Jeremy Brecher and Brendan Smith / The Nation – 2007-10-10 22:55:34
NEW YORK (October 10, 2007) — Sometimes history — and necessity — make strange bedfellows. The German general staff transported Lenin to Russia to lead a revolution. Union-buster Ronald Reagan played godfather to the birth of the Polish Solidarity union. Equally strange — but perhaps equally necessary — is the addressee of a new appeal signed by Daniel Ellsberg, Cindy Sheehan, Ann Wright and many other leaders of the American peace movement:
“ATTENTION: Joint Chiefs of Staff and all US Military Personnel: Do not attack Iran.”
The initiative responds to the growing calls for an attack on Iran from the likes of Norman Podhoretz and John Bolton, and the reports of growing war momentum in Washington by reporters like Seymour Hersh of The New Yorker and Joe Klein of Time.
International lawyer Scott Horton says European diplomats at the recent United Nations General Assembly gathering in New York “believe that the United States will launch an air war on Iran, and that it will occur within the next six to eight months.” He puts the likelihood of conflict at 70 percent.
The initiative also responds to the recent failure of Congress to pass legislation requiring its approval before an attack on Iran and the hawk-driven resolution encouraging the President to act against the Iranian military. Marcy Winograd, president of Progressive Democrats of Los Angeles, who originally suggested the petition, told The Nation:
If we thought that our lawmakers would restrain the Bush Administration from further endangering Americans and the rest of the world, we would concentrate solely on them. If we went to Las Vegas today, would we find anyone willing to bet on this Congress restraining Bush? I don’t think so.
Because our soldiers know the horrors of war-severed limbs, blindness, brain injury-they are loath to romanticize the battlefield or glorify expansion of the Iraq genocide that has left a million Iraqis dead and millions others exiled.
What could be stranger than a group of peace activists petitioning the military to stop a war? And yet there is more logic here than meets the eye.
Asked in an online discussion September 27 whether the Bush Administration will launch a war against Iran, Washington Post intelligence reporter Dana Priest replied, “Frankly, I think the military would revolt and there would be no pilots to fly those missions.”
She acknowledged that she had indulged in a bit of hyperbole, then added, “but not much.”
There have been many other hints of military disaffection from plans to attack Iran-indeed, military resistance may help explain why, despite years of rumors about Bush Administration intentions, such an attack has not yet occurred. A Pentagon consultant told Hersh more than a year ago, “There is a war about the war going on inside the building.” Hersh also reported that Gen. Peter Pace had forced Bush and Cheney to remove the “nuclear option” from the plans for possible conflict with Iran-in the Pentagon it was known as the April Revolution.
In December, according to Time correspondent Joe Klein, President Bush met with the Joint Chiefs of Staff in a secure room known as The Tank. The President was told that “the US could launch a devastating air attack on Iran’s government and military, wiping out the Iranian air force, the command and control structure and some of the more obvious nuclear facilities.” But the Joint Chiefs were “unanimously opposed to taking that course of action,” both because it might not eliminate Iran’s nuclear capacity and because Iran could respond devastatingly in Iraq-and in the United States.
In an article published by Inter Press Service, historian and national security policy analyst Gareth Porter reported that Adm. William Fallon, Bush’s then-nominee to head the Central Command (Centcom), sent the Defense Department a strongly worded message earlier this year opposing the plan to send a third carrier strike group into the Persian Gulf. In another Inter Press analysis, Porter quotes someone who met with Fallon saying an attack on Iran “will not happen on my watch.” He added, “You know what choices I have. I’m a professional.. There are several of us trying to put the crazies back in the box.”
Military officers in the field have frequently refuted Bush Administration claims about Iranian arms in Iraq and Afghanistan. Porter says that when a State Department official this June publicly accused Iran of giving arms to the Taliban in Afghanistan, the US commander of NATO forces there twice denied the claim.
More recently, top brass have warned that the United States is not prepared for new wars. Gen. George Casey, the Army’s top commander, recently made a highly unusual personal request for a House Armed Services Committee hearing in which he warned that “we are consumed with meeting the demands of the current fight and are unable to provide ready forces as rapidly as necessary for other potential contingencies.” While this could surely be interpreted as a call for more troops and resources, it may simultaneously be a warning shot against adventures in Iran.
An October 8 report by Tim Shipman in the Telegraph says that Defense Secretary Robert Gates has “taken charge of the forces in the American government opposed to a US military attack on Iran.” He cites Pentagon sources saying that Gates is waging “a subtle campaign to undermine the Cheney camp” and that he is “encouraging the Army’s senior officers to speak frankly about the overstretch of forces, and the difficulty of fighting another war.” Shipman reports Gates has “forged an alliance with Mike McConnell, the national director of intelligence, and Michael Hayden, the head of the Central Intelligence Agency, to ensure that Mr. Cheney’s office is not the dominant conduit of information and planning on Iran to Mr. Bush.”
Every indication is that the “war about the war” is ongoing. Hersh recently reported that the attack-Iran faction has found a new approach that it hopes will be more acceptable to the public-and presumably to the Pentagon brass. Instead of broad bombing attacks designed to eliminate Iran’s nuclear capacity and promote regime change, it calls for “surgical strikes” on Revolutionary Guard facilities; they would be justified as retaliation in the “proxy war” that General Petraeus alleges Iran is fighting “against the Iraqi state and coalition forces in Iraq.” According to Hersh, the revised bombing plan is “gathering support among generals and admirals in the Pentagon.” But Israeli officials are concerned that such a plan might leave Iran’s nuclear capacity intact.
Appeal to Principle
The appeal for military personnel to resist an attack is primarily based on principle. It asserts that any pre-emptive US attack on Iran would be illegal under international law and a crime under US law. Such an attack would violate Article II, Section 4, of the UN Charter forbidding the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.
Since Iran has not attacked the United States, an attack against it without authorization by the Security Council would be a violation of international law. Under the US Constitution and the UN Charter, this is the law of the land. Under the military’s own laws, armed forces have an obligation to refuse orders that violate US law and the Constitution. And under the principles established by the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal after World War II, “just obeying orders” is no defense for officials who participate in war crimes.
But the petition also addresses some of the practical concerns that have clearly motivated military officers to oppose an attack on Iran. It would open US soldiers in Iraq to decimation by Iranian forces or their Iraqi allies. It would sow the seeds of hatred for generations. Like the attack on Iraq, it would create more enemies, promote terrorism and make American families less safe.
The petitioners recognize the potential risks of such action to military personnel. “If you heed our call and disobey an illegal order you could be falsely charged with crimes including treason. You could be falsely court martialed. You could be imprisoned.”
But they also accept risks themselves, aware that “in violation of our First Amendment rights, we could be charged under remaining section of the unconstitutional Espionage Act or other unconstitutional statute, and that we could be fined, imprisoned, or barred from government employment.”
In ordinary times, peace activists would hardly be likely to turn to the military as allies. Indeed, they would rightfully be wary of military officers acting on their own, rather than those of their civilian superiors-in violation of the Constitution’s provisions for civilian oversight of the military. But these are hardly ordinary times. While the public is highly dubious of getting into another war in the Middle East, there now appear to be virtually no institutional barriers to doing so.
Is there a basis for cooperation between the military brass and citizens who believe an attack on Iran would be criminal and/or suicidal? Perhaps. The brass can go public with the truth and ask Congress to provide a platform for explaining the real consequences of an attack on Iran. They can call for a national debate that is not manipulated by the White House. (They can also inform other players of the consequences: tell Wall Street the effects on oil and stock prices and tell European military and political leaders what it is likely to mean in terms of terrorism.)
The peace movement has already forged an alliance with Iraq War veterans who oppose the war and with high military officials who oppose torture; a tacit alliance with the brass to halt an attack on Iran is a logical next step.
Such an approach puts the problem of civilian control of the military in a different light. The purpose of civilian control, after all, is not to subject the military to the dictatorial control of one man who may, at the least, express the foolishness and frailty that all flesh is heir to. The purpose is to subject the military to the control of democratic governance, which is to say of an informed public and its representatives.
What contribution can the peace movement make to this process? We can cover military officials’ backs when they speak out-no one is better placed than the peace movement to defend them against Bushite charges of defying civilian control.
We can help open a forum for military officers to speak out. Many retired officers have spoken out publicly on the folly of the war in Iraq. We can use our venues in universities and communities to invite them to speak out even more forcefully on the folly of an attack on Iran.
We can place ads pointing out military resistance to an attack on Iran and featuring warnings of its possible consequences from past and present military officials. And we can encourage lawmakers to reach out to military officials and offer to give them cover and a forum to speak out.
Says petition initiator Marcy Winograd, “I’d like to see peace activists and soldiers sit down, break bread, march together, testify together and forge a powerful union to end the next war before the bloodletting begins.”
The peace movement leaders who appealed to the military had to break through the conventional presumption that the brass were their enemies in all situations. Such an unlikely alliance could be a starting point for a nonviolent response to the Bush Administration’s pursuit of a permanent state of war.
Jeremy Brecher is a historian whose books include Strike!, Globalization from Below, and, co-edited with Brendan Smith and Jill Cutler, In the Name of Democracy: American War Crimes in Iraq and Beyond (Metropolitan/Holt). He has received five regional Emmy Awards for his documentary film work.
He is a co-founder of WarCrimesWatch.org. Brendan Smith is a legal analyst whose books include Globalization From Below and, with Brendan Smith and Jill Cutler, of In the Name of Democracy: American War Crimes in Iraq and Beyond (Metropolitan). He is current co-director of Global Labor Strategies and UCLA Law School’s Globalization and Labor Standards Project, and has worked previously for Congressman Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and a broad range of unions and grassroots groups.
Copyright © 2007 The Nation
• Kristina40 October 10th, 2007 12:34 pm
I mentioned this myself a few weeks ago. I think there are many in the military that are not for an attack on Iran. Admiral Fallon is the biggie, he has stated on more than one occassion his disapproval of such an attack.
• andersdl October 10th, 2007 12:51 pm
At this point nobody except the military has any ability to stop escalating the Iran “conflict”. A majority of Congress is going against the will of the electorate and there is no mass recall effort to replace the offending members of Congress, nor will there be an election prior to the “conflict” escalating.
• Thomas Albright October 10th, 2007 1:08 pm
The idea sounds strange, but it might influence the brass. As a retired military man I can tell you. The powers in charge of the military are very sensitive to public perception. At this point anything is worth a try. What have we to lose.
• purvis ames October 10th, 2007 1:22 pm
Admiral Fallon reportedly called Gen. Petraeus an “ass kissing chickenshit”. And you know whose ass that is. Bush is a replay of Caligula, a man he strongly resembles in his penchant for torture and murder. However, the depraved degenerate in the White House should take note that Caligula was assassinated by his own military.
• namvet67 October 10th, 2007 1:48 pm
The military needs to do more than just stop the attack on Iraq. It needs to take its place in society and lead the country to peace. It’s obvious that the government can’t. If this means overthrowing the current government then let it be. I’ll take the conscience and actions of an American military man over those of an American politician or businessman. When it comes to the real good of the country only the military can honestly say that they have the best interests of the country at heart. Politicians and businessmen are to busy sleeping with each other and planning on how to get richer. And they are using the Constitution and the military to get their way. Hoa binh
• Siouxrose October 10th, 2007 1:50 pm Purvis Ames:
thanks for the optimistic history lesson. Personally, I’d like to see him toasted with marsh mellows. For Laura Bush to speak out against a foreign personage when she SLEEPS with a MURDERER is beyond the pale. A family of vipers disguised in mortal flesh. a curse upon mankind them all!
• Paranoid Pessimist October 10th, 2007 2:11 pm
It won’t happen. If soldiers weren’t caught up in the mystique of war (which WWII is the ONLY war that ever kinda sorta lived up to the ideal) all wars would have stopped.
Buffy St. Marie says “wrote “Universal Soldier” in the basement of The Purple Onion coffee house in Toronto in the early sixties. It’s about individual responsibility for war and how the old feudal thinking kills us all. Donovan had a hit with it in 1965.
He’s five feet two and he’s six feet four He fights with missiles and with spears He’s all of 31 and he’s only 17 He’s been a soldier for a thousand years
He’s a Catholic, a Hindu, an atheist, a Jain, a Buddhist and a Baptist and a Jew and he knows he shouldn’t kill and he knows he always will kill you for me my friend and me for you
And he’s fighting for Canada, he’s fighting for France, he’s fighting for the USA, and he’s fighting for the Russians and he’s fighting for Japan, and he thinks we’ll put an end to war this way
And he’s fighting for Democracy and fighting for the Reds He says it’s for the peace of all He’s the one who must decide who’s to live and who’s to die and he never sees the writing on the walls
But without him how would Hitler have condemned him at Dachau Without him Caesar would have stood alone He’s the one who gives his body as a weapon to a war and without him all this killing can’t go on
He’s the universal soldier and he really is to blame His orders come from far away no more They come from him, and you, and me and brothers can’t you see this is not the way we put an end to war.
• Kaleko October 10th, 2007 2:14 pm Grotesque.
Billions of people worldwide now find themselves hoping and praying for a military coup by benign US forces loyal to the Constitution. The suspense is killing us slowly. Shock and awe has become our own experience.
• spartacus jones October 10th, 2007 2:14 pm
Every soldier takes an oath to protect & defend the constitution. All we really need is for them to keep their word.
The UCMJ provides for disobeying illegal orders and for relieving an officer of command. Dubya likes to fancy himself a military man, a “commander-in-chief.” OK, let’s have somebody step up and relieve him of command and arrest him. War crimes are prohbited by the UCMJ, if I recall correctly.
Liberty & Justice,
• DiegoACNP October 10th, 2007 2:16 pm
Fighting a war against Iran would be no problem! I can’t believe anybody is actually even worried about it!
Has everyone forgotten that back in Dec. 2004, then-Sec. of Defense Donald Rumsfeld announced to the world that the US military was perfectly capable of fighting a war on two fronts – against BOTH North Korea AND Iraq simultaneously. How much reassurance does a country need???
(North Korea incidentally, having one of the largest armed forces on the planet. If we can tackle them – we can tackle almost any country!)
Everyone can clearly see by now how swimmingly things have gone in Iraq and I’m sure all the present military leadership agrees with former Sec. Rumsfeld’s crack predictions.
It really wouldn’t even BE two fronts anyway, we could just extend the present one in Iraq!
In the words of of our fearless leader, “Bring ’em on!” LOL!
• nickhart October 10th, 2007 2:24 pm
US soliders ended the war in Vietnam-they can end the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan too. watch the film that the pentagon doesn’t want soldiers to see!
• qbaldsmoove October 10th, 2007 2:30 pm
While it is a rosy concept, I am quite skeptical. It looks to me as if most of those cited in the article are reporters talking about things they overheard, not actual military men. Besides, if the military won’t do their job as Bush sees it Blackwater et al will. After all, the great conservative movement is towards privatization of everything. Also, the inflated contracts that they will be awarded will surely break the US government, which is one sure way to guarantee privatization – everything that the government currently does will now be hired out, and of course those fees will be astronomical. Of course, in addition to those fees we will continue to pay taxes, necessary to pay for Bush’s war profiteering.
Also, do you think Bush really cares about international law? He doesn’t care about US law, what makes you think he gives two pinches about what a foreigner has to say? In fact, Kerry was the fool for suggesting he MIGHT bend to international pressure.
Finally, Washington doesn’t care about what the people think, only what the corporations think. And since Fox news has shown that more than half the population is of below average intelligence (weird, eh?) they can get a majority of the sheople on their side anyway. If not, remember what Stallin said: “It’s enough that the people know there was an election. It’s not the people that vote that matter, it’s the people that count the votes.”
This article just provides a false sense of security.
• ron dass October 10th, 2007 3:14 pm
America cought in the web of SATANIC rule needs now a hero, to bring us back to the country thired generation I was born too.
NO ATTACK ON IRAN. Who would JESUS bomb? IMPEACH & TRY BUSH-CHENEY FOR WAR CRIMES.
Support: http://Antiwar.com & http://Space4Peace.org (NO SPACE WAR) Investigate 9/11 World Trade Ctr. “attacks”: http://911blogger.com and http://911truth.org
“Blessed are the peacemakers.” (Matthew 5:9) “Love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12) “LOVE YOUR ENEMIES, pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44)