On August 26th, Rochester activists joined a national call to stand up for the Iran Nuclear Deal as an example of successful diplomacy. More than 50 people showed up at the Federal Building for a rally and some enthusiastic protesting. Members of Senator Gillibrand’s staff join us for a while, and conversed with members of the crowd. After listening to the organizers speak, people chanted “Schumer Schumer change your stance. Vote with the people while you still have a chance” , “Hey Hey Ho Ho, Warmongers have to go” and “All we are saying is give peace a chance.” Then we lined the roadside holding signs calling for Diplomacy not War with Iran. I was elated because several people asked when we would be coming out again. What follows is my speech:
Friends, this is the issue of the hour and of the day and of the year. The United States has been using direct or indirect military force and sanctions to strong-arm the nations of the world into supporting our interests for some time. Diplomacy as a way to manage adversarial relationships in the international sphere seemed to have completely died in the 21st century. The United States, whose citizens wrote much of the International Law that constrains the global community from aggressive wars, has been bullying and battling and leveraging harsh financial sanctions on any nation that has an independent economic or regional policy for more than a decade since the trauma of the attack on 9/11.
Iran, however, has not attacked another nation in several hundred years. Iran, on its own, without pressure from the west, formed a parliament and established a constitutional monarchy around 100 years ago. Today, the monarch is gone and Iranian Presidents, like our own, serve a maximum of two ‘four year’ terms. When the US allied Shah reigned in Iran, literacy for women was around 15%. Now more than 85% of women in Iran are literate, and like in the United States, there are more women in college than men, and they get better grades than the men too. But the men make more money after graduation. Just like us! Iran now has electricity, community wells, sewers and waste collection in every town and village. Why shouldn’t they have a modern, self-sufficient energy program?
This year, President Obama’s State Department negotiated with Iran, along with our European allies UK, Germany, Russia, China and Australia, to put an end to the economic sanctions that have burdened Iran and at the same time, gain concessions from Iran that will allow us to be secure in the knowledge that their nuclear enrichment program is not feeding a nuclear weapons program. This is a major breakthrough for the United States and Iran. We were once allies. Now, we’ve been through at time of deep mutual distrust, but I can tell you that the Iranian people very much appreciate American culture and will be very happy to open relations. I can tell you because I have been there.
Our government has signed the Iran Nuclear Agreement, but our commitments cannot be honored without Congressional approval. Unfortunately, there are those in congress, like Senator Schumer for instance, who will never be satisfied with the fruits of diplomacy. It isn’t enough for them to curtail Iran’s nuclear program. They want to see Iran completely under the control of the United States. They say that a nuclear Iran is a threat to the world but that is irresponsible fear mongering. Iran is not only a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, but Iran doesn’t have nuclear weapons like Pakistan, India and Israel who have never signed on to the NPT and the United States which has violated it with impunity. Iran it spends far less on military weapons than neighboring Saudi Arabia, The United Arab Emirates, Turkey or Israel by a factor of 80:1. In fact, Iran asserts its power through diplomacy. We should do the same.
Louise Slaughter, our local Congressional representative, has been a strong proponent of the negotiations for a deal to limit Iran’s nuclear enrichment in return for the lifting of harsh sanctions on Iran’s economy. She has been a proponent of Peace and Diplomacy now and throughout her long tenure as our representative, and we much appreciate her support for the peaceful resolution of international conflicts. Senator Kirstin Gillibrand has also taken a courageous early stance in support of peace and diplomacy as expressed through the Iran Nuclear Deal.
Senator Schumer, however, who has an informal leadership position among Democrats, and who aspires to be THE Democratic Leader in the Senate, supports a bill to undermine this diplomatic triumph. He claims it isn’t strict enough and the US doesn’t have enough control. He wants to see Iranian regional diplomacy end. Something, he tells us, could go wrong as long as Iran is sovereign and free. No doubt, something could go wrong. What step forward have we ever taken in life that is ENTIRELY without risk. Of course change involves an element of risk. But the old way was already collapsing when President Obama committed to these negotiations. Today, the United Nations Sanctions have already been dropped, and our friends in the EU are talking business with their Iranian counterparts. This is a done deal.
Even so, Senator Schumer is prepared to undermine the actions of a President from his own party. He is using his influence, which is substantial, to block the United States from fulfilling its international obligations. And, he is talking about war. What is the cause for this war he is talking about? Iran isn’t going to start a war with the United States. Iran doesn’t have the capability to fight a war against the United States, and they have made no effort to develop such a capability. Experts agree that Iran has a defensive military establishment. What possible cause could we have to openly go to war against Iran?
Is it not enough that the United States and our allies are embroiled in a series of devastating wars across the Middle East? Devastating, at least, to the people of Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Yemen, the countries where they have been and continue to be fought. Perhaps a diplomatic success with Iran can open the door to other diplomatic successes. Maybe peace with Iran can open the door to more peace with more perceived enemies. I would like to hope that is the case because we are dealing with many more international conflicts that need to be cooled if we want to avoid war in our future.
What is the key here? All or nothing negotiations fail. “My way or the highway” doesn’t cut it in international diplomacy. Back door wars that use mercenary armies, proxies, drones and special ops to undermine political adversaries and manage developing nations, however imperfectly governed, leave behind a wasteland of carnage, destruction and broken trust. It’s time for a new strategy and new tactics. Why not respectful multilateral diplomacy? Lets give it a chance.
This action is sponsored by a wide spectrum of organizations from the partisan political to antiwar and peace and justice organizations whose agendas transcend politics. Before I end my talk I want to mention some of the ones locally active:
Metro Justice Peace Action and Education * MoveOn * Progressive Democrats of America * Just Foreign Policy * CodePink * Roots Action * United for Peace and Justice * Peace Action New York State * Credo * National Iranian American Council * The Daily Kos * Council for a Livable World * Win Without War. . .
What we have in common is that we all want peace. We want to give peace a chance.
So, let’s give a big shout-out to Senator Schumer:
“All we are saying, is give Peace a chance.” “. . . Give Peace a chance.”
If you can’t do that then Shame, Shame, Shame on you.