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Let me start with a scenario that I hope will remain no more than an admonitory fiction. I'm watching C-SPAN 2, when suddenly, one after another, Republican and Democratic senators start making speeches on a resolution to pile new, highly punitive sanctions on Iran for resuming its funding of the armed wing of the Palestinian militant group Hamas. They are doing so, because three days earlier the Hamas government in Gaza had launched a missile on Tel Aviv that, despite the Iron Dome, killed 23 Israeli citizens. As they speak, the senators' remarks become increasingly heated, referencing over and over again the misleading charge that Iran has once more demonstrated its role as the world's "chief sponsor of terrorism." They note further that Iran continues to test intercontinental missiles that can accommodate atomic weapons, and that it can never be trusted either to fully comply with the fatally flawed 2016 nuclear agreement or to permanently relinquish its ambitions to develop nuclear weapons.
Two days later, one senator, in a TV interview following consultation with the White House, says he will soon introduce a bill to authorize a U.S. military attack on Iran if it fails within six weeks to comply with this demand: that, in order to protect America's own vital interests in the Middle East and its security at home, it must formally break its ties with Hamas and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. If it fails to do so, it will be subject to American military action aimed at removing its tyrannical theocratic government. Naturally, an indignant response is quickly received from Teheran. That missive, in effect, tells the U.S. to "shove it." It makes clear that, if America follows up on the notion that it can easily intimidate or militarily defeat a nation with such a long and proud history as its own, it will rue that mistake for years to come.
From my own point of view, this exchange of outrage should be as close as we ever get to war with Iran. While the deaths of 23 Israelis are regrettable, they are the result of the seventy-year-long Palestinian/Israeli conflict, which can only be resolved by the parties directly involved, with perhaps some international mediation through the United Nations. Like Saddam's thuggish regime in Iraq, and with much greater geographical justification than our own country has, Iran is at most only a regional rival of the United States. It is competing as the world's greatest Shia power for influence in the Middle East, just as are the United States and its principal Sunni Muslim partner, Saudi Arabia. On the chessboard of geopolitics, Iran's backing of Hamas and Hezbollah poses no more a military threat to the U.S. homeland or America's true vital interests than does a neophyte in an international chess tournament to defeat the reigning champion. Given good will on both sides, there seem to be no conflicts of interest between Iran and the U.S. that cannot be resolved by diplomatic compromise. In those circumstances, choosing to go to war in full awareness of its looming horrors would be not only unnecessary and patently immoral, but also illegal under existing--though in practice still unenforceable--international statutes.
But, let's proceed with my scenario, and, based on recent history, assume that war is the likely outcome. We can expect that, following the exchange of threats between the U.S. and Iran, the talking heads on Fox, CNN and MSNBC will all beat the drums for war, motivated at least in part by the knowledge that, for themselves, a new war will mean both a greatly expanded viewing audience and a new opportunity to display their professional chops. They will again be reporting life-and-death events that are both inherently riveting and much easier to explain than the intricacies of competing proposals for the federal budget, police/community relations, immigration policy, poverty, or a new national health plan.
Americans should, however, meet the drumbeat for war with the same cry of rebuff that Bernie Sanders made famous in impugning America's rigged economy: "Enough is enough!" Those of us who are bothered by the hypocrisies and outright lies of war should make clear that we will not be party to inflicting the same "shock and awe" on Iran for its alleged evil-doing as the world's chief sponsor of terrorism as we did on Iraq for harboring non-existent weapons of mass destruction. Even if the cliche'd demonizing of Iran could be defended by some stretch of logic, the absence of any direct Iranian threat to the American homeland or to any of its vital strategic assets around the world would not allow the "preemptive" or "preventive" violent actions against that country that are permitted under "just war" theory.
But beyond even the question of international legality, both the criminality of a potential American war on Iran, and the death and suffering it would wantonly visit on an innocent people--most of whom are under 30 and have not yet exhausted even half their expected life span--are far outside the bounds of what a moral people can decently accept in deference to their governing authority. The impending arrival of such a war, driven both by presidential threats of war and the Senate bill to authorize it, should therefore kick-start the only strategy that can possibly stop it: the people's own mass mobilization for non-violent but effective resistance to supporting the war.
How and Why Non-Violent Civil Resistance Can Work To Prevent War
In considering how best to stop the government's march to war, it is of course self-evident that only non-violent civil resistance has any chance of doing so. Given the overwhelming superiority of the nation-state's institutionalized military and police power, it is in fact the only means of combating any illegal or immoral conduct or policy imposed by a repressive governing authority at any level of jurisdiction. Moreover, I think it can be assumed that even Americans who oppose war are far more likely to side with a government intent on having it than with insurgents waging violence against it in the name of peace.
We now also know from history that, at least in the case of small countries ruled by weak, corrupt, dysfunctional, or authoritarian regimes, non-violent civil resistance is inherently more effective than armed insurgency for achieving lasting political and social change. The following points help explain why. They are excerpted from a TED TALKS presentation by Erica Chenoweth, Ph.D., Professor and Associate Dean for Research at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver.
- "Non-violent civil resistance" is accurately defined as the participation by unarmed civilians in active forms of conflict--protest, boycotts, demonstrations, and other forms of mass non-cooperation--aimed at effecting constructive change in the leadership, behavior or policies of a lawless or repressive governing authority. The strategy has already proved effective in bringing down tyrants such as Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines in 1986, and Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia in Oct., 2000.
- According to historical evidence, the people power inherent in non-violent civil resistance is actually twice as likely to overthrow a tyrannical government or change a government's policies as is armed insurgency. Recent statistics show that no government or government policy can survive if just 3.5% of the people over which it has jurisdiction demonstrate or take non-violent disruptive action against it.
- Four times as many people are likely to engage in non-violent civil resistance as in armed insurgency, and will reflect a far more balanced representation of the population's gender, age, ethnic, and other demographic differences. Even the elderly and physically disabled can participate.