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'Why Don't We Try Peace?': An Interview With Dennis Kucinich | The Nation

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George Zornick

George Zornick

Action and dysfunction in the Beltway swamp. E-mail tips to george@thenation.com

'Why Don't We Try Peace?': An Interview With Dennis Kucinich

Late last week, I spoke with Representative Dennis Kucinich, D-OH, about the recently passed National Defense Authorization Act, specifically the provisions on Iran, and more broadly about the politics that repeatedly allow the country to seek war even after recent exercises proved to be disastrous. This conversation is edited slightly for length and clarity.   

GZ: I’d like to talk a little bit about the NDAA, which passed recently. You said on the House floor that it made a war with Iran basically a US policy.

DK: The language of the NDAA is a prescription for war. Now, John Conyers was able to get an amendment accepted that says “this is not an authorization of war.” But what the bill does almost makes the Conyers amendment moot. It puts in place all of the preparations for war. It sets in place ships in the Persian Gulf, planes in the region with munitions, plans to target Iran. And so you can say “well, it’s not authorized.” But lacking an authorization for war hasn’t stopped this particular president from being able to elect intervention or aggression. And so the language in the NDAA opened the door for aggression against Iran by permitting very specific preparations for an attack.

There’s a double game going on here. One is, you talk about the need for diplomacy. And talks can sometimes be nebulous. But there’s nothing nebulous about aircraft carriers, about jet fighters, about powerful munitions that are being put in place to stage an attack. You don’t do that just for an exercise. That, in and of itself, can be seen as an act of aggression. That’s a threat to attack. Under the UN Charter you can’t even threaten another nation with an attack. And the UN charter has essentially been swept aside, where threats have become a matter of style now.

[This bill] is self-defeating. They help to bring about that which they pretend to fear. We need a coherent national defense which relies on diplomacy and not aggression. We aren’t there right now. We need to stop putting the gun on the table and telling people “let’s talk,” because no nation with any self-respect would negotiate under those terms.

House Resolution 568 [“Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives regarding the importance of preventing the Government of Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability”] also has some people concerned. Why?

It presupposes that Iran has a nuclear weapons program, which it does not. And it thwarts any efforts at diplomacy.

It seems like “capability” is vaguely defined there, so it could impede some of the talks that are going on in Baghdad.

Capability could mean any country which produces nuclear power. You could start to bring in Japan, Brazil, other countries. What are we doing here? We’re setting a new standard for the level of nuclear weapons which says that if you have a program to develop nuclear power, ipso facto, it is a nuclear weapons program in the making. It’s just not so. But beyond all that, the question that is continually begged is why isn’t America leading the way toward total abolition of nuclear weapons. Then the effort of the world community would be not to pick winners and losers but to help all of humanity win by eliminating the weapons that we fear one country having and yet are comfortable with others having it.

This hard-line approach seems to only be getting more intense. Where is this heading?

It’s a very dangerous time. We forget that 100 million people died in conflicts in the twentieth century, most of them innocent civilian non-combatants. In his novel The Fall of Giants, Ken Follett brilliantly depicts how countries just slip into war. We’re sliding towards a very big war. We think it can’t happen. But we need to suspend our disbelief and come into resonance with the reality that when you prepare for war, you get war.

When you think about it, why would a nation with the unparalleled, uncontestable, unchallengeable military power that the United States has—why would we have to threaten anyone? When you have real power you don’t threaten. People know what your capabilities are. At this point I think we’ve done it all wrong, and we have to keep working for peace. I don’t want to predict there will be a war. But we need to stop acting as though we’re getting ready for war and we need to start communicating that we’re preparing for peace.

And what might be a good way to change this? It’s not clear because we’re operating now under a president who ran on an ostensibly peaceful platform, certainly compared to his opponent, and we’re winding down conflicts. While some may obviously disagree, there isn’t really any existential threat to the country right now—yet all this continues. How do you foresee changing minds?

We need to go back to 9/10/2001, before our transit into a world of endless fear. As part of our journey we need to have a very open, honest discussion in the context of a national effort at truth and reconciliation. Because we have proceeded to so distort the meaning in this country as to our choices to defend America, which impacts international policy and domestic policy. A slaughter of innocents abroad, a diminishing of civil rights at home—we need to go back to truth telling in America to talk about what were the precedents of 9/11, how can we recreate America without fear. And the only way we can do that is to really understand what happened, why it happened, the effect that it’s had on the country, the wrong choices that have been made, who’s responsible for those choices, calling them forward to get them to admit that they made a mistake, having those who cashed in on it held accountable—we really need to do that. We will not ever get out of this never-ending war against terror unless we start to tell the truth. Until we do that, whoever’s in the White House may not matter that much.

Does it strike you as strange that while there seems to be a near-universal agreement amont the public that the Iraq War was a misadventure and a mistake, that so quickly we’re back making these threats and preparations after seeing, knowing, what kind of tragedy lies ahead?

It can be unanimously agreed upon that it was a misadventure and a mistake. But the only ones that have really paid a price for it are the innocent people, perhaps a million innocent people in Iraq, who lost their lives. Millions more whose lives were damaged possibly beyond repair, a nation which was basically laid ruined, and American soldiers by the thousands who lost their lives or received permanent injuries—and their families. But let me tell you who didn’t pay the price. George Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, the neocons—Richard Perle. All of these hawks who had a plan to go after Iraq after 9/11 even though Iraq didn’t have anything to do with 9/11. They never paid a price. The politicians who went out front and supported the war, Democrats and Republicans alike, who burnished their images by being hawks. And then when the entire adventure disintegrated into a fiasco, are still ought after for their sage advice on world affairs. The New York Times and Washington Post, who helped beat the drum for war, they really haven’t paid a price. So actually war is politically profitable, financially profitable, morally depraved.

And we have a culture which is so sated with violence that we will accept war on the installment plan in our own communities. And we buy it as official policy writ large in attacking nations that have no quarrel with us. So this is a cultural problem. It is a problem of our times. And at the root of it is fear. It’s irrational, mindless, fear that paradoxically has nothing to do with who we are as Americans, because the American people by and large are not fearful people. But the fear has been used to cause the American people to support a continuation of wars and military spending that is absolutely adverse to the practical aspirations of everyone in this country with the exception of the people who make money off of it.

We tried war, we tried aggression, we tried intervention. None of it works. Why don’t we try peace, as a science of human relations, not as some vague notion—as everyday work. As diplomacy, as respect, as understanding the essential interconnectedness of all people, that we’re really one. This dichotomous thinking that causes us to think of people as others instead of aspects of undivided human unity is what causes our dilemma.  

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