Thank you for your letter responding to the Campaign for Peace and Democracy’s sign-on statement “Iran: Neither U.S. Aggression Nor Theocratic Repression — A call for a new, democratic U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.” The Bush administration’s latest maneuvers to draw Europe, Russia and China into a pro-war scenario makes the need for strategic dialogue among those of us opposed to war against Iran even more necessary.
Much of your letter concerns the right of Iran to sovereignty and self-determination, a right that we completely support. As our statement makes clear, we oppose any and all efforts at U.S. military, economic or political domination of Iran. For us, it is not a question of whether the U.S. government should use “negotiations” or “diplomacy” before resorting to military force or sanctions against Iran to coerce it to abandon its nuclear program or its domestic repression, nor is it an issue of the U.S. being “unilateral” rather than “multilateral” in its dealings with Tehran. Unlike many critics of the administration we view this situation through a fundamentally anti-imperial lens, and oppose the exercise of U.S. power in the region whatever means are employed, which leads us to say in our statement:
“The Bush administration’s claim that it is promoting democracy in these two countries [Iran and Iraq] is the grossest hypocrisy; its only interest is power and control of oil resources. We, on the other hand, care very much about the ability of the Iraqi and Iranian people to control their own societies, about civil liberties and the rights of women, gays, workers, and ethnic minorities there. That is why we raise our voices against the current threats to Iran and call for immediate withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Iraq.”
Your central disagreement with us, it seems, is when we say: “We too would like to see a regime change in Tehran, but one brought about by the Iranian people themselves, not by Washington,” and when we proceed to outline and protest against the many ways that labor, gays, and women are repressed by the Iranian government and its allies. You seem to argue that if we strongly condemn repression in Iran, we are merely lending strength and rationale for Washington’s intervention.
We believe that elementary international solidarity gives individuals and movements around the world much-needed strength in the face of authoritarian power. The simple fact that abuses are being performed by enemies of our own imperial government doesn’t mean that we should turn our backs on those who are abused. The moral imperative of solidarity aside, does CASMII really think that the peace movement puts itself in a stronger position by ignoring if not denying the attacks that are made in Iran today on labor, gays, women, minorities and intellectuals? We believe that the opposite is the case. We think the peace movement can gain credibility and effectiveness by going to the American people and showing how it is U.S. and Western policy, since the time of the overthrow of Mosadegh and before, that has served to undermine democracy and freedom in Iran. Rather than ducking or softpedalling the issue of democracy, peace activists need to take the offensive against the Bush administration: it is the U.S. government, not the anti-war movement, that supported the Shah and his vicious repression, and it is the U.S. government’s bellicosity today that weakens democracy in Iran. Our Campaign for Peace and Democracy statement makes this case when it says,
“The threat of military action or broader and harsher sanctions from outside — and especially the horrifying menace of nuclear strikes — only serve to rally people around the regime and to give it another excuse to clamp down on dissent, inhibiting a potentially revolutionary process and strengthening the right-wing clerics.”
Finally, on the question of repression, we have to take issue with you when you say that we present
“a misleading and condescending picture of the internal situation in Iran and promote our version of ‘democracy’ for a country with a different culture than ours.”
You haven’t given any evidence whatsoever that the things we say about women, gays, labor and minorities are untrue, and we suspect that’s because in fact you know that they are true, but think they shouldn’t be mentioned. If you believe we have been mistaken in anything we say along these lines, please describe how you think women, gays and labor are treated in Iran today. And as far as the question of culture is concerned, we simply reject the idea that cultural difference can be invoked in defense of the denial of basic human rights. While we totally reject imperial intervention that is rationalized on the basis of infractions of these rights, that doesn’t mean that these rights don’t exist.
CASMII’s second area of concern about our statement is about Iran’s nuclear policy. You write
“The international crisis over Iran’s nuclear issue, which has been created by Washington, is thus centered around Iran’s right under NPT to enrich Uranium for a fuel cycle on its soil. Regrettably your petition does not explicitly defend this inalienable right of Iran.”
But our statement could not be clearer on this point. We say
“Under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran has the right to develop civilian nuclear power, though the Bush administration has tried to obscure this fact.”
In fact, we go beyond the realm of nuclear power and reject the notion that some countries have the right to nuclear weapons while others are viewed as dangerous proliferators. We state that
“An end to Washington’s belligerence is a crucial step in preventing Tehran from joining the nuclear ‘club.’ Beyond that, the only way to stop proliferation is for those countries that have nuclear weapons to begin disarming — something the Bush administration and previous administrations of both parties have refused to do…”
(We also note in the statement that many of us oppose the use of nuclear power by any country, both for environmental reasons and because of its link to nuclear weapons — but point out that is not the issue in the present U.S.-Iran confrontation.)
Your real disagreement with us is not that we fail to say that Iran has a right under the NPT to enrich uranium, but that you think that we are laying the groundwork for a U.S. military attack “by expressing doubt about Iran’s assurances that it does not seek nuclear weapons and by asserting that if Iran acquires nuclear bombs there is no guarantee that it will not use them or not pass them to others.”
We would urge you to reconsider the basis on which you oppose a U.S. military attack on Iran. It is tempting to oppose U.S. military threats against Iran by saying that it’s ridiculous to even think that Iran could be working towards having nuclear weapons. After all, wasn’t the claim that Iraq had Weapons of Mass Destruction totally discredited in the end? However, if Iraq had had WMD’s, would the war have therefore been justified? And if it turns out that Iran is actually pursuing nuclear weapons, would that justify a military attack? We don’t think so, you don’t think so, but many people do think so — and they have to be persuaded to think differently, to realize that U.S. saber-rattling — rather than a policy of disarmament and trust-building — is exactly the wrong way to prevent proliferation, and to understand the illegitimacy of U.S. global power as it is currently exercised.
We don’t know that Iran has a nuclear weapons program, but the evidence suggests that they might. You cite various statements by Iranian officials denying their interest in developing nuclear weapons. However, we believe that the claims of government officials — in Iran, just as in the U.S. or any other state — cannot be taken at face value. It is surely significant that there appears to be a widespread belief among Iranians that their government is working towards a nuclear arms capability, as well as broad support for such a program. Many analysts have noted that given the threats being directed at Iran, the government in Tehran would have strong incentives to pursue a clandestine nuclear weapons program. The challenges the U.S. faces now in dealing with a possibly nuclear-equipped Korea would make it perfectly logical for Iran to pursue a similar course. The IAEA has raised concerns about Iran’s nuclear transparency (a transparency that we, incidentally, don’t believe Iran should be obligated to abide by more than the U.S. is, but that is another matter.) We don’t claim to know the truth, but we certainly can’t reject the possibility that such a program exists.
You ask about the idea of a democratic foreign policy: “Does this not lend legitimacy to the neoconservatives’ strife to change the map of the Middle East by ‘democratizing it?” The answer is no, it is a direct challenge to the neoconservatives and everything they stand for, especially the phony version of “democracy” they advocate, which is nothing more than a cover for empire-building and an attempt to create U.S. client states. A corporate-dominated U.S. government, it should be perfectly obvious, has no interest whatsoever in helping the Iranian people gain democratic control over their own country. We, however, do have such an interest, and we think ordinary American can be persuaded that a different foreign policy, implemented by a radically different government, can help empower oppressed people throughout the world.