Did TrueMajority Drop a Bomb or the Ball on the Philly Debate?

Last week the media descended on the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia in anticipation of the Democratic Debate between Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Citizens groups gathered as well to promote dialogue on the occupation of Iraq, the war economy, healthcare, education, the housing crisis, climate change and U.S. policy towards China – you know, the issues that took a back seat in ABCs debacle of a debate. One of the most visually compelling demonstrations illustrated the threat of war against Iran.

Heading down 6th Street towards Independence Hall, the voice of President George W. Bush cut through the dueling chants for Clinton and Obama, “This notion that the United States is getting ready to attack Iran is simply ridiculous. And having said that, all options are on the table.”

For a fleeting moment, the opposing camps set aside their differences and united against a common enemy. Ahh. . . the City of Brotherly Love. Pedestrians laughed and jeered, drivers slowed down and honked their horns as a 15-foot replica of a red and white bomb made its way through the historic streets of Philadelphia. Riding high on this Stanley Kubrick/Dr. Strangelove-inspired bomb was a life-size effigy of George Walker Bush – cowboy boots and all.


IranMobile passes by Obama and Clinton supporters (photo: C. Biren-Wright)

The Mission

Driver Aaron Rubin, representing True Majority’sNotAnotherWar” project has been towing this somewhat comical, yet deadly serious warning up and down the East Coast for the last month. The mission? According to NotANOTHERWar.org is “to stop the march to war with Iran by the right-wing spin machine.” The website continues, “Iran is not an immediate threat, nuclear or otherwise, and should be dealt with diplomatically. Talking about war with Iran is only making the world a more dangerous place.” The rather complex structure of the president straddling a bomb (when trailing John McCain, the head is exchanged for that of the presidential contender accompanied by a “Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Iran” soundtrack) employs a hydraulic lift that raises the missile with the push of a button. This visual, according to Rubin, draws attention to a critical issue that has become even more concerning since the resignation of Admiral William Fallon. Iran Legislation

Along the way, Rubin has been collecting signatures to a petition that reads “Don’t let this administration lead America into another conflict in the Middle East. I urge you to support S. Res. 356 which would require that any military action against Iran be explicitly approved by Congress.” S. Res 356, introduced by Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) presently has 13 cosponsors, but has seen no movement for the better part of the last six months. In addition to amassing thousands of signatures, petitions have been delivered to several Senators including Elizabeth Dole (R-NC), John Warner (R-VA), and Mel Martinez (R-FL). While in Philadelphia, TrueMajority.org planned to focus on Pennsylvania Republican Senator Arlen Specter.

It should be noted that several pieces of legislation designed to thwart an attack on Iran have been introduced in the 110th Congress including H. J. Res. 14, a joint resolution authored by GOP Congressman Walter “Freedom Fries” Jones of North Carolina. H. J. Res. 14 introduced in January 2007, “Provides that: (1) no provision of law enacted before the date of the enactment of this joint resolution shall be construed to authorize the use of U.S. military force against Iran; and (2) absent a national emergency created by an attack or imminent attack by Iran upon the United States, its territories or possessions or its Armed Forces, the President shall consult with Congress, and receive specific authorization pursuant to law from Congress, prior to initiating military force against Iran.” The resolution currently has 66 sponsors and sits in the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

Interestingly, Senator Clinton was an early cosponsor of Durbin’s S. Res. 356, the one piece of Iran legislation that is being promoted by True Majority. Senator Obama, on the other hand, is not a cosponsor. The irony here is that while True Majority does not endorse candidates, founder Ben Cohen (of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream fame), has personally endorsed Senator Barack Obama.

The argument could easily be made that members of Congress are reluctant to exercise their constitutionally granted power to declare war – it would follow, you see, that accountability would then be attached to that vote.

With the NotAnotherWar action aimed squarely at the Republicans, one wonders with the grave consequences of a war with Iran why not lean on the Democrats too? Is True Majority that confident in them as to not place them on their roster? It seems reasonable that even sympathetic Democrats ought to be approached if only to garner support for the legislation.

Indeed, the Republican Party as a whole continues to echo the tough talk of the president and the Democratic Party has been highly critical of the Bush administration’s war policies. But, criticism espoused by Democrats rarely translates into any significant action.

The Iraq Resolution passed in the Senate because 29 Democrats voted in favor of it. Since then, the Democratic Party has done nothing to hold the Bush administration accountable for the disastrous and illegal invasion that followed. Instead, they continue to fund the occupation. Congressman John Conyers and Senator Joe Biden want us to be comforted by their threat to impeach President Bush – after he attacks Iran.

Like last summer’s Americans Against Escalation in Iraq campaign and MoveOn’s new 20 million dollar Iraq Campaign 2008, the NotAnotherWar tour appears to be playing out more like a Democratic marketing tool with its focus on the “right wing spin machine” and Republican Senators.

The remarks made by Stephanopoulos, Clinton and Obama during the Democratic Debate on Wednesday night did little to reassure those concerned about an impending strike against Iran.

The Debate

First, if you missed ABCs inane, reality-show style assault, directed primarily at Sen. Barack Obama, it went a little like this:

William Ayers, Reverend Wright, San Francisco Fundraiser

Barack’s Attire, verbal gaffes, Hillary under Sniper Fire

Charlie’s obsessed with capital gains, free ride for John McCain.

Is Jeremiah patriotic? – Stephanopoulos.. . are you psychotic?

 

History was on tap at the Philly debate, but in a strange and twisted fashion. Charlie Gibson in an attempt to goad the candidates to declare – or not declare – that each would choose the other as vice president asked this potentially divisive question by hiding behind the U.S. Constitution, “Just to quote from the Constitution again,” Gibson said, “In every case,” Article Two, Section One, “after the choice of the president, the person having the greatest number of votes of the electors shall be vice president.”

Remarkably, Charlie couldn’t muster up the wherewithal to bring up the issue that he, himself, reported on just the week before on ABC news – the Bush administration’s meetings on and authorization of torture. This despite the far more recognized 8th amendment to the Constitution that prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.

“Debate” moderator, George Stephanopoulos and candidates Obama and Clinton failed to recall as well that founding father Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington before him, warned us about “entangling alliances.”


Independence Hall (photo: C. Biren-Wright)

Ignoring that and the latest National Intelligence Estimate that concluded Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program back in 2003, the former Bill Clinton staffer moved smoothly from the statement “Iran continues to pursue a nuclear option” to “Those weapons, if they got them, would probably pose the greatest threat to Israel.”

He continued stating, “During the Cold War, it was the United States policy to extend deterrence to our NATO allies. An attack on Great Britain would be treated as if it were an attack on the United States.” He then asked Senator Obama, “Should it be U.S. policy now to treat an Iranian attack on Israel as if it were an attack on the United States?”

This is where True Majority and others concerned about a U.S. attack on Iran should sit up and take note. Obama who continues to take heat for once saying in a debate that he would be willing to meet with Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, set diplomacy aside Wednesday night at the mention of Israel. Clinton took it a step farther.

Senator Obama, after explaining that one of our top priorities “should be to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of Iranians,” went on to state “Now, my belief is that they should also know that I will take no options off the table when it comes to preventing them from using nuclear weapons or obtaining nuclear weapons, and that would include any threats directed at Israel or any of our allies in the region.”

Well, hit the brakes and back up the IranMobile.

Not only is Senator Obama restating the troublesome “all options are on the table” comment, he speaks of it as a preventative measure.

From the NotAnotherWar.org FAQ sheet, “The president just said “all options are on the table.” What’s wrong with keeping all our options open? Response: If the government of Iran feels that Washington is bent on attacking their country, then what incentive do they have to open up diplomatic channels. Especially, when they do not believe this country will deal in good faith.”

Don’t expect to hear Senator Obama’s “take no options off the table” remark booming from the IranMobile speakers any time soon.

Stephanopoulos persisted and attempted to close the deal, “So, you would extend our deterrent to Israel?” Obama replied, “As I’ve said before, I think it is very important that Iran understands that an attack on Israel is an attack on our strongest ally in the region, one that we – on whose security we consider paramount, and that – that would be an act of aggression that we – that I would – that I would consider an attack that is unacceptable, and the United States would take appropriate action.”

Stephanopoulos then turned his attention to Clinton, “Senator Clinton, would you?” A subtle, yet uneasy feeling settled in for some as if George Stephanopoulos was negotiating an agreement between the candidates, the Bush administration and the government of Israel.

“Well, in fact, George,” Clinton replied confidently, “I think that we should be looking to create an umbrella of deterrence that goes much further than just Israel. Of course, I would make it clear to the Iranians that an attack on Israel would incur massive retaliation from the United States, but I would do the same with other countries in this region.”

Continuing, the junior senator from New York explained, “You know we are at a very dangerous point with Iran. The Bush policy has failed. Iran has not been deterred.”

No mention was made of the discovery last year that Tehran back in 2003 had, according to the Washington Post, “Issued a proposal calling for a broad dialogue with the United States, on matters including cooperation on nuclear safeguards, action against terrorists and possible recognition of Israel.” This proposal, according to former administration officials, was rejected by top U.S. officials. Feeding into the rhetoric and failing to acknowledge the intimidation in the Middle East by the seven-year reign of George W. Bush, Clinton stated “They [Iran] continue to try to not only obtain the fissile material for nuclear weapons but they are intent upon using their efforts to intimidate the region and to have their way when it comes to the support of terrorism in Lebanon and elsewhere.”

To her credit, Senator Clinton acknowledged first the need for diplomatic engagement, but in a jab at her opponent remarked, “I would begin those discussions at a low level. I certainly would not meet with Ahmadinejad.”

Clinton goes on to explain, “We’ve got to deter other countries from feeling that they have to acquire nuclear weapons. You can’t go to the Saudis or the Kuwaitis or UAE and others who have a legitimate concern about Iran and say: Well, don’t acquire these weapons to defend yourself unless you’re also willing to say we will provide a deterrent backup and we will let the Iranians know that, yes, an attack on Israel would trigger massive retaliation, but so would an attack on those countries that are willing to go under this security umbrella and forswear their own nuclear ambitions.”

For those counting, in a span of less than three minutes, Senator Clinton threatened “massive retaliation” twice.

For the record, an email to NotAnotherWar.org shortly after the Philadelphia debate as well as an earlier email to True Majority regarding the perceived lack of attention towards Democrats have gone unanswered. A brief discussion with Aaron Rubin on Wednesday in Philadelphia did not elicit much information on the same issue. In fact, Rubin was “not sure” if either Democratic presidential candidate had signed on to the legislation that True Majority was promoting.

True Majority, as a progressive organization, certainly understands the gravity of the relations between the United States and Iran. That they may be engaging in a partisan approach to this makes one wonder if rather than “dropping a bomb” on the political discourse regarding an impending attack on Iran, they may very well be “dropping the ball.”

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