Reply to Edward S.Herman and David Peterson’s “Riding the ‘Green Wave’…”

[This is a reply to "Riding the ‘Green Wave’ at the Campaign for Peace and Democracy and Beyond" by Edward S. Herman and David Peterson.


Reply from Stephen R. Shalom, Thomas Harrison, Joanne Landy and Jesse Lemisch of the Campaign for Peace and Democracy, July 27, 2009]



Herman and Peterson’s article alleges that the Campaign for Peace and Democracy Q&A on Iran is not just an unhelpful effort that sows confusion, but anti-left, reminiscent of statements from Condoleezza Rice, and suspiciously similar to U.S. foreign policy, Is it mere coincidence, they ask, that the CPD focuses on Iran, which is also the target of a long term U.S. policy of destabilization and regime change? This charge — that CPD is somehow acting on behalf of U.S. imperialism — is utterly false and scurrilous.


We welcome debate, but we can’t honestly say that we welcome this vitriolic and dishonest attack by Herman and Peterson. We will respond to their specific claims about events in Iran in a separate article. Here we would just like to briefly address the offensive impugning of our integrity. Meanwhile, we direct readers to consult several excellent analyses written by others that support our substantive points, among them Ervand Abrahamian, "’I am not a speck of dirt, I am a retired teacher’", from the London Review of Books, July 23, 2009, posted on the CPD website and, Reese Erlich "Iran and Leftist Confusion" (Erlich is airily but undeservedly dismissed by Herman and Peterson).


Yes, the Campaign for Peace and Democracy has been selective in the issues it addresses. It does not have the resources of Amnesty International and cannot investigate and report on every atrocity going on around the world. In fact, CPD has zero paid staff, a tiny budget, and indeed was dormant for quite a few years. So it has tried to focus on a few issues where it had some expertise, where it could bring together peace and democracy activists from different parts of the world and — most importantly — where it had a useful independent perspective to offer. During the Cold War, CPD (in its earlier incarnation as Campaign for Peace and Democracy/East and West) helped organize East European dissidents against U.S. intervention in Central America and U.S. peace and social justice activists in opposition to repression in Eastern Europe. Some accused CPD then of supporting U.S. imperialism for its criticisms of Soviet imperialism and some accused it of being Soviet dupes for criticizing U.S. imperialism. CPD believed it was right to condemn both imperial powers.


During the run-up to the 2003 U.S.-led attack on Iraq, some on the left scandalously supported the war and others were unwilling to criticize Saddam Hussein or condemn his repression of the Iraqi people. CPD took a position opposing both U.S. aggression and the brutal Iraqi regime. In 2006 CPD issued a statement "Iran: Neither U.S. Aggression Nor Theocratic Repression." We can’t imagine any serious observer construing either of these statements as apologetics for U.S. imperialism.


As we suggested above, CPD, with its severely limited resources, is only able to take up three or four issues a year, at most. This past year, aside from the issue of the Iran election and its aftermath, CPD has campaigned against a proposed U.S. military radar base in the Czech Republic and U.S. interceptor missiles in Poland, and against U.S. support for Israel‘s brutal attack on Gaza – where the Campaign called for an end to U.S. military aid to Israel. Support for U.S. imperialism?


Are CPD’s views on the current Iran situation really akin to those of the U.S. government? The Iran Q&A noted the vicious repression of the left that took place under Mousavi’s prime ministership — with U.S. collusion. It noted that U.S. ally Saudi Arabia is much more undemocratic than Iran. It called on Obama to end sanctions against Iran and to guarantee that there would be no U.S. military intervention, no U.S. support for any Israeli intervention, and an immediate cessation of any U.S. support that might remain for acts of terrorism or sabotage in Iran. Are these the positions of the US government?


The Campaign for Peace and Democracy’s record of principled and consistent opposition to U.S. imperialism and support for democratic movements speaks for itself. Herman and Peterson’s convoluted charges that we are witting or unwitting tools of Washington do them no credit.


As we said, a more detailed response will be forthcoming. But for now, we’d like to briefly take up a couple of points that reveal their twisted perspective. Herman-Peterson concede that it’s true that not all protesters in Iran were brought out into the street by the CIA, but then ask whether the Campaign for Peace and Democracy can guarantee that none were? Setting aside the absurdity of the question (the self-evident answer to which is "no"), let’s apply this way of thinking to other protests. Our Q&A reviewed past occasions on which the right used this methodology to try to discredit the civil rights and peace movements (Moscow‘s support and the presence of real, live Communists in those movements meant Communist control, they claimed. "Outside agitators!").


Herman and Peterson’s method effectively precludes supporting any struggles against the state – whether for democracy, women’s rights, free trade unions, or anything progressive — in countries that are regarded as enemies by Washington. Should the State Department, the National Endowment for Democracy or George Soros take an interest in these struggles, that’s the kiss of death for Herman and Peterson. 


As we said in our Iran Q&A, "There is no doubt that U.S. agents, as well as those of other countries, are hard at work in Iran, as elsewhere…. But foreign meddling does not prove foreign control. And foreign meddling does not automatically discredit mass movements or their goals; it depends on who is calling the shots." In Iran, there is no evidence that the U.S. is calling the shots today for the opposition movement. U.S. influence may indeed increase in the future, and that would be a terrible tragedy. The best way for U.S. progressives, the peace movement and the left to help prevent this is to demonstrate their fundamental solidarity with the Iranian freedom movement today.


But we think that for Herman and Peterson, the question, "who’s calling the shots," is answered by the mere fact that Iran is on Washington’s enemies list and that the U.S. has worked to promote "regime change" there. Adopting the approach of Herman and Peterson would cut off the U.S. left from any positive relationship to movements for democracy and social change in many parts of the world. But it would also express a tragic failure of empathy and understanding. How is it possible for self-proclaimed radicals, such as Herman and Peterson, to cast a cold eye on the passionately democratic and deeply courageous struggles of the Iranian people?   


Thomas Harrison and Joanne Landy are Co-Directors of the Campaign for Peace and Democracy; Stephen R. Shalom and Jesse Lemisch are CPD Endorsers.  The four co-authored the CPD Q&A on the Iran Crisis.


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