Who says there's no anti-war movement in the United States? In the past two months, the anti-war movement has taken on one of the most powerful lobbying groups in the United States in an important fight. And so far, the anti-war movement is winning.
Here's the story: On May 22, a bill was introduced into Congress that effectively called for a blockade of Iran, H. Con. Res. 362. Among other expressions of hostility, the bill calls for:
"prohibiting the export to Iran of all refined petroleum products; imposing stringent inspection requirements on all persons, vehicles, ships, planes, trains, and cargo entering or departing Iran..."
This sounded an awful lot like it was calling for a blockade, which is an act of war. A dangerous proposition, especially given all the efforts that the Bush-Cheney administration has taken to move us closer to a military confrontation with Iran, the bluster and the threats, and the refusal to engage in direct talks with the Iranian government. The last thing we need is for the war party to get encouragement from Congress to initiate more illegal and extremely dangerous hostilities in the Persian Gulf. If the bill were to pass, the Bush Administration could take it as a green light for a blockade. It's hard to imagine the Iranians passively watching their economy strangled for lack of gasoline (which they import), without at least firing a few missiles at the blockaders. Whereupon all hell could break loose.
By June 20 this bill was zipping through Congress, with 169 co-sponsors, soon to accumulate more than 200 Representatives. Amazingly, it was projected to appear quickly on the House Suspension Calendar. This is a special procedure that allows the House of Representatives to pass non-controversial legislation by a super-majority. It allows the bill to avoid amendments and other procedural votes, as well as normal debate. An aide to the Democratic leadership said the resolution would pass Congress like a "hot knife through butter."
Groups opposed to military confrontation with Iran sprang into action, including Peace Action, United for Peace and Justice, the National Iranian-American Council, the Friends Committee on National Legislation, Code Pink, and Just Foreign Policy. They generated tens of thousands of emails, letters, phone calls, and other contacts with members of Congress and their staff. The first co-sponsor to change his position on the bill was Representative Barney Frank (D-MA), an influential member of Congress who chairs the powerful House Financial Services Committee. He apologized for "not having read [the bill] more carefully," and pledged that he would not support the bill with the blockade language.
Then Robert Wexler, (D-FL), peeled off, also stating that he would not continue to support the bill if the blockade language were not changed.
Most of the major media ignored the controversy, but two newspapers noticed it. The first was Seattle's Post-Intelligencer, whose editorial board denounced the resolution on June 24 and asked, "are supporters of Res. 362 asleep at the wheel, or are they just anxious to drag us into another illegal war?"
Then on June 27 the editorial board of Newsday published an editorial calling for a full debate on the bill. Newsday has a large circulation, and perhaps more importantly, it publishes in the New York district of Congressman Gary Ackerman - the lead author of the H. Con. Res. 362.
Then, earlier this month, Congressman Mike Thompson (D-CA) wrote:
"[Howard] Berman [Chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs] has indicated that he has no intention of moving the bill through his committee unless the language is first altered to ensure that there is no possible way it could be construed as authorizing any type of military action against Iran...I will withdraw my support for the bill if this change is not made."
The result, so far: no Congressional endorsement of a blockade against Iran. A dangerous piece of legislation, primed to pass through the House without debate, stopped in its tracks by an anti-war movement. And some Members of Congress are going to be a bit more careful about doing things that could move the country down the road to another war.
The anti-war movement's victory was all the more impressive given that the main lobby group promoting H. Con. Res. 362 was AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Although AIPAC does not represent the opinion of the majority of American Jews, it is one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington. To get a flavor of how much influence it has, AIPAC's annual policy meeting in Washington in June was attended by half of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, according to the Washington Post. It's tough to think of another Washington lobby group that could pull off something like that -- certainly no other organization concerned with foreign policy comes to mind.
Of course, this is just one skirmish in the long battle to end this current, senseless war in Iraq -- a war that has needlessly claimed the lives of more than 4000 Americans and, according to the best scientific estimates, more than a million Iraqis; and to prevent our leaders from launching another criminally insane war. But it shows that, even in the rather limited form of democracy as exists in 21st century America, there is an organized anti-war movement and it has real power. It doesn't look like the anti-war movement of the last century, with street demonstrations, nationally known leaders, and regular expressions of public outrage. (It's not clear that the major media would give much more attention to the movement or its views -- that is, the views of the majority of the country -- even if it did pull huge crowds into the streets.) But it is there, it is organized, it is intelligent and strategic. It will continue to grow, no matter what happens in November.
This column was published by Alternet on July 22, 2008