iran, as Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu extols, the press might indulge its public in some useful historical review – they forgot some important history – to try to deal with the alleged threat of "nuclear mullahs" as Bill Keller called Iran’s religious leaders.
Maybe, start with questions like: What did we do to Iran and what role did our government have in fostering its nuclear program? And why does Israel’s insistence on U.S. backing become so important to U.S. policy?
July 13, 2012 · By Phyllis Bennis
The State Department, reporting on the latest U.S.-Israel "Strategic Dialogue," was very proud of the "productive, wide ranging discussion of issues of mutual concern." (Apparently the recommended legalization of all the illegal and expanding settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory is not an issue of "mutual concern" to the U.S. deputy secretary of state and his Israeli counterpart).
No, the focus was only on the regional situation. Regarding Iran, the State Department made odd allusions to facts about the crisis of which nobody else in the administration seems to be aware. To begin, State noted that the U.S. and Israel had addressed their concern that Iran is engaged in a "continued quest to develop nuclear weapons." There was no explanation of why the conclusion of this U.S.-Israeli dialogue seems to fly in the face of the US intelligence agencies' actual position with regard to Iran's nuclear program, which is that Iran not only does not have any nuclear weapons, and is not building a nuclear weapon, but that Tehran has not even made the decision about whether to build a nuclear weapon.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta asked his own rhetorical question about Iran: "Are they trying to develop a nuclear weapon?" He then answered with an unequivocal "No."
It was General James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, who made clear that the U.S. does not even know "if Iran will eventually decide to build" a nuclear weapon.
Is that what a "continued quest to develop nuclear weapons" looks like? Or is State running its own intelligence agencies these days?
And then they discussed Syria. Of course it's widely known that the Syrian regime has assisted Hezbollah, a political and paramilitary organization that happens to be the strongest party in Lebanon’s parliament. But State's view, following its strategic dialogue with Israel, is apparently the other way around – that it is Hezbollah that is somehow shoring up a reprehensible neighboring regime. And apparently, the reprehensible killings it is assisting in that neighboring state are being carried out by a heretofore unknown regime led by someone named "Asad." Perhaps State's note meant to reference the regime of Bashar al-Assad, the brutally repressive government that has reigned over Syria for the past 12 years. But we can't be sure.
When dangerous regional escalations are at stake, when Israel is threatening war against Iran, and the U.S. and its allies are threatening to join and thus further escalate the civil war in Syria, one would hope for a bit more consistency in U.S. policy – whether or not policymakers are talking to Israel. Not to mention a bit of attention to spelling.
January 25, 2012 · By John Feffer
In his State of the Union address last night, President Barack Obama began with what is widely perceived to be his strong suit: foreign policy. The nation is safer under his watch, he reassured his audience, now that Osama bin Laden is gone, al-Qaeda is broken, and U.S. troops are out of Iraq. It’s too bad that the president couldn’t lead with diplomatic accomplishments to prove that the United States has reestablished a new relationship with the international community and gained a new level of global respect. Instead, President Obama felt the need to emphasize U.S. military power.
Imagine how breathtaking it would have been if the president had begun his speech differently by touting diplomatic breakthroughs with Iran and North Korea. Instead, the United States has edged closer to conflict with the former and has largely ignored the latter. Imagine if the president could point to the closure of the detention facility in Guantanamo, a campaign promise and a pledge from his first day in office, as a signal to the world that the United States had turned its back on the lawless behavior of the previous administration. Imagine if the president could take credit for a responsible drawdown of Pentagon spending and the application of a true peace dividend to job creation at home. Alas, the cuts in military spending the president has proposed have been extraordinarily modest and don’t address either Pentagon waste or pressing human needs at home and abroad.
After his ode to American military strength, the president turned to his central issue: the economy. He gestured in the direction of foreign policy – to praise free-trade agreements, to bash the Chinese for unfair trade practices – but all the messages were subordinate to fixing the U.S. economy. As a practical need and a political necessity, the president was certainly wise to focus on pocketbook issues. But his us-versus-them rhetoric is ultimately unhelpful. The United States has to work with other economic powers not only to get the global economy up and running again but to restructure it so that it no longer disproportionately benefits the wealthiest 1 percent of countries, corporations, and individuals.
Obama returned to his perceived strong suit in the end to discuss how the United States must operate from a position of strength. Unfortunately, he was talking about the strength of the U.S. military. The United States should indeed set an example: of wise diplomacy, global economic equity, and sensible budget priorities at home. Perhaps the next State of the Union can begin on a note of international cooperation instead of unilateral triumphalism.
July 12, 2011 · By Phyllis Bennis
If his job was to reassure a population impoverished and outraged by war, brand-new Defense Secretary and just-resigned CIA Director Leon Panetta didn’t have such a great Sunday.
First, he repeated the long-discredited Bush lie that Iraq had something to do with September 11, telling U.S. soldiers in Baghdad that “the reason you guys are here is because on 9/11, America got attacked.”
Then he joined others in the administration in escalating the anti-Iran rhetoric, claiming that weapons from Iran were being used to kill U.S. soldiers occupying Iraq. He actually said “the key right now is (…) to stop the Shia from using (those weapons),” apparently forgetting that the U.S.-installed and U.S.-backed Iraqi government just happens to be dominated by “the Shia,” who are the largest religious community in Iraq. Blaming Iran for Iraqi opposition to the U.S. occupation is an oldie but goodie for U.S. military spin-doctors.
This time it was part of a specific campaign aimed at pressuring the Iraqi government to “request” that the U.S. keep ten or twenty or thirty thousand of its current 48,000 occupying troops in Iraq after the end of the year – when the U.S.-Iraq agreement requires that they all be removed.
But now, with the new Pentagon chief coming straight from the CIA, and the new head of the CIA the same General Petraeus responsible for the Iraq and Afghan escalations, any distinction between military and civilian control of U.S. wars is hopelessly blurred. Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that agreements to withdraw U.S. troops are being undermined, and that Bush-era claims about Iraq ties to 9/11 and about Iranian responsibility for “destabilizing Iraq” are making the rounds again.