The End of Dissent?

by , June 23, 2007

Congress recently passed a resolution calling on the UN to bring charges of “genocide” against Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Now, I hold no brief for the Iranian ranter – whose jeremiads against the West are in the category of Borat-like humor – but this seems like yet another example of political pandering and congressional grandstanding that bears little, if any, relationship to reality.

To begin with, the resolution is motivated by a mistranslation of a speech given by Senor Ahmadinejad, in which he cited the Ayatollah Khomeini and seemed to call for Israel to be “wiped off the map.” Yet, as this piece by Jonathan Steele, and this comment by Farsi-speaker and Middle East expert Prof. Juan Cole make very clear, that is not what the Iranian President said, or intended to say. Ahmadinejad didn’t say Israel must be “wiped off the map,” he said the current regime in Tel Aviv will be “wiped off the page of time.” It was a call for “regime change” not genocide – but, never mind.

Like most war propaganda, which is almost never related to reality except in the most tenuous sense, the point is not to tell the truth but to characterize the Enemy in a particular way. With Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Washington to ramp up the Lobby’s ferocious campaign to get the US to attack Iran – or at least credibly threaten to – the pro-Israel forces on Capitol Hill were out in full force, herding their congressional supporters into a massive display of obedience with a whopping 411-2 vote in the House.

The complete hypocrisy of our “antiwar” Democratic congresscritters, who warble that we need to “end the war” in Iraq, even as they whoop it up for war with Iran, is so brazen that it doesn’t require much comment. I’ll leave it to Mohammed ElBaradei, the IAEA chief, who bluntly told the BBC:

“I wake up every morning and see 100 Iraqi innocent civilians are dying. I have no brief other than to make sure we don’t go into another war or that we go crazy into killing each other. You do not want to give [an] additional argument to the new crazies who say ‘let’s go and bomb Iran.’ Asked who the ‘new crazies’ were, the IAEA chief refused to be drawn, simply saying: ‘Those who have extreme views and say the only solution is to impose your will by force.'”

On Capitol Hill, when it comes to Iran, the extremists are in charge, and they can rack up huge majorities. While the resolution only goes as far as calling for more sanctions on Iran, rebuking the EU for not signing on to the stricter sanctions regime, it implies the imminence of an armed conflict when it condemns Tehran for having

“Shown itself unwilling to use its influence to support peaceful transformation in the region, including by demonstrating its ability to strike United States military forces and allies in the Middle East with missiles… being either incapable or unwilling to stop the movement of weapons produced in Iran into Iraq and other countries in the region in support of violent religious extremism.”

By involving us in a region of the world where national boundaries – drawn by long-departed colonial overlords – are irrelevant and largely ignored in any case, the War Party has ineluctably drawn us into a regional conflict which the US Congress is even now fully ratifying, – or, at least, is preparing to stand by while the President launches an attack. Remember how House Speaker Nancy Pelosi infamously stripped out a provision of the Iraq war funding bill that would have required Bush to come to Congress before attacking Iran? Now we have this new resolution – passed at precisely the moment when it looks like the Iranians might agree to a proposal being floated by ElBaradei and the IAEA. Coincidence? I hardly think so.

The War Party’s main problem with the Iranians has been the prospect that peace might break out at any moment. It is well-known that the Iranians have communicated their desire to negotiate this issue on several occasions, the most notable being when, in May, 2003, they put everything on the table. In a proposal [.pdf] transmitted to the US State Department via the Swiss, Tehran offered to discuss its nuclear program and also dangled the possibility of turning Hezbollah into a purely socio-political body, while also cutting off aid to militant Palestinian groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad. What the Iranians wanted in return was the lifting of sanctions, security guarantees, and the complete normalization of relations.

The proposal was scotched by the Cheney cabal, according to Colin Powell’s former chief aide Flynt Leverett, and – get this! – the Swiss ambassador was rebuked for having the temerity to transmit it.

To add to the War Party’s problems, a strong Iranian reform movement has arisen, with demonstrated electoral clout, which undercuts their caricature of Ahmadinejad as an Iranian Hitler who heads up a totalitarian society determined to acquire nukes. As President, Ahmadinejad wields almost no influence over foreign and military policy, and no totalitarian dictator is ever mocked as Ahmadinejad was by university students, who set off firecrackers during a recent speech. Which brings us to another point: the popularity of Western culture with Iranian young people is almost as strong as their nationalistic sentiments – which make these same pro-Western youngsters strongly supportive of Iran’s right to develop nuclear power.

Such subtleties are lost on this Congress, however. The vote on this resolution – which is, let’s face it, pure war propaganda – dramatizes the grim reality we now face. The only dissidents – Ron Paul, R-Texas, and Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio – represent, respectively, the far “right” and far “left” wings of their parties. Both opposed the Iraq war from the very beginning, have warned against the danger of escalating it into a regional conflict involving Iran – and are declared presidential candidates, currently polling in the single digits.

And so the great neoconservative foreign policy consensus, which has been periodically proclaimed through the years by various neocon triumphalists, has once again settled, like a poisonous fog, over the political landscape. Back in the 1950s, you’ll remember, it was “The end of ideology,” and in the 1990s, just after the final death throes of the old Soviet Union, it was “the end of history.” Today, we have The End of Dissent.

Dissent – against what? Against the bipartisan consensus in favor of Empire, against the neoconservative foreign policy program of perpetual war, against the rise of Napoleonic versions of both “liberalism” and conservatism. On the left, the “out now” anti-interventionism of Kucinich has been marginalized by the three Democratic “majors” – Hillary, Obama, and Edwards – who, all three of them, are just as hawkish as any neocon when it comes to Iran. On the right, the thoroughly neoconized, Rush Limbaugh-Sean Hannity- National Review axis of pro-war dead-enders are determined to take the GOP down with them, although it remains to be seen how many party leaders and activists will take to this lemming-like behavior.

Ever since World War II, the neocons – yes, they’ve been around since the Truman era – have been proclaiming the “end of This” and the “end of That,” and what it means and has always meant is the termination of all debate on the key question of republic versus empire. For them, discussion begins once all agree that we are indeed an empire, and certainly intend to remain one. Anyone who stands outside this proclaimed “consensus” is, by definition, a kook, an “extremist,” and not a “credible” candidate for anything other than swift marginalization.

The great problem for the War Party, when it comes to the home front, is that the “center” they claim to represent doesn’t support them or their war plans. The overwhelming majority of the American people want out of Iraq, and they aren’t jumping on the “let’s bomb Iran” bandwagon that Norman Podhoretz wants to be leading. The two “extremists,” Paul and Kucinich, are actually much closer to popular sentiment on this question than the upholders of the supposedly “mainstream” view.

This irony underscores how the game is rigged, not only electorally but also intellectually, in favor of the War Party. By maintaining a firm grip on the levers of power – the media as well as the two “major” political parties – the pro-war elites impose their will on the pro-peace majority. Yet the experience of the past four years, and the catastrophic potential of a war with Iran, have awakened a considerable portion of the population, including both “right” and “left” war critics, who have begun to raise their voices in protest. On the right, we have analysts such as Andrew Bacevich, as learned as he is eloquent, whose critique of the neocons’ foreign policy hubris is rooted in clear-headed realism and emotion passionately felt. On the progressive left, such commentators as Jim Lobe, Matthew Yglesias, and Alexander Cockburn, to mention only a few, have provided trenchant analyses of our current entanglements that complement the Old Right American-interests-narrowly-defined perspective of, say, the editors of The American Conservative.

The neocons – of the Weekly Standard “right” and New Republic “left” varieties – are desperately seeking to shore up a crumbling intellectual consensus that was formerly in favor of all-out interventionism, and now isn’t so sure. The intellectuals, as usual, are behind the general public when it comes to an idea whose time has come, and should come. The politicians, however, are even further behind, as the recent bout of congressional saber-rattling in Iran’s direction shows.

Read more by Justin Raimondo