OPEN LETTER TO U.S. REP. BARBARA LEE AND OTHER SUPPORTERS OF HR 4173
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Dear Congresswoman Lee:
We wish to express our deepest admiration and respect for the vote you cast in 2001 against the U.S. going to war with Afghanistan. Since you were the only legislator in either House of Congress to cast such a vote, it was indeed a rare act of courage. And to your credit, you continued taking a strong antiwar stance the following year when you voted against giving Bush authority to attack Iraq.
We are writing you now to express our dismay that you are the principal sponsor of HR 4173, a bill that contravenes the Iranian people's right to self-determination. We urge you to give consideration to the reasons stated below which explain why we oppose the bill. But first a brief note on what we believe should be the strategy for preventing a U.S. war against Iran.
The Ohio State Labor Party, together with a number of other antiwar formations, believes that the key to preventing a U.S. military attack against Iran is building a broad, massive, united, independent, international movement in the streets to support such basic demands as "No to War, No to Bombing, No to Sanctions Against Iran!"
These demands are anchored on the fundamental respect for the right of peoples of other countries to settle their own destinies without outside dictation, intervention or occupation -- in short, their right to self-determination.
The struggle for peace proceeds on several levels, including the legislative one. Here, we believe, the goal should be to win support of legislators for the antiwar movement's demands. A classic example of this was the introduction of a resolution to Congress in 1971 by Sen. Vance Hartke of Indiana calling for the immediate withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Vietnam, with no conditions or qualifiers. Of course this followed the huge antiwar demonstrations that had been organized by the movement and the increasing public sentiment favoring immediate withdrawal.
Regarding the situation we face today, we have learned to be wary of bills and resolutions which on their face appear to advance the struggle for a peaceful resolution of the U.S. government's confrontation with Iran, but, when scrutinized, leave the door wide open for U.S. and Israeli military attacks against that country. This, in our view, is the case with HR 4173.
Let us explain the reasons we have reached this conclusion:
1. President Obama's Announced Policy is to Conduct Diplomacy to Prevent Iran From Acquiring a Nuclear Weapon and Thus Avoid War; HR 4173's Stated Goal is to Conduct Diplomacy to Prevent Iran From Acquiring a Nuclear Weapon and Thus Avoid War.
There is absolutely no daylight between the two. To be sure, President Obama says no options are off the table, including the military one, and he is not bluffing. HR 4173 has language purporting to require Congressional approval before military action is taken against Iran (more on this below). But the intent of both is exactly the same.
As you know, here is HR 4173's actual wording: "A Bill to direct the President of the United States to appoint a high-level United States representative or special envoy for Iran for the purpose of ensuring that the United States pursues all diplomatic avenues to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, to avoid a war with Iran, and other purposes." That is not only the title of the bill but it is repeated for emphasis in its first paragraph.
2. National Sovereignty and the Right to Self-Determination
If we in the antiwar movement are to remain true to our beliefs and program, we must recognize and respect Iran's right to defend itself as that nation sees fit. But this is violated by HR 4173. It is a gratuitous intrusion into Iran's internal affairs.
3. Current Status of Iran's Nuclear Program
Iran today has no nuclear weapons, nor is there any evidence that it is building such weapons. In fact, both American and Israeli intelligence report that Iran has not yet decided to build a nuclear weapon. Iran's "Supreme Leader" has several times called for a "fatwa" condemning nuclear weapons.
4. What's Wrong With Not Wanting Iran to Have Nuclear Weapons?
Absolutely nothing, so long as it's part of an agreement to ban such weapons arrived at by Iran, Israel and the other states in the neighborhood, including those that have nuclear weapons. In absence of such an agreement, there is not even the pretense of even-handedness in singling out Iran. Instead it reflects a policy of lining up with Israel and the U.S. government against Iran. Meanwhile, the ever-more punitive and harsh sanctions against Iran continue to violate international law.
5. Parallels With Iraq
Not so long ago the U.S. was threatening Iraq with war if Iraq did not agree to destroy its alleged weapons of mass destruction. Remember Condoleeza Rice's warning of mushroom clouds that ostensibly would poison us if Iraq were allowed to continue its build up of nuclear weapons unchecked?
Of course, it was all a Big Lie. But as a consequence of the false and misleading claims of weapons of mass destruction, the U.S. engaged in a patently unjust war against Iraq, which led to the death of a million Iraqis -- including a half-million children -- and some 40,000 U.S. casualties, along with the expenditure of a trillion dollars that could have been spent on urgently needed social programs.
It's worth emphasizing that no one that we know of in the antiwar movement saw fit to call upon Iraq to give up its alleged weapons of mass destruction in order to avoid war. We were united in demanding no war against Iraq -- period! -- and never felt compelled to get involved in its internal affairs. There is absolutely no justifiable reason for doing so now vis-a-vis Iran. With regard to Iraq, we said it was a war for oil and empire. The same would be true with a war against Iran.
6. Experience of Other Countries
Libya gave up its nuclear weapons program and the U.S., together with its allies, proceeded to unleash a withering bombing attack against that country, resulting in the overthrow of the Libyan government. North Korea retains its nuclear program and has been spared such a military attack. Obviously, having nuclear weapons is a deterrent, and if Iran decided to build them, it would be perfectly within its rights.
7. Does HR 4173 Really Restrict the President From Taking Military Action Against Iran Without Congressional Approval? The Answer is NO!
Support for HR 4173 cannot be justified by the claim that it includes language restricting the president's authority to conduct a military operation against Iran without "prior authorization by Congress, as required under article I, section 8, clause 2 [it's actually clause 11] of the United States Constitution, which grants Congress the sole authority to declare war." However, HR 4173 undercuts this wording by listing three situations where such Congressional authority is NOT required, the third of which states: "This requirement shall not apply to a military operation or activity ... to directly thwart an imminent offensive military action to be launched from within the territory of Iran against United States forces or an ally with whom the United States has a mutual defense agreement."
One would have to be naive in the extreme to rely on this language as a safeguard against unilateral presidential action. Based on the Iraqi experience, we must exercise the skepticism that is warranted and recognize that U.S. intelligence agencies are fully capable of concocting a situation where under HR 4173 the requirement for Congressional approval would effectively be waived.
8. If There Is A U.S. War Against Iran, How Will It Be Justified?
We should never forget that if the U.S. ends up bombing Iran, the justification will be, "We tried diplomacy to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon but it did not work. They continued to enrich uranium and have been proceeding step-by-step to develop nuclear weapons. We made clear that we will not permit this to happen and the action we are taking now demonstrates that we mean what we say."
In fact, HR 4173 actually opens the door for military action against Iran. After all, if the results of diplomacy fail to satisfy the U.S. government and Israel, then what's left other than invoking the military option? HR 4173 does not bar war against Iran; under certain circumstances it sanctions such a war even without Congressional approval!
We strongly believe that that the people of this country must oppose a U.S. war against Iran, whether or not diplomacy succeeds or fails, and despite the measures Iran takes to defend itself.
As the movement to prevent a U.S. war against Iran continues to gather momentum, we can only hope that you will follow the example set by Sen. Hartke and introduce a new bill that explicitly endorses and incorporates the antiwar movement's demands, which in today's world means rejecting war, bombing and sanctions against Iran - a bill without loopholes or conditions. That would be a bill that the entire antiwar movement could enthusiastically embrace and promote.
Chair, Ohio State Labor Party
Chair, Ohio State Labor Party