Friday, November 23, 2007
Stopping America’s Next Imperialist War
Reese Erlich Calls for Mass Opposition to U.S. Attack on Iran
by MARK GABRISH CONLAN
Copyright © 2007 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine. All rights reserved.
In 2003, independent journalists Reese Erlich and Norman Solomon published a book called Target Iraq, both an explanation of why the Bush administration was so intent on invading Iraq and a last-ditch attempt to help spark a mass movement to stop it. On November 17, the two men were re-teamed — sort of — at the Joyce Beers Center in Hillcrest, in a meeting sponsored by Progressive San Diego that presented Erlich in person and Solomon on film, in a documentary called War Made Easy based on a book Solomon wrote and published in 2005.
The theme of both Erlich’s talk and Solomon’s film (actually directed by Loretta Alper and Jeremy Earp but featuring not only interviews with Solomon but original footage of many of the public statements cited in the book that helped “sell” Americans on the wars against Viet Nam, Grenada, Serbia and Iraq) was how Presidents who want to start wars consistently follow the same scenarios.
“U.S. Presidents, Democrats or Republicans, have a similar modus operandi, and Bush is using it now against Iran,” Erlich explained. “He’s said that if Iran even has the knowledge of how to build a nuclear bomb, that’s intolerable. Of course, they have the knowledge” — the scientific principles of how a nuclear weapon works have been in the public domain for at least three decades — “but there’s a big difference between that and being able to build a bomb, and an even bigger difference between having a bomb and being able to deliver it.”
Erlich has a new book out — like President Bush, he too is using the same strategy he did nearly five years ago — this time written solo, called The Iran Agenda. He said that like the war in Iraq, the threatened attack on Iran has nothing to do with stopping Iran from having nukes or bringing “democracy” to the country. “It’s really about overthrowing [the government of] Iran and bringing it back under U.S. control,” Erlich said. He noted that one of the arguments the U.S. uses against Iran is that, since they’re a major oil producer, they can’t really be developing a civilian nuclear power program, which is what they say they’re doing (and which they have a right to do under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty); the only reason Iran would want nuclear energy, the argument goes, is to build bombs.
Like much of the propaganda the U.S. government puts out in support of its wars, this argument ignores history, Erlich said. In the 1970’s — when Iran was still ruled by the U.S.-friendly but dictatorially oppressive Shah, installed in a coup against a democratically elected government by the CIA and British intelligence in 1953 — “the U.S. was insisting that Iran develop nuclear power because they would eventually run out of oil. And if the current Iranian government fell and a pro-U.S. government came in, the U.S. would love to sell them nuclear power — especially since it would make U.S. companies like General Electric and Westinghouse a lot of money.”
Iran’s claim that they’re building nuclear reactors and enriching uranium only for power, not weapons, is backed up by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) — the same United Nations agency that reported accurately, before the U.S. invaded Iraq, that Iraq had no nuclear weapons program. “The IAEA says there is no evidence that Iran is developing nuclear weapons, and the Iranians have agreed to full inspections of all their nuclear sites,” Erlich said. “The U.S. is not interested in allowing the IAEA to do their job in Iran” — any more than they were in allowing the IAEA to do their job in Iraq in early 2003 — “because that would screw up the argument” for war.
“Let’s say Iran is developing nuclear weapons,” Erlich added. “Even the CIA says they won’t have one until 2015, and then they’d have to figure out how to launch it.” He said that because this was an inconvenient conclusion for the Bush administration, Bush and Cheney rejected the CIA’s original National Intelligence Estimate from February 2007 and, like finicky diners arguing with a waiter over a wine selection, sent it back again in April “because it didn’t come to the ‘right’ conclusion” that Iran and its nuclear program were clear and present threats to the U.S.
Erlich then discussed the second propaganda point he says the U.S. is using to “sell” its people on the “necessity” of war with Iran: the allegations that Iran is supplying weapons being used to kill U.S. troops. “There’s no proof that Iran is telling its allies to kill American soldiers in Iraq,” Erlich said, adding that the so-called “Iranian” weapons — home-made anti-personnel bombs — “were first used by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in northern Ireland, and any machine shop can make one.” Erlich said that at one dramatic press conference in Iraq, U.S. officials unveiled rocket-propelled grenades and said they had been sent by Iran to be used in attacks on U.S. troops — but the grenades were labeled in English and the dates on them were written month/day/year, as is standard in the U.S., instead of day/month/year as is used in the rest of the world.
“Who is killing American soldiers? Who are the Americans fighting in Iraq?” Erlich said. “We’re fighting Iraqis, but the usual answer is ‘al-Qaeda.’ ‘Al-Qaeda in Iraq’ is a local terrorist organization with no ties to Osama bin Laden. The other argument is that we’re fighting Iranians. The advantage to that argument is we can blame it all on ‘outside agitators’” — a line that got a laugh from his audience, many of whom were old enough to remember that during the civil rights movement, Southern officials and other supporters of segregation said that their own Black people were perfectly content with their second-class lot and it was only “outside agitators” that were riling them up and getting them to protest. The use of the phrase “outside agitators” “disguises the fact that we’re fighting the Iraqi people,” Erlich said.
According to Erlich, Iran’s priority in Iraq is seeing a pro-Iranian government in power — and, ironically, the U.S. invasion and removal of Saddam Hussein has actually helped bring that about. When the much-ballyhooed constitutional elections were held in January 2005, the overwhelming winners were Shi’a parties closely allied to Iran, many of whose leaders had survived Saddam’s dictatorship by fleeing to Iran. He said that the leading Kurdish parties in Iraq also have close ties to Iran, and indeed Erlich began his talk with a bizarrely funny presentation on how the U.S. has declared the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) a terrorist organization for its attempts to destabilize the Kurdish region of Iraq and declare independence — yet the U.S. is giving aid money and support to the PKK’s subsidiary, PJAC, because it operates inside Iran and attempts to destabilize Iran’s government with the same terrorist tactics.
“The U.S. is reaping what it has sown in Iraq,” Erlich said. “The parties it is working with are all pro-Iranian. In Iraq, Iran is funding some militias — and the U.S. is funding the same ones. Iran doesn’t want to see an immediate U.S. withdrawal from Iraq; they want a gradual withdrawal so they can stave off the Sunnis. But if you want to attack Iran and you can say it’s ‘retaliation’ for Iran’s alleged attacks on U.S. servicemembers in Iraq, you don’t need a Congressional vote to authorize the war.”
Erlich went on to discuss the third set of arguments the U.S. is using to sell its people on war with Iran: the personal attacks on Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. This propaganda campaign, he explained, seizes on Ahmadinejad’s most extreme rhetoric to call him a “new Hitler” and claim he wants Iran to develop atomic weapons so he can obliterate the state of Israel and “start a new Holocaust.” Erlich said, “I’ve had conservatives ask me if we shouldn’t have taken out Hitler if we’d known in the 1930’s what we know now, and I point out that in the 1930’s their forebears were pro-Hitler” — not so much actively supporting him as hoping that Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union would get into a war, destroy each other and thus rid the world of both of them. (Some Right-wingers today, notably Pat Buchanan, still defend this analysis.)
Besides, Erlich reminded his audience, the real power in Iran lies with the religious leadership, as headed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (who took over when the Iranian revolution’s founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, died). “Ahmadinejad does not control his country’s military,” Erlich said. “He can’t launch anything. His quote that he wants to ‘wipe Israel off the map’ is an old quote from Khomeini, and it’s intentionally mistranslated to boot. The actual quote is, ‘The entity in Jerusalem should vanish into the pages of time.’” Besides, Erlich added, “If Iran is such a threat to Israel, why haven’t they already attacked Israel with conventional weapons? They have missiles and they’re claimed to have chemical weapons. They don’t because they have a policy against offensive wars, and because they realize that if they attacked Israel, the U.S. and Israel would utterly destroy Iran. The Iranian leaders are not crazy or suicidal.”
According to Erlich, in the 1980’s — when Iran’s anti-Israel rhetoric was as intense, if not more so, than it is now — Israel was actually helping Iran during its eight-year war with Iraq. “While the U.S. was playing footsie with Saddam Hussein, Israel was supplying Iran with U.S.-made spare parts for their U.S.-made weapons” (the ones they’d acquired when the Shah was still in power and Iran was a U.S. ally). Indeed, the infamous Iran-contra scandal during the Reagan administration started out as an attempt to get Iran to free U.S. hostages in exchange for high-tech missiles the U.S. would have sent Iran through Israeli channels.
“In the last six weeks or so we’ve seen increased rhetoric from the U.S. calling for military attacks on Iran,” Erlich said. “Not an invasion” — even the most ardent neoconservatives are sufficiently in touch with reality that they understand a major ground war with Iran is not possible with so much of the U.S. military already committed to Iraq — “but air strikes against [alleged] nuclear facilities and Revolutionary Guard headquarters, which will kill a lot of civilians. Then the Bush administration will go on TV and declare a great victory, and get a bump in the polls. Some hawks believe they will inspire Iranians to rise up and overthrow the government” — which won’t happen, Erlich argued, any more than it did in Cuba in 1961 when the U.S.-sponsored Bay of Pigs invasion instead inspired the Cuban people to come together in defense of the Castro government — “while others say it will at least weaken the Iranian government.”
Other things will happen, too, if the U.S. attacks Iran, Erlich warned. “Gas prices will shoot up,” he said — thereby tanking the already strained U.S. economy overnight. “Israel and Hezbollah may go to war again, and all Iraqis will start shooting at American soldiers. There could also be terrorist attacks against Europe or the U.S.” Noting that by this time he was probably leaving his audience incredibly depressed, Erlich changed his tone abruptly towards the end of his talk, calling himself a “sober optimist” and actually suggesting that cooler heads in the U.S. government may prevail and short-circuit the war against Iran. He pointed to the recent demonstrations against the war on Iraq, which drew a total of half a million Americans into the streets of several major cities, and the skepticism of the supposedly “pro-American” governments in Britain, Germany and even France, whose newly elected president, Nicolas Sarkozy (a favorite of U.S. Republicans because he succeeded an unpopular incumbent from his own Right-wing party), ran on a pro-U.S. foreign policy platform but “is not going to urge the U.S. to bomb iran,” Erlich said.
“Russia and China are not going for more U.N. Security Council resolutions” targeting Iran, Erlich said, adding that IAEA is still inspecting “and the U.S. government has people in it who are aware of all this. They’ve cut the number of U.S. aircraft carrier groups off the coast of Iran from two to one. Congress, which has allocated $750 million to ‘promote democracy in Iran,’ recently moved this funding from the neoconservatives to the State Department. Third, the U.S. just released nine Iranian diplomats they’d been detaining in northern Iraq. These things are small concessions,” he said, adding that we’ll know whether the administration is backing off or continuing its threats against Iran by how Bush, Cheney and secretary of state Condoleeza Rice speak on the issue — and how the generally compliant U.S. media report on them.