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The PERA-Iran Divestment Campaign …Some Afterthoughts: How It Was Done Politically

February 19, 2008

1.

A few months ago, Howard Boigon, husband of Denver City Council woman Carol Boigon and Elliott Husney made the rounds of the Colorado State Legislature seeing if they could get some sponsors for a resolution pressuring the state pension fund, PERA, to divest from companies doing business with Iran’s energy sector.

Both are Democrats who have supported the party’s more liberal wing for several decades and they are, as they say in the political sense, `players’. Boigon is a legal expert on the state’s oil and gas industry and an advisor to Governor Ritter. Husney is a venture capitalist and former chair of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Colorado. Both also have long been active leaders in Denver’s Jewish Community and both are currently endorsing Joyce Foster in her run for a state senate seat against current House Representative Alice Borodkin.

Although there were other forces involved (see blog entries from early January), the mainstream Jewish Community in Colorado, represented by the Allied Jewish Federation of Colorado and the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) spearheaded the effort, and have been preparing for it for some time.

Who’s Sleeping With Whom (Politically Speaking Of Course)

It’s kind of interesting to see who is sleeping with who (or is it `whom’?) – politically speaking of course. The key legislative players, State Senator Ken Gordon and State Representative Andrew Romanoff pushed the effort in the legislature. The JCRC produced some written material `Colorado: Divesting from Iran’s Energy Sector’ borrowing the Bush Adminstration propaganda line that `Iran Poses An Imminet Threat to the International Community’. There were a number of other prominent Jewish Denverites working their contacts on this behind the scenes.

The public political campaign was kicked off in September with an op ed in the Rocky Mountain News `It’s Imperative To Divest From Iran’ signed by four Colorado legislators, Dems Joan Fitz-Gerald (now running for Congress in the 2nd District) and Ken Gordon, Republicans Andy McElhany and Josh Penry. Two other players – who were ready to introduce legislation on the matter are Joe Rice and Steve Ward, both from Littleton, both, until a few weeks ago active duty military in Iraq.

It was thus a well sculpted bi-partisan effort that brought liberal Dems like Gordon, Fitz Gerald and Andrew Romanoff (who pushed the idea in his trips round the state) together with more conservative Republican military types like Ward and Penry. They even got Governor Ritter on board, it seems, during Ritter’s visit to Iraq where he met with both Rice and Ward as was reported on several occasions in the local press last December.

Initiated several years ago by Israeli right-wing politican Binjamin Netanyahu, who called on the US Jewish Community to support such an effort, the campaign has garnered support among Jewish communities throughout the nation. Here in Colorado, targeting the state’s pension fund, is a part of a misguided national effort to get state pension funds to divest from Iran that is being coordinated on a national level by AIPAC that has supported Bush policies in the Middle East – be they in Iraq, Israel-Palestine or towards Iran, rather closely.

Interestingly, the campaign is targeting only state-run pension funds, but not private ones, nor mutual funds nor stocks. Thus tailored, it appeals to neo-conservatives of all stripes (it includes some Dems) who are champing at the bit to find different ways to privatize, weaken what is a $2.7 trillion treasure trove that the financial sector would like to pry open for their usual predatory reasons.

2.

The logic used to justify this divestment campaign is more or less the same used by the Bush Administration in its push towards a military confrontation with Iran. It is rather thin, but that doesn’t seem to matter. And while most of the arguments put forth to justify the Bush Administration’s policy have little or not legitimacy, this didn’t seem to matter either. The September 16, 2007 op ed leaned heavily on the myth of the Iranian nuclear threat but then a few months later, that argument lost its potency when the National Intelligence Estimate – the combined thinking – I won’t call it `wisdom’ – of 16 US intelligence agencies asserted that Iran has not had a nuclear weapons program since 2003.

There are some voices, among them the former US weapons inspector for the UN, Scott Ritter, who argue that Iran has never had a nuclear weapons program to begin with. Again, no evidence other than the much repeated accusations, has been presented to disprove Ritter’s thesis.

With the nuclear weapons scare denied them, the emphasis of the divestment supporters shifted to the claim that Iran was supplying road side bombs – improvised explosive devices (IED’s) and their more sooped up versions, explosively formed penetrators (EFPs) to guerilla movements inside Iraq that were doing significant damage to US forces in Iraq. So as the nuclear threat lost traction, the IED-Iran-terrorism argument gained steam and seemed to carry the day in the Colorado state legislature which is anyway not known for having much of a handle on foreign (or for that matter state) policy.

It is interesting that the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran, rejected in the claim that Iran had a nuclear weapons program, was already completed way back in February 2007 but not released for another nine months. This gave the Bush Administration – who absolutely knew the main lines of its content – a chance to reshape its anti-Iranian public opinion campaign from Iran’s nuclear threat to the new inflated IED-Iran conspiracy. The shift and the IED-Iran connection began to be publicly marketed repeatedly by Administration and US miltary in the late Spring and early summer of last year. (Just about the time the Iran-divestment people began their public campaign here in Colorado). By the time the NIE report was released at the end of 2007, one hardly heard about the Iranian nuclear threat anymore.

There is no question that IED’s and EFPs are doing considerable damage to US forces in Iraq. Small, cheap (`cost about as much as a pizza’), easily made, these roadside bombs can be triggered by radio waves, cell phones, laser light sources and who knows how many other routes. With their armor-piercing capabilities, they are responsible for a fair number of US deaths in Iraq.

Interesting how resistant movements over the decades have found cheap ways to neutralize multi-billion dollar new US high tech weapons systems…from Vietnam to Iraq. The United States has already invested more than $6 billion to research ways to counter their effectiveness, but with virtually no success. Earlier in the war, IED’s were said to be responsible for about a third of US deaths, now it is up to 75%, this according to General Petraues’ report to Congress last summer.

Similar to all the claims of Iraqi `weapons of mass destruction,’ it doesn’t take long or much research to discover how thin is the IED-Iran connection. While the allegation has been repeated by the Bush Adminstration, reported dutifully in the media (including by Colorado military reps like Rice and Ward) and then emphasized for over a year, the evidence is virtually non-existent.

It is possible that some IED’s do come from Iran, but they are insignificant. Iraq was a country that had an advanced military most of whom lost their jobs immediately after the US invasion and occupation of Iraq was completed. Many, many of them knew not only how to make IEDs but how to handle far more advanced weaponry. The weapons’ caches – and the bomb making factories around the country number in the thousands. There is also the fact that despite the Bush Administration claims, actually Iran has no interest in seeing the situation in Iraq deteriorate any further and the consequences of a total collapse will affect them deeply as well.

Bye Bye Nukes, Hello IEDs

It is fascinating that while the United States (and Israel) continue to hammer home the `Iran-threat’ message that in the Arab World no one is buying it. Even US allies like Saudi Arabia and now Egypt are calling on the United States to cool its anti-Iranian rhetoric. Furthermore, Bush’s grand plan to establish an anti-Iranian coalition in the Middle East – the key goal of his recent trip to the region besides selling weapons – has essentially gone bust. Nothing symbolizes the degree to which the anti-Iranian hysteria here is out of touch with reality than the fact that the US installed Iraqi regime has just invited the Iranian President on an official visit to Baghdad.

As discussed below (see entries from early and mid January), the Iran-divestment campaign succeeded in away here in Colorado despite many logical arguments to counter the claims made in support of this misguided initiative. In the end, from what I can tell, AIPAC’s victory on this seems more pyrrhic than real. The goal of the campaign is to keep the vilification of Iran before the public eye, to mobilize public opinion in support of a military strike. This broader goal appears to have failed as well. Although AIPAC won its divestment plan (sort of) here in Colorado, the public has not responded to this fear tactics towards Iran in the same manner as was achieved before the war in Iraq when public opinion, at least at first, stood behind the president.

Of course the fact that public opinion has not been mobilized does not mean that the Bush Administration’s plans to attack Iran are off the table. It must be remembered the degree to which this administration’s Middle East policy is fueled primarily by ideological and not practical considerations. But let us hope that the situation will not come to that. It could be catastrophic and not just for Iran.

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