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Military Vets to US Senate

Don’t Ruin the New Year with War on Iran

by CHRIS GEOVANIS

US military veterans and peace activists closed out 2014 with an appeal to one of the U.S. Senate’s most prominent members: Don’t ruin the New Year with a new war on Iran.

Dozens of U.S. military vets and their allies gathered in the bitter cold and biting wind on the last day of the year outside the downtown Chicago office of U.S. Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) to push back against Kirk’s controversial new bill targeting Iran. Vets charge that Kirk’s bill — S. 1881 — could undermine the recent easing of tensions between the U.S. and Iran and increase the threat of war by thwarting ongoing diplomatic initiatives. Vets say Kirk should instead be supporting current opportunities to strike a diplomatic solution to the long-simmering and dangerous international dispute with Iran over its nuclear program.

The U.S. and its diplomatic partners are currently negotiating with Iran over the terms of its nuclear program, within the framework of a tentative agreement to slowly lift sanctions as progress in negotiations are made. But on December 19th, Kirk introduced a punitive new bill which has the strong support of AIPAC — the American Israel Public Affairs Committee — that clotheslines diplomacy in favor of hardliners in Congress and srael, who have long angled for a military assault on Iran. Kirk and his cosponsor, Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), are expected to advance the provocative bill to the next legislative stage on January 6.

Tuesday’s action was the military veterans’ first public volley in their effort to discourage Kirk and his compatriots, with plans underway to step up the campaign with actions that include a follow-up call-in day to Kirk starting today and continuing on Monday, January 6 to senators across the nation.

“We believe this bill will destroy negotiations with Iran and make war with Iran possible,” said Vietnam military veteran Barry Romo. “We need to respect the international community and the American public, who overwhelmingly want a peaceful settlement with Iran.”

Kirk’s sabre-rattling on Iran is not the first time he’s drawn the ire of veterans and progressives, who have roundly pasted him for actions that range from inflating his military service record to promoting unconstitutional schemes for mass incarceration.

Kirk’s warmongering Iran bill includes a provision that states that “If the Government of Israel is compelled to take military action in legitimate self-defense against Iran’s nuclear weapon program, the United States Government should stand with Israel and provide, in accordance with the law of the United States and the constitutional responsibility of Congress to authorize the use of military force, diplomatic, military, and economic support to the Government of Israel….”

Military veterans charge that that language sets the stage for U.S. support — including the use of military force — for a pre-emptive strike by Israel against Iran, a prospect long feared in the region. The bill, they argue, is essentially a potential march to war at a time when diplomatic solutions are at their most promising stage in years.

The veterans and peace activists are urging Kirk to forgo pushing the bill and undermining the diplomatic initiatives of the Obama administration and its partners, and to make a commitment instead to respect the international community, the diplomatic process and the American public, who overwhelmingly want peace with Iran.

The stakes, say vets, are enormously high.

“We need to let the agreed settlement work — and respect the diplomatic endeavors of the Obama administration and our allies,” said Alejandro Villatoro, a U.S. military veteran of both the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. “Veterans know the consequences of war, the price that veterans have to pay and also the suffering that civilians endure in war zones. We should let the diplomacy of the Obama administration and its partners work.”

The military veterans who gathered on December 31 included representatives of Iraq Veterans Against the War, Vietnam Veterans Against the War, and Veterans for Peace — all seasoned soldiers who have seen the horrors of war first-hand. They had choice words for Illinois’ junior senator on Tuesday: “Senator Kirk, don’t be a jerk.” Their key demands to Kirk — “Negotiations Not Sanctions” and “Diplomacy not War” — have been embraced by partner peace and civic projects that include the Civilian Soldier Alliance, which supports GI resistance within the ranks; United Electrical Workers/Western Region, which has been active in organizing low-wage workers in the Midwest; and the American Friends Service Committee, which has been active locally and nationally in the peace movement.

They expect support for their campaign against S. 1881 to grow in the coming days.

Chris Geovanis is a Chicago media activist, advocacy journalist and member of the HammerHard MediaWorks collective. You can reach her via Twitter @heavyseas, via her Facebook page or at chrisgeovanis(at)gmail.com.