The March to War with Iran

August 2 protest against provoking war with Iran

House Democrats joined House Republicans in co-sponsoring House Concurrent Resolution 362, which describes Iran as a threat to international peace, stability in the Middle East, and U.S. National Security. Introduced on May 22 by New York Democrat Gary Ackerman, the bill calls for a blockade against Iran.

HR 362 has 261 co-sponsors (at this writing in August), including prominent Democrats such as Barney Frank (MA), Alcee Hastings (FL), Steny Hoyer (MD), Henry Waxman (CA), and Robert Wexler (FL).

The bill specifically calls on President Bush to "initiate an international effort to immediately and dramatically increase the economic, political, and diplomatic pressure on Iran to verifiably suspend its nuclear enrichment activities." It urges the president to block refined petroleum exports to Iran and to impose "stringent inspection requirements on all persons, vehicles, ships, planes, trains, and cargo entering or departing Iran; and prohibiting the international movement of all Iranian officials not involved in negotiating the suspension of Iran’s nuclear program."

In opposition, the Presbyterian Church called on its members to protest both sanctions as well as any potential blockades. On July 8, the church issued a letter, "Talk, Not War, with Iran," pointing to HR 362 as dangerous because "A blockade, even a partial one, is an act of war."

According to a press release from the Council for A Livable World, three retired military leaders sent a letter to lawmakers "urging them to abandon" H. Con. Res. 362. Lt. General Robert G. Gard, Jr., U.S. Army (ret.), former Assistant Secretary of Defense Dr. Lawrence J. Korb, and Vice Admiral Jack Shanahan, U.S. Navy (ret.) described the bill as "poorly conceived, poorly timed, and potentially dangerous." In the letter, the three state "a diplomatic solution with Iran is the best course" and that the sanctions demanded in H. Con. Res. 362 would likely "undermine any chance for diplomacy to succeed in achieving a negotiated resolution."

On June 26, Libertarian presidential candidate Ron Paul in a Congressional speech said that the bill was a "virtual war resolution." Paul was incensed about the blockade of goods and the suggestion that Iranian officials be prohibited from international travel. He compared the move to sanctions against Iraq. "This is what we did for ten years before we went into Iraq," he said. "We starved children—50,000 [sic] individuals it was admitted probably died because of the sanctions on Iraqis—they were incapable at the time of attacking us."

The following week, Dennis Kucinich issued a letter, "Stop the Escalation of Tensions with Iran, Oppose H. Con. Res. 362," urging his colleagues to oppose the resolution. Kucinich wrote that the "bill will play into the hands of those in the Bush administration who want Congressional license to attack Iran."

While the bill’s language asserts it isn’t authorizing the use of force, Kucinich points out that it doesn’t declare "that the President must seek the approval of Congress before authorizing use of force against Iran."

H. Con. Res. 362 asks the president to work against Iran’s efforts to "destabilize" "the legitimate governments in the region." It also affirms a U.S. commitment to opposing "Iranian efforts at hegemony" in the Middle East.

Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh wrote in the New Yorker that the Bush administration, with the consent of the Democratic leadership, had begun a secret war on Iran and that some leading Democrats had endorsed Bush’s Presidential Finding that requests $400 million for "a major escalation of covert operations against Iran, according to current and former military intelligence and congressional sources."

The U.S. is attempting to destabilize Iran’s government by funneling money to extremist groups, including the Jundallah, the Mujahideen-e-Khalq or MEK (on the state department’s terrorist list for decades), and a Kurdish separatist group, the Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan, or PJAK ("Preparing the Battlefield: The Bush Administration steps up its secret moves against Iran," New Yorker, July 7, 2008).

According to Hersh, the funding request to wage this covert war occurred around the same time the Bush administration was dealing with the National Intelligence Estimate’s (NIE) December 2007 report on Iran, which stated a "high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program." It also stated "with high confidence" that Iran would not even be "technically capable of producing and reprocessing enough plutonium for a weapon before about 2015."

The report concluded that Iran is more a rational actor than one hell-bent on destroying the world, as it has been portrayed. "Tehran’s decision to halt its nuclear weapons program suggests it is less determined to develop nuclear weapons than we have been judging since 2005. Our assessment that the program probably was halted primarily in response to international pressure suggests Iran may be more vulnerable to influence on the issue than we judged previously."

Impact of Pro-Israel Lobby

Despite the NIE’s findings, The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) states that "Iran poses a growing threat to the United States and our allies as it continues rapidly advancing toward a nuclear weapons capability." The organization’s position paper, "U.S. Must Do More to Prevent Nuclear-Armed Iran" reads like a virtual guide to HR 362. Nearly every point of the bill, including a ban on petroleum sales to Iran, sanctions on Iran’s central bank and foreign investors in the oil and energy sectors, are found in AIPAC’s paper. AIPAC’s stated aim is to pressure the regime to "change course" by severely impacting the economy with a gas shortage.

On July 2, the Real News Network reported that Res. 362’s broad support "has been credited to the pro-Israel lobby, specifically the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, which sent thousands of its members to Capitol Hill to lobby for the resolution in early June." In the news feature, historian Gareth Porter argued that Congress "was responding more to the Israel lobby than to any new intelligence on Iran or events on the ground." A review of a handful of co-sponsors’ top five contributing industries finds Democrats significantly benefiting from the pro-Israel lobby between 2007 and 2008.

Anti-War Response

To date, Stop War On Iran (SWOI), United for Peace and Justice, and Code Pink have taken the lead in opposing the march to war with Iran and calling for action against Res. 362. More recently, Veterans For Peace has joined the chorus condemning the bill.

Months ago SWOI issued a letter, "Stop the war on Iran before it starts," urging the United States to end its "campaign of sanctions, hostility, and falsehood against the people of Iran." Thousands signed the letter opposing "any new U.S. aggression against Iran" and demanding "funds for human needs" rather than "endless war for empire."

On August 2, the group and its grassroots affiliates held rallies in dozens of cities, including New York City, Atlanta, Chicago, and throughout Florida. Attendance varied from 10 in Nashville, 80 in Atlanta, 100 in Washington, and around 1,000 in New York City.

Sara Flounders, coordinator of the national Stop War on Iran Campaign, said her group is pleased with the results of the August 2 effort. "Considering that this was August and organized on short notice, it far exceeded our initial expectation. We were originally hoping for local actions in 20 cities. It grew to 100 cities and we are still getting word of other local actions."

Flounders estimates that her organization has helped people send out nearly one million "no war with Iran" email messages, through, to members of Congress, the UN, the Bush administration, and the media. "We feel we helped to play an important role in awakening the movement to take seriously the looming threat of another war," said Flounders.

The coordinator of Atlanta chapter of the International Action Center, Dianne Mathiowetz, said activists have successfully put some of Res. 362’s Georgia co-sponsors on the hot seat. "Locally, we have bombarded the telephone lines of John Lewis and Hank Johnson in particular. They both claimed that they had not read the full text of the resolution. We have confronted Lewis publicly as well as having meetings with his staff. Both say they will vote against the resolution if the section on the air, land, and sea blockade is not removed, but we haven’t gotten them to take their names off it yet. And I don’t believe either of them has made that statement in public."

Mathiowetz, who co-organized the August 2 action in Atlanta, says, "I definitely think the actions of activists across the country put the brakes on the swift and unnoticed passage of this resolution."

Early in July, Code Pink activists created a theatrical "blockade" of Congressperson Gary Ackerman’s houseboat. About a dozen activists greeted the representative with whistles, chanting, and bullhorns. They demanded he renounce talk of sanctions in favor of diplomacy.

On July 9, Rep. Wexler issued a letter stating that he "will lead an effort to make changes to this resolution before it comes to the Foreign Affairs committee for a vote. Despite being a cosponsor of this resolution, these changes will ultimately determine whether or not I will continue to support H. Con. Res. 362."

As of early August, three Democrats had officially removed themselves from the list of the bill’s co-sponsors: Tom Allen (D-ME), William Clay (D-MO), and Steve Cohen (D-TN).


Jeff Nall’s latest book is Perpetual Revolt: Essays on Peace & Justice and The Shared Values of Secular, Spiritual, and Religious Progressives. Photo by John Catalinotto.