There exists, I suppose, some slight chance of this one making it into the State of the Union address, no doubt in a distorted, bellicose, and xenophobic disguise. Typically, there’s no chance of any announcement at all.
We’re stopping another war.
There are a million qualifications that need to be put on that statement. None of them render it false. A bill looked likely to move through Congress that would have imposed new sanctions on Iran, shredded the negotiated agreement with Iran, and committed the United States to join in any Israeli war on Iran. This would be a step toward war and has become understood as such by large numbers of people. Efforts to sell sanctions as an alternative to war failed. Tons of pushback has come, and is still coming, from the public, including from numerous organizations not always known for their opposition to war. And the bill, for the moment, seems much less likely to pass.
This is no time to let up, but to recognize our power and press harder for peace.
Pushback against the sanctions bill has come from the White House, from within the military, and from elsewhere within the government. But this bill was something the warmongers wanted, AIPAC wanted, a majority of U.S. senators wanted, and corporate media outlets were happy to support. The underlying pretense that Iran has a nuclear weapons program that endangers the world had the support of the White House and most other opponents of the March-to-War bill. That pretense has been successfully sold to much of the public. The additional supporting pretense that sanctions have helped, rather than hindered, diplomacy has similar widespread backing. But when it comes to a measure understood as a step into war, the public is saying no, and that public response is a factor in the likely outcome.
In this instance, President Obama has been on the right side of the debate. I’ve never known that to actually be true before. But there’s been a whole infrastructure of activism set up and fine-tuned for five years now, all based around the pretense that Obama was right on various points and Congress wrong. So, when that actually happened to be true, numerous organizations knew exactly what to do with it. War opposition and Obama-following merged. But let’s remember back to August and September. That was a different situation in which . . .
We stopped another war.
Raytheon’s stock was soaring. The corporate media wanted those missiles to hit Syria. Obama and the leadership of both parties wanted those missiles to hit Syria. The missiles didn’t fly.
Public pressure led the British Parliament to refuse a prime minister’s demand for war for the first time since the surrender at Yorktown, and the U.S. Congress followed suit by making clear to the U.S. president that his proposed authorization for war on Syria would not pass through either the Senate or the House. Numerous Congress members, from both houses and both parties, said they heard more from the public against this war than ever before on any issue. It helped that Congress was on break and holding town hall meetings. It helped that it was Jewish holidays and AIPAC wasn’t around.
And there were other factors. After the public pushed Congress to demand a say, Obama agreed to that. Perhaps he wanted something so controversial — something being talked about as “the next Iraq” — to go to Congress. Perhaps he expected Congress would probably say No. In such a scenario, the decisive factor would remain the past decade of growing public sentiment against wars. But I don’t think that’s what happened. Obama and Kerry were pushing hard and publicly for those missiles to fly. When they couldn’t get the “intelligence” agencies to back their fraudulent case, they announced it anyway. Those lies are just being exposed now, in a very different context from that in which the Iraq war lies or the Afghanistan or Libya war lies have been exposed. Obama told us to watch videos of children suffering and dying in Syria and to choose between war and inaction. We rejected that choice, opposed war, and supported humanitarian aid (which hasn’t happened on remotely the necessary scale).
In the space of a day, discussions in Washington, D.C., shifted from the supposed necessity of war to the clear desirability of avoiding war. The Russians’ proposal to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons had already been known to the White House but was being rejected. When Kerry publicly suggested that Syria could avoid a war by handing over its chemical weapons, everyone knew he didn’t mean it. In fact, when Russia called his bluff and Syria immediately agreed, Kerry’s staff put out this statement: “Secretary Kerry was making a rhetorical argument about the impossibility and unlikelihood of Assad turning over chemical weapons he has denied he used. His point was that this brutal dictator with a history of playing fast and loose with the facts cannot be trusted to turn over chemical weapons, otherwise he would have done so long ago. That’s why the world faces this moment.” In other words: stop getting in the way of our war! By the next day, however, with Congress rejecting war, Kerry was claiming to have meant his remark quite seriously and to believe the process had a good chance of succeeding, as of course it did. Diplomatic solutions are always available. What compelled Obama to accept diplomacy as the last resort was the public’s and Congress’s refusal to allow war.
These victories are limited and tentative. The machinery that pushes for war hasn’t gone away. The arms are still flowing into Syria. Efforts to negotiate peace there seem less than wholehearted. The U.S. puppeteer has stuck its arm up the rear end of the United Nations and uninvited Iran from the talks. The people of Syria and Iran are no better off.
But they’re also no worse off. No U.S. bombs are falling from their skies.
There could be other proposals for wars that we’ll find much harder to prevent. That’s precisely why we must recognize the possibility of stopping those proposals too, a possibility established by the examples above, from which we should stop fleeing in panic as if the possibility that everything we do might have some point to it horrifies us.
Any war can be stopped. Any pretended necessity to hurry up and kill large numbers of people can be transformed into a negotiation at a table using words rather than missiles. And if we come to understand that, we’ll be able to start dismantling the weaponry, which in turn will make the tendency to think of war as the first option less likely. By steps we can move to a world in which our government doesn’t propose bombing someone new every few months but instead proposes helping someone new.
If we can stop one war, if we can stop two wars, why can’t we stop them all and put our resources into protection rather than destruction? Why can’t we move to a world beyond war?
Photo from Clyde Robinson licensed under Creative Commons