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Meeting With US Congressman Mark Udall’s Staff on Iran: Not Much In Common…

July 31, 2008

It was enough to make the Quakers in the delegation see red. Quakers with whom I am familiar don’t get easily riled, but when they do, they have a history of being a tenacious and stubborn lot. And, leaving Mark Udall’s office yesterday, they, along with the rest of us, were visibly upset with the results. Three of them from Boulder were a part of a delegation of six from Denver and Boulder, organized by the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center that met yesterday with US Congressman Mark Udalls staff in Westminster. The delegation included representatives of the Boulder Friends Meeting, the Moslem Community and yours truly. The main purpose of the meeting was to try to convince Udall to withdraw his sponsorship from a bill, HR 362, currently being considered in Congress. HR 362 would effectively lead to a US led naval blockade of Iran, and as such, is according to international law, an act of war. Udall is the Democratic Party nominee for the US Senate in Colorado.

Sparing with Udall’s Staff

The meeting lasted more than an hour and was, I suppose it fair to say, an honest and open – if unsatisfactory – exchange. Udall’s staff tried to argue that `Mark Udall has been on your [the peace movement’s] side, that he had initially voted against going to war with Iraq (which is the case), and that if he is co-sponsoring a bill that would essentially be an act of war against Iran, that he also co-sponsored another bill HR 3119 a year ago which required the president to get congressional approval before launching military action against another country. Finally the argument was put forth that the US military is overstretched, cannot get involved in another major military conflict, suggesting we shouldn’t really worry about all this, that it has more symbol than substance.

We countered that while yes, Udall had, perhaps will an eye on the US Senate seat, voted initially against the Iraq war that he had voted for every military appropriations bill funding the Iraq war since. And, as Rich Andrews, representing the Friends Committe on Legislation accurately pointed out, while HR 3119 did require congressional approval before Bush could launch a war that the bill included four disturbing exceptions which essentially gave Bush the free hand he wants. It was my impression that Andrews seemed to know more about HR 3119 than did Udall’s staff. And that there is plenty still to worry about concerning a possible major air strike against Iran – and its consequences

In a like manner, Imam Ibrahim Kazerooni, also a part of the delegation, knew considerably more about nuclear energy, nuclear weapons and the nature of the Iranian nuclear program (there is no evidence that Iran is producing nuclear weapons despite widespread charges to this effect) than Udall’s staff. Although HR 362 is a bill of a non-binding nature, it helps create an atmosphere to justify military aggression against Iran and thus is not as toothless as it appears. Finally although it is true that the US military is overstretched, the ideologues within the Bush Administration – neo-cons, AIPAC, etc – still follow a logic which could lead to a strike either by the US, Israel or some combination there of. The prospect of a major attack against Iran – and a strong Iranian response – remains alive and dangerous.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line was quite simple: Mark Udall will not withdraw his name from the sponsorship of HR 362. Three reasons that he refuses to budge from this position were given by his staff. They were:

1. There is `tremendous concern’ about Iran acquiring nuclear weapons.

2. Specific mention was made of Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s misquoted remark about Iran intending to `wipe Israel off the map’.

3. Iran’s supposed support for terrorism – ie, supporting the Iraqi insurgents, the Iran-Hezbollah link, and Iran’s support for the Palestinian group `Hamas’.

All of these reasons are bogus and have been easily and repeatedly countered by the facts. Briefly, Iran is developing nuclear energy, which it has a right to do according to international law. Ahmadinejad’s remark was not that Iran would wipe out Israel but that if Israel continued its unjust policies towards the Palestinians that the Jewish state would collapse (which is far different than saying Iran would wipe it out). Besides, Ahmadinejad does not have the power to make such decisions which lay in the hands of the grand Ayatollah. Finally, that Iran has played a major role in supplying Iraqi insurgents has not been proven although the allegation has been repeated without proof for several years now.

A National Scripted Response to Criticism?

All these points – and many more – were made by the delegation to no avail. Udall has no intention of budging. What is interesting about Udall’s response is that essentially the exact same points are being raised all over the country to delegations like this one visiting their Congressmen and women to try to stop HR 362. It is as if the answers have been scripted, the likely architect for the legislation and its defense being AIPAC. There is no question that AIPAC has been very active in supporting this bill which more than likely they probably wrote. When asked about AIPAC pressure, one Udalls staff member did comment `yes, that is true’ (without elaborating).

And nationally now, while HR 362 is still very much alive, it has run into some problems.

+ 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 military action against Iran.

+ Two senior US Jewish Congressmen – Frank Wexler of Florida and Barney Frank of Massachusetts – withdrew support.

+ a major campaign in opposition to HR 362 has been launched by a coalition of national peace groups, that include Peace Action, United For Peace and Justice, the National Iranian-American Council, the Friends Committee on National Legislation, Code Pink and Just Foreign Policy.

B’rit Tzedek Weighs In

Although not directly involved in this campaign, the Jewish group B’rit Tzedek v’ Shalom has issued a statement through its national board calling for negotiations and not war with Iran, arguing that a war between Israel and Iran is in neither country’s interest.While no match for the political clout of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee or AIPAC, B’rit Tzedek’s position at least suggests that some American Jews are not particularly enthusiastic about igniting what could be World War III. From where I am sitting, despite the statement’s framing the issue in such a way as to suggest Iran is a threat to Israel, the US or anyone else, this is still a welcome development.

B’rit Tzedek is not the only American Jewish voice urgin negotiations rather than war with Iran. In a June 24 column, Time columnist Joe Klein accused Jewish neoconservatives now pushing for a US military confrontation against Iran, of sacrificing “US lives and money…to make the world safe for Israel.” These same neo-cons (among them Richard Perle, Wolfowitz, Poderentz, etc.) also `played a particularly visible role in the drive to war in Iraq’. Klein’s piece triggered angry charges of anti-Semitism and personal attacks from critics at such neoconservative strongholds as the Weekly Standard, National Review, and Commentary.

Udall: `Waited His Turn’ To Run for US Senate

All this suggests that if Udall were to change his position he would not be especially isolated and would join a growing number of voices opposing any attempt to attack Iran militarily – by air, land or sea. There is esssentially no issue of principle involved here. It is hard to view his signing on to HR 362 as little else than pure political opportunism, the usual groveling to AIPAC (which has strength in Colorado’s Democratic Party) and a misled strategy that fashioning himself as a Cold War Liberal – although it is almost two decades sinces the collapse of Communism – will get him votes.

There are some indications that Mark Udall had wanted to run for the Senate earlier but was convinced by state Democratic Party power brokers to `wait his turn’ so to speak. This he did and watched Denver lawyer, Tom Strickland, then employed by the law firm of Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber, and Schreck, twice go down in defeat. Following the same brilliant strategy that led Al Gore and John Kerry to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory – to take the left for granted and straddle the middle – Strickland twice lost to far more rightwing and intellectually inferior competitors.

Having thus waited his turn, Udall emerged virtually unopposed (except for a weak challenge by Democratic Party peace activist Mark Benner) as the Democratic Party candidate of choice for the US Senate seat. Running against Udall is Bob Shaeffer, another US Congressman from Colorado’s Eastern sparsely populated and generally conservative eastern plains. Schaffer can easily and accurately be characterized as an arch-conservative with strong backing of oil and gas drilling, military and Christian conservative interests in the state. Also running is Bob Kinsey, the Green Party’s choice for the office. An ordained United Church of Christ minister long active in peace and environmental movements, Kinsey – who is easily Udall’s and Schaffer’s intellectual match – gets little press despite his great knowledge and humane stand on the issues.

For a while Udall held a comfortable lead over Schaffer but recently the latter has managed to gain in the polls so that at present the two are basically in a dead heat. Udall has basically staked out improving and saving the environment as his main issue. To the delight of Colorado oil and gas drillers Schaffer has shaped his campaign, at a time of rising gas prices, around `energy independence’. This translates nicely into letting the oil and gas industry drill to its heart content, but at the same time it does seem to have struck a ch

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