“What if they called a war and nobody came?” goes the peace slogan. Perhaps the more salient question, however, is: How many times will “peace movements” pave the road to the war we all loathe?
In 1938, prime minister Neville Chamberlain returned from Munich and expressed the peace movement’s position in terms that now sound like he was channeling the Baker-Hamilton report: “We should seek by all means in our power to avoid war, by analyzing possible causes, by trying to remove them, by discussion in a spirit of collaboration and good will. I cannot believe that such a program would be rejected by the people of this country, even if it does mean the establishment of personal contact with the dictators.”
Yet it was the adoption of such a policy by democracies that led directly to emboldening the Nazis, and inevitably to war.
In 2003, it was not Iraq’s tyrant who took military action, but a U.S.-led coalition that moved to topple Saddam. But even though this invasion was against the bitter opposition of the peace movement, those who opposed the war played an integral role in bringing it about.
For over a year before that war, the U.S. insisted on implementing U.N. Security Council resolutions designed to force, verify and maintain the dismantling of Saddam’s nuclear program. Instead European governments, with the vocal support of anti-war protesters, pushed for the lifting of all economic sanctions, even after Saddam expelled U.N. weapons inspectors.
In 2001, just before the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. finally bowed to anti-war Europe and proposed a substantial narrowing of the U.N. measures. Secretary of state Colin Powell called the new approach “smart sanctions.”
This U.S. turnabout, however, was not enough for the peace movement. “Smart sanctions have the same motivation as the 1991 Gulf War and the dumb sanctions of the past decade — not primarily to contain Iraqi military aggression… but to maintain control over the Middle East,” wrote two leaders of the National Network to End the War Against Iraq.
Hans von Sponeck, a former U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, typified anti-war opinion of the time when he wrote that arms inspectors “must return” to Iraq, but that a “much more constructive solution would be to lift the economic sanctions that have… decimated the Iraqi middle class… 12 years of sanctions have only strengthened the current regime.”
It was a bit of a stretch to argue then that sanctions and inspections had succeeded in keeping Saddam “in a box.” Yet by working to gut rather than strengthen those measures, the “peace movement” saw to it that there were only two options: letting Saddam completely out of his box, or taking military action.
Flash forward to 2007, and the pre-Iraq war scenario is playing out again. The name of the international umbrella group “Campaign Against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran” aptly expresses its policy. “We appeal to people of all faiths… to join us in building an effective international campaign for peace and dialogue, and against sanctions, foreign state interference, destabilization and military intervention in Iran,” its website states.
Once again, if the “peace movement” had its way and sanctions were taken off the table, we would only have two options: a nuclear Iran, or military action.
Let’s assume most peace protesters would be distressed to think they had actually made war more likely. How could those who oppose war be effective about it, rather than simply registering their point of view in a counterproductive way?
There is a way. It has been hinted at by one of the best-known and organized anti-war groups, MoveOn.org.
Before the war in Iraq, MoveOn sponsored billboards with the slogan: “Inspections Work. War Won’t.” In other words, they didn’t claim that Saddam was benign, or even that negotiations would take care of the problem, but that the threat could be dealt with by punitive non-military measures.
Similarly, MoveOn is now arguing that Congress must authorize any military strike on Iran with the line: “We need to pursue diplomacy and let UN sanctions against Iran work, not widen the war in the Middle East.”
Once again, MoveOn seems to be arguing that the alternative to military force is not doing nothing, but sanctions.
The problem is that the tougher side of MoveOn’s approach is so half-hearted as to be disingenuous. But what if it were not that way? What if “anti-war” organizations were to learn from history and lobby seriously for policies that can truly prevent war?
An “anti-war” movement worthy of the name must address war’s root cause. Peace movements that focus only on restraining Western action, without addressing the aggressive tyrannies that are the real source of conflict, will continue to fail. Any group (or presidential candidate) that opposes military action needs to advocate an effective alternative means to force the Iranian regime to back down.
Absent draconian sanctions, talks with Iran do not amount to a credible alternative to military force. Why would the mullahs give up nukes for international guarantees when they believe that nukes are the ultimate regime insurance? The reason to give up a nuclear program and terrorism is the reason Libya did: because policies that had been regime guarantors had become, instead, dangerous liabilities.
It is the peace movement that should be clamoring most loudly for tightening sanctions against Tehran. Those who believe that George Bush is trigger-happy probably also believe he has written off sanctions and intends to go to war, no matter what. If so, why is the peace movement itself making Bush’s supposed plan easier by acting as if sanctions have no chance of working?
Tyrants can’t just be wished away; those who don’t want war with them need to propose and back non-military measures with teeth. In the words of another protest slogan, you are either “part of the problem, or part of the solution.”
– This first appeared in the Jerusalem Post and is reprinted with permission.