[Marxism] Norman Solomon: Why won't Moveon.org oppose attacking Iran?

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Tue Apr 18 02:59:20 MDT 2006

April 17 , 2006 
The Wages of Consensus
Why Won't Moveon.org Oppose the Bombing of Iran?

MoveOn.org sent out an email with the subject line "Don't Nuke Iran" to
three million people on April 12. "There is one place where all of us
can agree: Americans don't support a pre-emptive nuclear attack on Iran,
and Congress must act to prevent the president from launching one before
it's too late," the message said. And: "Please take a moment to add your
name to our petition to stop a nuclear attack on Iran." 

The petition's two sentences only convey opposition to a "nuclear"
attack on Iran: "Congress and President Bush must rule out attacking
Iran with nuclear weapons. Even the threat of a nuclear attack
eliminates some of the best options we have for diplomacy, and the
consequences could be catastrophic." 

In MoveOn's mass email letter, the only reference to a non-nuclear
attack on Iran came in a solitary sentence without any followup: "Even a
conventional attack would likely be a disaster." 

"Likely" be a disaster? Is there any U.S. military attack on Iran that
plausibly would not be a disaster? 

There's no way around the conclusion that the signers of the letter
("Eli, Joan, Nita, Marika and the MoveOn.org Political Action Team")
chose to avoid committing themselves -- and avoid devoting MoveOn
resources -- to categorical opposition to bombing Iran. 

* * * * * 

In preparation for this article, I sent emails to each of the four
signers of MoveOn's "Don't Nuke Iran" letter, asking them: 

1) Why does the letter say nothing against a prospective non-nuclear
attack on Iran other than comment that "a conventional attack would
likely be a disaster"? 

2) Why was the petition confined to opposing a "nuclear" attack on Iran
rather than opposing any military attack on Iran? 

3) Has MoveOn ever sent out a message to the three-million list taking a
clear position against the U.S. attacking Iran (no matter what kind of
weaponry would be used)? 

4) If the answer to question #3 is "no," why not? 

A response came on April 13 from Eli Pariser, executive director of
MoveOn. Here is his three-paragraph reply in its entirety: 

"As you know, our focus is on bringing people together around points of
consensus. We build our advocacy agenda through dialogue with our
members. Since we haven't done any work around Iran thus far, we saw the
prospect of a nuclear attack as a good way to begin that conversation --
something everyone can agree was nuts. 

"As I mention in the ['Don't Nuke Iran'] email, a conventional attack
poses many of the same risks as a nuclear one. But just as our Iraq
campaign started with a position that attracted a broad membership --
'Ask Tough Questions,' in August 2002 -- and then escalated, so we're
trying here to engage folks beyond the 'peace' community in a national
discussion about the consequences of war. 

"We wouldn't have had the membership to be able to run ads calling for
an Iraq exit today if we'd confined our Iraq campaign to the true
believers from the very beginning." 

* * * * * 

I believe that the MoveOn decision-makers who signed the "Don't Nuke
Iran" mass email are almost certainly aware that if they surveyed a
cross-section of those commonly referred to as MoveOn members (people
who are currently signed-up for MoveOn's emails), the overwhelming
majority would say that they're opposed to an attack on Iran with any
weapons -- not just nuclear weapons. 

Opposition to any bombing of Iran inherently includes opposition to
bombing Iran with nuclear weapons. But vice versa is not the case. And
so far it is (so to speak) precisely the ambiguity of confining the
MoveOn position to "Don't Nuke Iran" that MoveOn's leadership has

As MoveOn's mass email stated on April 12, "There is one place where all
of us can agree: Americans don't support a pre-emptive nuclear attack on
Iran, and Congress must act to prevent the president from launching one
before it's too late." 

As Eli Pariser wrote to me the next day, "our focus is on bringing
people together around points of consensus." 

This approach debases the role of consensus in progressive political
organizing. It shouldn't mean tailing the opinion polls or waving an
organizational finger in the wind; nor should it mean taking cues from
power brokers among congressional Democrats. 

Nor should a progressive organization avoid taking historically
imperative positions in real time because they might interfere with
feeding cash cows a diet of lines that seem optimum for maximizing the
flow of "the mother's milk of politics" to pay for ads. 

The voices in Congress denouncing the prospect of a military attack on
Iran, period, are in short supply right now. Yet as it happens,
according to a nationwide poll jointly released by Bloomberg and the Los
Angeles Times on April 13, the current inclinations of people in the
United States are about evenly divided: "Forty-eight percent said they
would support military action against Iran if it continues to produce
material that can be used to develop a nuclear bomb, down from 57
percent in January. Forty percent oppose military action, up from 33
percent in January." 

As long as MoveOn's leaders (not to be confused with MoveOn's email
recipients) want to confine MoveOn to mobilizing against use of nuclear
weaponry in an attack on Iran, they're actually aiding a process that
can dangerously reframe policy options -- so that some kind of military
attack on Iran becomes increasingly accepted while much of the debate
shifts to arguments over whether use of nuclear weapons in the attack
should be ruled out. 

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