Will the Candidates and Congress Speak for us on Venezuela and Iran?
I’ve been waiting for something to happen
For a week or a month or a year
With the blood in the ink of the headlines
And the sound of the crowd in my ear
You might ask what it takes to remember
When you know that you’ve seen it before
Where a government lies to a people
And a country is drifting to war.
Jackson Browne, “Lives in the Balance” (1986)
§ Our sanctions are having a devastating impact in Venezuela, and souring the Iran economy, with few in D.C. challenging them.
§ The mainstream media coverage on Venezuela seldom varies much from the story coming from the White House, though there seems to be some press questioning of the Administration’s hostility toward Iran.
§ Our nation’s Congressional Dems tend to go along with sanctions, but some oppose military intervention without Congress’s approval. The presidential candidates vary in terms of challenging Trump militarism, with Sanders overall being the quickest and most verbal to oppose this warmongering.
I heard a PBS Newshour pundit last month pronounce this as “conventional wisdom” concerning the presidential candidates’ contacts with the public: “…regular people in America that these candidates are coming into contact with on a regular basis, they just aren’t asking about foreign policy.” And, who knows, maybe they’re right: the Portland picture shown above seems from long ago, during the first term of George W. Bush, when large marches occurred before and after the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
But how many of us are not “regular people”? How many of us have been influenced by Noam Chomsky, Medea Benjamin, Martin Luther King, Jr., etc.? How many of us haven’t forgotten that some advisers near the President, such as Elliot Abrams and John Bolton, played crucial roles in our Central American ‘80s intervention, and were cheerleaders for the lies and build-up of the Iraq invasion?
SILENCE IN CONGRESS ON SANCTIONS
Seldom mentioned are the consequences of international sanctions that the U.S. has in place. There are over 20 current ones (treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/). Who knew?
Economists Jeffrey Sachs and Mark Weisbrot recently calculated that over 40,000 people have died in Venezuela as the result of tightening sanctions under the Trump regime (Democracy Now, May 1). Mr. Sachs has written that: “American sanctions are deliberately aiming to wreck Venezuela’s economy and thereby lead to regime change. It’s a fruitless, heartless, illegal, and failed policy…” The UN special rapporteur on coercive measures, Idriss Jazairy, reacted in March to the White House’s intensifying the financial embargo of Venezuela:
“If you block all their financial resources, how would they be fed? .…Five million have left the country because they can’t find subsistence, and now you’re going to make it worse….”
Jazairy’s reaction was tied to our government barring, for example, U.S. companies from transactions with Venezuela’s state-owned oil company (which has holdings in this country) — this oil enterprise is Venezuela’s main source of revenue and foreign currency. It is anticipated that this will result in blocking $7 billion in assets and lead to $11 billion in export losses over a year. In a local sanctions’ consequence, Portland’s Veterans for Peace activist Dan Shea was recently stranded in Venezuela (as American Airlines cancelled flights without notice): he had to ration his diabetes medication, because of scarce availability.
Yet the media has often overlooked our economic warfare strategy, and blamed worsening conditions within that country on corruption and mismanagement. The economic picture is complicated by the fact that Venezuela was in a deep recession prior to Trump’s 2017 sanctions’ increase, because of the collapse in oil prices. Oil-exporter Mexico had a similar debt crisis related to this commodity’s price in the ‘80s and ‘90s, but Mexico could refinance their debt through banks and the IMF. The U.S. blocks such credit for Venezuela.
Jeff Faux in the Nation (May 23) points out that many Democrats are supporting Venezuela’s economic strangulation, including Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Amy Klobuchar, and Kirsten Gillibrand. Only very few are speaking out against the sanctions, such as Rep. Ilan Omar (Democracy Now, May 1).
Turning to Iran, sanctions were re-imposed last November (they had been dropped under Obama as a result of the nuclear deal). The Treasury Department brags that “…these are the toughest U.S. sanctions ever imposed on Iran.” The Administration increased the sanctions’ scope this May. The economy is expected to shrink 6% this year, and inflation to increase 40–50%. Nonetheless, Iran’s economic situation is not as bad as Venezuela’s. (One Reuter’s report showed the Venezuelan economy had shrunk by over 22% the third quarter of 2018, compared with the same quarter in 2017.)
At a town hall with Rep. Blumenauer on June 15, local Iranian-Americans brought up a number of times how sanctions are beginning to be felt by the Iranian populace, especially the poor.
The magnitude of harm from the U.S./U.N. sanctions placed on Iraq from the ‘90s up to 2003 is startling. Estimates of “excess” child mortality (that is, deaths due to sanction conditions) of children under five vary, as extrapolated from limited data, but range from a quarter million to twice that. Two UN Coordinators monitoring the sanctions’ humanitarian impact retired in a row, one deeming the sanctions “genocide” and the other a “true human tragedy”.
MEASURES PROHIBITING WHITE HOUSE-LAUNCHED WARS
Too often the mainstream media, whether it is about one of these two countries above or North Korea, simply do “stenography” — report the White House interpretation of foreign events, without digging further. Often on editorial pages or from TV pundits, the verdict is that we, the U.S., must do something, as if we were on the side of angels. Yet at least some of the Congressional Democrats beg to differ.
A) CHALLENGING THE U.S. RIGHT TO INTERVENE IN VENEZUELA:
“The history of the United States in Latin America is cluttered with ‘preemptive’ interventions that even the most stalwart of champions of U.S. hegemony have trouble defending.” (G. Grandin, see below)
Our antagonism to this country dates back to 1999 when Hugo Chavez became leader. Chavez, with his socialist (or social democratic) goals, during a time of strong oil revenue, was able to significantly improve the health, education, and housing of the less privileged. Nicolas Maduro took over after Chavez’s death in 2013.
This year, the U.S. has tried to promote a coup in Venezuela, beginning shortly after the re-elected Nicolas Maduro was installed in office. Among many criticisms, the Administration calls Maduro’s re-election illegitimate. Yet there are many reasons to think this election was as good as it could be. For example, during the campaign season, the U.S. was aggressively pushing for an election boycott, with such pressure leading to at least one opposition candidate participating being threatened. The U.S. spin on this last presidential election is so like the 80s spin when the Sandinista (and then more socialist) Daniel Ortega was elected in Nicaragua: there too the U.S. deemed the election illegitimate.
In spite of the dire conditions in Venezuela, efforts for a coup have failed so far. Reports from outside the mainstream indicate that a significant sector of the public continue as “Chavistas” or do not like what Juan Guiado (with his strong ties to U.S.) has to offer. The White House has never taken military intervention off the table, though Venezuela has been in our news less recently. While U.S. pressure is working with some allies (e.g., Canada has closed Venezuela’s embassy), Brazil is not receiving Guiado’s ambassador due to pressure from Brazil’s military leadership, after seeing Guiado’s April 30 coup attempt fail.
Some Congressional Democrats still think that they should have a role in deciding where and when we go to war. Two bills are pending, namely SJ Res. 11 and HR 1004, “Prohibiting Unauthorized Military Action in Venezuela”. Sen. Merkley introduced SJ Res. 11 in February, with only four co-sponsors to be found, including Bernie Sanders and Ron Wyden. No other action has been taken on this resolution. The House version has 78 sponsors, including all of Oregon’s Democrats, and has seen some committee action. Presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard has co-sponsored this bill.
Nonetheless, I have concerns about some of the letters I’ve seen from Oregon’s delegation. Merkley’s letter seems to endorse the whole anointing of Guiado as president of Venezuela. Blumenauer sent a short note, indicating his opposition to military intervention. Wyden never sent out a letter on this topic to me, after repeated contacts.
Bonamici’s letter mentions her support in the last Congress for HR 259, legislation that called into question Maduro’s re-election. She noted her support for the sanctions endorsed in that bill. All of Oregon’s House members voted for this earlier bill which passed overwhelmingly. This earlier bill specified targeted sanctions on individuals, which isn’t the same as the devastating economic measures now in place.
B) CHALLENGING THE U.S. RIGHT TO INTERVENE IN IRAN:
“As we have learned from the debacles in the Middle East, the lure of oil profits and the engrained habit of the U.S. governing class of demanding the right to determine how other countries should be run is a lethal combination.” (Jeff Faux again, Nation, 5/23)
“With Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Afghanistan already plagued by conflicts, a war with Iran would destabilize all of southwestern Asia…” (John Nichols, Nation, 5/15/19)
After the thaw with Iran during the Obama years, we have since seen a frightening reversal. The Trump Administration is telling us about a number of negative developments related to Iran, within a backdrop of our increased troop movements and maneuvers in the region. There is at times caution and questioning among some media (as I’ve observed on PBS) — maybe this is one story too close to Iraq and our recollection of “weapons of mass destruction”. Nonetheless, Gregory Shupak in Common Dreams (6/7) found that other media outlets are often accepting and passing along without analysis the “Iranian threat” angle coming from the White House.
Neo-cons like John Bolton have long held Iran in their sights. As well, a special interest group, the right-wing pro-Israel group, AIPAC (American-Israel Public Affairs Committee) has been strongly anti-Iran for years, with their current website stating that “The United States must confront Iran’s aggression.” Over the years, a number of Oregon’s Congressional delegation have attended AIPAC’s yearly Portland banquets, where Iran was a frequent topic. Though a number of presidential candidates have attended past national conferences, there was an absence this year (with Move-On calling for a boycott). Regional actors — such as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Saudi Arabian Crown Prince bin Salman, and Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince bin Zayed — are also in the anti-Iran camp.
In April, those opposing the war build-up introduced “Prevention of Unconstitutional War with Iran Act of 2019” in both houses of Congress. Senator sponsors now number 22. Merkley and Sanders were early sponsors, while Elizabeth Warren, Klobuchar, Gillibrand, and Wyden later joined. Yet the House version (Measure 2354) has fewer sponsors than the similar proposal regarding Venezuela, with only 46 sponsors. Schrader and Walden have not yet endorsed this measure, nor has Tulsi Gabbard. No committee action has occurred on either bill, nor on House bill 2829 (a comparable bill introduced more recently).
Neither Nancy Pelosi nor Chuck Schumer have co-sponsored any of these resolutions. Of Republicans, Sen. Rand Paul supports the Iran proposal above, while two representatives in the House are co-sponsoring the Venezuelan bill. One of the same Republican congressmen has endorsed the HR 2829 version of Iran legislation. (See congress.gov for info on legislation.)
The WAYNE MORSE CURSE
One of our government’s famous lies (or distortions) is what happened at the Gulf of Tonkin, the 1964 “incident” used to justify escalation in Viet Nam. Sen. Wayne Morse (D-OR) was one of the very few questioning what was coming out of the White House. He was ridiculed as “irascible” in the press, and his anti-war fervor was a factor in his loss to Bob Packwood.
The press has given Bernie Sanders a hard time for his past and present anti-war actions. But Bernie makes “no apologies” (Common Dreams, May 26, “For Trying to Stop Wars…”).
HISTORY PAST AND PRESENT
Many Portlanders may be dismayed at the grassroots’ inability to stop the last two Gulf wars. But our city’s strong anti-war history may help explain our delegation’s behavior in Congress. Proportionally, Oregon is better represented as co-sponsoring the above bills prohibiting White House-launched wars. Or perhaps the delegation is responding to those former peace marchers that are still calling, writing, or town hall’ing their thoughts.
Illusions cause so much tragedy. The build-up for the Iraq war was promoted by the Project for the New American Century, with its vision of supposed “benevolent global hegemony”. Walter Benjamin, who died in Europe in 1940, symbolically describes the tragedy of his time in “Theses on the Philosophy or History”:
“This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage…The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing in from Paradise…The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward.” (barglow.com/angel_of_history.htm)
Photos: 1st and 2nd by author, 3rd courtesy of Iranian-American Friendship Council.