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The following is a guest post by Robert Naiman, Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy. Mr. Naiman edits the Just Foreign Policy daily news summary and writes on U.S. foreign policy at Huffington Post. You can contact him here.

If you sometimes find yourself at a bit of a loss of what to make of the on-again, off-again drumbeat for war with Iran, you should at least have the consolation that you’re in good company. Close students of U.S. and Israeli policy who oppose war have expressed divergent views about how great the threat of war is, especially in the shorter run. (There is much less divergence about the long-term prospects: if there is no progress on the diplomatic front, the weight of expert opinion is that the long-term prognosis is very bad, from the point of view of avoiding war.)

Imam square, Esphahan, Iran Photo by: William Hendrickson

The problem of accurately perceiving the danger is complicated by the multiple motivations of those currently being the war drums. Clearly, among other things, the war drums are a political gambit to attack President Obama and elect Romney. The war drums are also a channel-changer from the continued dispossession of the Palestinians and the political shifts in the Middle East brought about by the Arab Spring.  At the same time, the war drums are part of a campaign to constrict political space for a diplomatic resolution with Iran, thereby making war with Iran more likely in the future.

The lack of urgency resulting from this murky picture presents a dilemma for anti-war activists. If people were convinced that there were a 90% chance of war in the next three months, if the White House were leading a crusade for war, many people would be in the streets.

But that is not the situation we are in. Our situation is more akin to what one analyst described as a “slow-motion Cuban missile crisis.” We are on a path to war with Iran, but we are not on a quick path to war with Iran. We are on a slow path to war with Iran.

If the path is slow, there is a natural tendency to focus elsewhere. There’s a lot of stuff going on in the world. People are being killed by the war in Afghanistan. Palestinians are on hunger strike against administrative detention. Honduran journalists are being murdered. Colombian trade unionists are being killed. These things are happening right now.

By inaction on the threat of war with Iran, people are effectively saying, “So we’re on a slow path? Give me a call when we’re on a fast path. I have other demands on my time.”

The problem with this is that by the time we are on a fast path to war, our political leverage to stop the war will be very small – much smaller than it is today.

Millions of people around the world marched on the eve of the Iraq war. When the war happened anyway, some people said: we marched and the war happened anyway. Therefore, protest doesn’t change anything.

Esphahan, Iran Photo by: William Hendrickson

That was drawing the wrong lesson. What happened didn’t prove that protest can’t stop a war; what happened was evidence that protests that come too late might not stop a war. Mass protests would likely have had a much bigger impact a few months earlier – especially, if they had occurred before Democrats in Congress handed over authority to President Bush to wage war.

And if the last ten years of war should have taught us anything, they should have taught us that starting a war is like getting on the expressway. If it turns out to be a “mistake,” it’s far from clear when we’ll practically be able to change course.

After the September 11 attacks, Congress approved war in Afghanistan with no dissent in the Senate and one dissent in the House. If Congress could have a do-over now, do you think that there might be a little more dissent? So, when we think about the killing in Afghanistan, we should think about what more we could do to stop it. But we should also acknowledge how hard it is to stop, and therefore, that we should redouble our efforts to stop the next war before it starts.

To the extent that it’s true that people appear to want to be told that we’re on a fast path in order to get them to move, that creates an incentive for people concerned about the danger of war to play up evidence that we’re on a fast path.

But of course, that also carries a danger. If we are perceived to “cry wolf,” that will make it harder to mobilize people in the future. It’s like sprinting in the middle of a marathon. You may get a nice adrenalin rush, but in the long run, it’s going to compromise your ability to win the race. The proponents of war are playing a long game. The opponents of war must play a long game too.

And that means something that some people don’t want to hear. It means that we need more people to engage politically, to lobby, call, and write Members of Congress and their staff, to agitate with the Administration for a realistic diplomatic engagement with Iran to produce agreements that will reduce tensions, to agitate in the news media and the blogosphere for real diplomatic engagement with Iran to produce agreements that will reduce tensions. Look what the “Israel lobby” is doing: it’s agitating inside the institutions to constrict the political space for any long-term outcome besides war. If we want to beat the Israel lobby, we have to meet them on the same turf, to open the political space for other outcomes besides war.

Unfortunately, this is the kind of “long march through the institutions,” as Herbert Marcuse put it, that much of the “traditional antiwar left” doesn’t have much experience or interest in organizing. It doesn’t sell the party newspaper, advance the party’s political line, or recruit more dues-paying members to the party. Much of the “traditional antiwar left” wants to organize demonstrations. But unless demonstrations lead to more engagement in the political process, they might not do much to help us stop the next war.

Daytime in Iran Photo by: William Hendrickson

This is why I am hopeful about the potential of the new Iran Pledge of Resistance. The Pledge of Resistance has the potential to help create a real movement that can stop the next war; a movement that can go toe-to-toe with the Israel lobby for influence in Congress, the Administration, and the news media.

One of the reasons that I am hopeful about the new Pledge of Resistance is that I know some of the people involved in organizing it. These are people who “stand in the gap” between Washington peace advocacy and grassroots peace advocacy. If you want to know why the “Israel lobby” is so effective, one of the reasons is that there is essentially zero gap between their Washington advocacy and their grassroots advocacy. It’s a highly disciplined operation. If you want to know what AIPAC activists in Chicago are pushing on the Chicago Congressional delegation, you just have to look at the national AIPAC web page.

Regardless of what one might desire, this highly disciplined model probably isn’t on offer for the anti-war movement, at least in the short run. Anything that carries out the functions of a “movement,” including making sure that grassroots efforts back up strategic Washington efforts, is going to require more negotiation, more meetings, more conference calls, at least until reinforcements from the bigger institutional players arrive. Therefore, people who “stand in the gap” – who have trust relationships with Washington people and with grassroots people – are going to be really important.

The second reason I am hopeful is that I’m old enough – and have been engaged long enough – to remember the model, the “Pledge of Resistance” against Reagan’s war in Central America, and how effective it was in drawing people into political engagement, including me, at the age of eighteen. It was organized around the idea of civil disobedience, but a lot of the practical activity was lobbying, letter-writing, passing leaflets, organizing talks, showing films. It may seem quite counterintuitive that a way to draw some people into politics is to talk to them about civil disobedience. There’s a traditional view that runs the opposite way: you start to get people engaged by talking about the least militant tactic – a vigil, perhaps – and that’s the “gateway drug” that can lead to further political engagement.

But sometimes it works the other way. You have a bunch of people that are pretty alienated from traditional politics, and perceive Congress and the government generally as pretty unresponsive to their interests and values, and they don’t want to hear about lobbying. But getting arrested to stop a war – that they might do. So, maybe some people need a different “gateway drug” to bring them into political engagement. To stop a war, it’s worth a try.

Take the Pledge of Resistance today. Go to

9 Responses to “The Pledge of Resistance Could Change the Game Against a War with Iran”

  • Yes so where do we sign the pledge. I expected a link..

    • Odile,
      Thanks for asking…it’s in there, but I just bolded it to make it more prominent because it was a bit visually lost in the text. I also added another link to the bottom. Thanks for the comment, was super helpful.

  • mkb29

    A cogent analysis of the insidious forces drawing us gradually but unmistakenly towards war with Iran. It might be useful if all those against this trend could tell the present administration that if that seems to be their ultimate objective, then we shall not vote for them in the oncoming elections. Some will say, with some reason, that this will just let even worse war hawks gain ascendency in government. So the question is: Is one willing to risk the bet that the Obama administration will accede to no-war demands if they see themselves losing the election? I believe the bet is worth it. Perhaps this could be incorporated in the pledge. Whether a pledge by enough people could make this demarche feasible is open to question, but is worth the effort. A military attack on Iran whether by right wing Repubs or liberal Dems is the same in my opinion. We are staring in the face untold deaths, misery, and destruction.

  • In response to mkb29′s suggestion: I think the impulse to pressure the Obama Administration is absolutely right, but the question is whether threatening not to vote for them is an effective form of pressure, compared to other measures.

    Two reasons that I think it is not likely to be an effective form of pressure, compared to other measures:

    1)I think that we could not convince a lot of people to make such a pledge, still less could we get people to follow through on it.

    2)I think that the Obama people know what we know, therefore it is not an effective threat.

    In contrast, if you look at what happened with Tar Sands Action, they never threatened not to vote for Obama. And yet they got Obama to not approve the pipeline, even though at the start of the campaign, every media report said, of course this can’t be stopped.

    When you consider all this, I find that convincing that the electoral threat is not the right place to focus. I think that what the Pledge of Resistance is thinking about is much more like what Tar Sands Action did.

  • mustafa

    Wars are always bad.people die on both sides.Only the Arms manufacturers gain.Have not the public in USA ,Europe Asia Middle East Africa suffered sufficiently.We hear of suicides in Greece from economic desparation.The war in Iraq Libya,Syria has worsened the condition of Westerners and Easterners alike.Arming a belligerent state nuclear power Israel in the middle East with billions of dollars aid,while our population suffer abjectly is not fair and just

  • As a Pledge of Resistance member and activist from Spokane, Washington in the 1980s, I can assure you the Pledge was successful and helped us organize resistance to US policies in Central America and create solidarity and commitment around acts of civil disobedience and public education. Our local group engaged in several successful civil disobediences in the offices of US Speaker of House Tom Foley (Democrat from Spokane) and Senator Slade Gorton (Republican from Spokane) as well as at the US Federal Building where we blocked the doors. Numerous events involving street theater, films, speakers, and fund-raisers were carried out in churches, campuses and public venues.

  • Donna Gould

    I totally agree with Robert Naiman, an electoral threat is not the right place to focus. I am more interested in organizing civil disobedience than in writing letters to my congressperson or Obama. I think it has a better chance of being effective.

  • William W Haywood

    I don’t feel that we have a better candidate to vote for than Obama at the present time. I also agree that ‘the long game’ matters very much, but I wonder if we really have time for waiting right now. AIPAC is acting right now, and so is J-Street, and so then should we. The time to protest over a war with Iran is now, but there is more that we can do, in an attempt to work with the Obama administration, and that is to push very hard on the ‘diplomacy now’ issue. We also need to understand the powerful part that the 1%, and their minions, are playing in this march to war…and how their personal wealth making machines badly want Iran’s natural resources.

  • We’ll have to do more than hope the right thing will happen if we can only stop the wrong thing; we must be much more proactive about envisioning a desired outcome that works for everyone, then bringing it about. I read today in the book “Eco-Pioneers” by Steve Lerner “Building a sustainable culture is a challenge that…will likely require the mobilization of human energy and resources that was previously reserved for the conduct of war.” Well said! We must go beyond opposing war and WAGE PEACE, & wage sustainability as well. It will take every bit as much skill, knowledge, commitment, energy & courage as waging war, perhaps more!

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