How the Military Can Stop an Iran Attack | The Nation


How the Military Can Stop an Iran Attack

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Appeal to Principle

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Brendan Smith
Brendan Smith is an journalist, oysterman and labor activist. He is co-founder of Global Labor Strategies, a consulting...
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The appeal for military personnel to resist an attack is primarily based on principle. It asserts that any pre-emptive US attack on Iran would be illegal under international law and a crime under US law. Such an attack would violate Article II, Section 4, of the UN Charter forbidding the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state. Since Iran has not attacked the United States, an attack against it without authorization by the Security Council would be a violation of international law. Under the US Constitution and the UN Charter, this is the law of the land. Under the military's own laws, armed forces have an obligation to refuse orders that violate US law and the Constitution. And under the principles established by the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal after World War II, "just obeying orders" is no defense for officials who participate in war crimes.

But the petition also addresses some of the practical concerns that have clearly motivated military officers to oppose an attack on Iran. It would open US soldiers in Iraq to decimation by Iranian forces or their Iraqi allies. It would sow the seeds of hatred for generations. Like the attack on Iraq, it would create more enemies, promote terrorism and make American families less safe.

The petitioners recognize the potential risks of such action to military personnel. "If you heed our call and disobey an illegal order you could be falsely charged with crimes including treason. You could be falsely court martialed. You could be imprisoned."

But they also accept risks themselves, aware that "in violation of our First Amendment rights, we could be charged under remaining section of the unconstitutional Espionage Act or other unconstitutional statute, and that we could be fined, imprisoned, or barred from government employment."

In ordinary times, peace activists would hardly be likely to turn to the military as allies. Indeed, they would rightfully be wary of military officers acting on their own, rather than those of their civilian superiors--in violation of the Constitution's provisions for civilian oversight of the military. But these are hardly ordinary times. While the public is highly dubious of getting into another war in the Middle East, there now appear to be virtually no institutional barriers to doing so.

Military-Civilian Alliance

Is there a basis for cooperation between the military brass and citizens who believe an attack on Iran would be criminal and/or suicidal? Perhaps. The brass can go public with the truth and ask Congress to provide a platform for explaining the real consequences of an attack on Iran. They can call for a national debate that is not manipulated by the White House. (They can also inform other players of the consequences: tell Wall Street the effects on oil and stock prices and tell European military and political leaders what it is likely to mean in terms of terrorism.) The peace movement has already forged an alliance with Iraq War veterans who oppose the war and with high military officials who oppose torture; a tacit alliance with the brass to halt an attack on Iran is a logical next step.

Such an approach puts the problem of civilian control of the military in a different light. The purpose of civilian control, after all, is not to subject the military to the dictatorial control of one man who may, at the least, express the foolishness and frailty that all flesh is heir to. The purpose is to subject the military to the control of democratic governance, which is to say of an informed public and its representatives.

What contribution can the peace movement make to this process? We can cover military officials' backs when they speak out--no one is better placed than the peace movement to defend them against Bushite charges of defying civilian control. We can help open a forum for military officers to speak out. Many retired officers have spoken out publicly on the folly of the war in Iraq. We can use our venues in universities and communities to invite them to speak out even more forcefully on the folly of an attack on Iran. We can place ads pointing out military resistance to an attack on Iran and featuring warnings of its possible consequences from past and present military officials. And we can encourage lawmakers to reach out to military officials and offer to give them cover and a forum to speak out. Says petition initiator Marcy Winograd, "I'd like to see peace activists and soldiers sit down, break bread, march together, testify together and forge a powerful union to end the next war before the bloodletting begins."

The peace movement leaders who appealed to the military had to break through the conventional presumption that the brass were their enemies in all situations. Such an unlikely alliance could be a starting point for a nonviolent response to the Bush Administration's pursuit of a permanent state of war.

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