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Truthdigger of the Week: Rep. Dennis Kucinich

As the year draws to a close, the U.S. government risks repeating the costly mistakes of the recent past by ratcheting up tensions with Iran, emphasizing risky sanctions over diplomatic negotiations and making fact-challenged claims about Iran’s nuclear program. Good thing Rep. Dennis Kucinich is on Capitol Hill to call Congress on its deadly war addiction. For his willingness to make a stand against almost all of his congressional cohorts and his refusal to accept shoddy arguments and distressingly repetitive rationalizations for entering into yet another precarious foreign entanglement, we salute Congressman Kucinich as the last Truthdigger of the Week for 2011.

It’s alarming how short our nation’s collective memory, not to mention its attention span, can be when it comes to missing signs of the manipulation of information during the lead-in stages of conflicts with other nations. Rep. Kucinich called in Friday with a history lesson and an update on the debate he brought to the floor of the House about why we shouldn’t listen to the building drumbeat of war with Iran that seems to hold most of Washington in its thrall.

First, a little background. Two bills have made the legislative rounds proposing sanctions against Iran in the last year: The Iran, North Korea and Syria Nonproliferation Act (H.R. 2105) and the Iran Threat Reduction Act (H.R. 1905). On Dec. 14, H.R. 1905 passed with only 11 members of the House, including Kucinich, opposing the bill. Minutes later, H.R. 2105 also passed, and this time only two congressmen — Kucinich and California Rep. Pete Stark — voted against it.

“We actually warned members about this,” Kucinich said Friday. “We sent out letters to members of Congress, and I went to the floor to speak against it.” But Kucinich’s arguments were shot down from both sides of the political aisle, as his colleagues seemed eager to accept the predominant rhetoric claiming that Iran was dead set on developing its own nuclear weapon and that imposing tough sanctions is the most effective way to thwart the threat from Tehran.

This, despite warnings from the likes of Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen, who noted in September that open diplomatic channels were key in preventing big miscalculations and miscommunications. As Kucinich pointed out in his letter to Congress members on Dec. 12, “Section 601 of H.R. 1905 prohibits contact by a U.S. government official or employee with any Iranian official or representative who ‘presents a threat’ to the United States,” a clause that sharply curtails diplomatic interactions between the two nations, but the prospect of this potential gag order apparently failed to stir up much concern. “You see how little attention is paid to any details and facts,” Kucinich said of his opponents in Washington.

So, here are the facts as Kucinich saw them as he took a moment to talk to Truthdig’s Associate Editor Kasia Anderson on the last business day of the year.

Kasia Anderson: There appears to be some push back from other members of Congress about this issue of whether our hands would be tied, diplomatically speaking, by H.R. 1905. How can you all be looking at the same document, and yet one member of Congress says this won’t compromise diplomatic communication and another says it would?

Rep. Dennis Kucinich: I can tell you from my perspective. Everything I try to do is fact-based; I work from a fact-based position. There are some members who made up their minds a long time ago to advance conflict against Iran, and I think the impact on the U.S. and the world would be devastating. There’s no reason whatsoever for us to move into a war against Iran. And we should not be rattling sabers — we should not be taking steps that escalate. And so I think from my perspective when these issues have come up in the past regarding Iran, I understood that the neocons have had extraordinary influence in keeping up the tensions, but someone has to say that they were wrong about Iraq. Someone has to hold the neocons responsible for the drumbeat for war that cost the lives of thousands of American troops and perhaps over a million Iraqis, that will have a long-term cost of about $5 trillion and that has further damaged America’s position in the world. The same people that brought us Iraq are changing the q to an n and advancing a whole new war based on the same type of flimsy predicate that brought us to war against Iraq.

Anderson: In your debates about the sanctions against Iran, you drew parallels to the lead-in to the Iraq War and to the Gulf of Tonkin, among other historical lessons. Can you expand on those here?

Kucinich: The Gulf of Tonkin is relevant here because the American people were largely unaware of what transpired during an encounter — a so-called encounter — in the Gulf of Tonkin that led directly to the war in Vietnam. We are now in the Strait of Hormuz, in an area where there’s a tremendous amount of traffic, and the potential for conflict is real. This is why I quoted Admiral Mullen in saying that he wasn’t looking towards any escalation here. Anybody in the Navy understands how real the risks are of ratcheting up a military presence in the Strait of Hormuz as a means of [imposing] sanctions from the very beginning — sanctions were in and of themselves a path towards escalation — a direct path towards war. … Congress can’t seem to get away from this drumbeat of war. As an institution it seems incapable of avoiding another war. The American people don’t want another war.

I led the effort in Congress in 2002 in challenging the march towards war. There was no evidence that Iraq had the intention or the ability of attacking the United States of America. There were no WMDs — it was all a put-up job to take us into a war. And the people who took us into it have never been held accountable, from Bush on down; members of Congress are equally accountable because they voted in favor of the war. We cannot break free of the hold that war has on our country. The implications of conflict with Iran are extraordinary. Unlike Iraq, Iran has the ability to fight back. Unlike Iraq, Iran is a major player in the economy of the world, and the implications of conflict with Iran will be felt globally and can put the U.S. in a much broader conflict with other nations as well. This is a very dangerous moment.

Anderson: How is it that Congress gets swept up in this kind of rhetoric?

Kucinich: It’s really a kind of reverse Houdini phenomenon. Houdini was famous for escaping being bound, but members of Congress are famous for binding themselves — binding our nation into perilous conditions. And so how does that happen? I don’t see war as being inevitable. I see that we have an obligation to use diplomacy to avoid war, and we have a greater obligation in this heavily mediated society to work to get at the truth and not be swept up into war by ideologues or by war profiteers who both cashed in in Iraq.

With an American economy falling apart. … We are at a decisive moment in the history of this country where we have to begin to make a conscious choice of a domestic agenda over foreign conflict. If we fail to do that, we will lose our nation.

Anderson: Do you think anything can be done with respect to a potential conflict with Iran?

Kucinich: Yes! Back off. That’s what we need to do.

I want to go back over the dynamics in Washington. There’s always a certain group of people — Republicans and Democrats alike — who will vote for war. They’ll vote to fund wars, seeing it their patriotic duty to do so. We need a new type of thinking. That new type of thinking has to be demanded by people like your readership and by constituents aross the country. We have become so enamored of war as a nation we can’t break from it. If you look at the Republican debate, it’s all about war with them — all but Ron Paul. What’s this about? What are we doing? Why aren’t we taking care of things at home?

There’s a psychology of aggression which permeates our society. It is as though we are riding a death star. Yet I refuse to believe that America will perish through this kind of thinking. I’m hopeful that we can reverse the direction. But you can only do it if people have the truth — if people have information about what’s really going on.

Anderson: What about the claims that Iran is developing its own nuclear weapon?

Kucinich: The changes in the International Atomic Energy Agency are very disturbing. Instead of a dispassionate technician running the IAEA, you have a politician who used politics to get his appointment, and now he’s willing to do his servile best to give those who want war the leverage to claim that Iran is moving towards getting a nuclear weapon. That poisons the dialogue.

Know that lies are being told right now to get us into a conflict with Iran. We need to take steps to avoid it, otherwise we’re looking at a condition that would be calamitous to the economy of the nation and to the long-term health of the United States of America. Also think of the Cuban Missile Crisis, how the military was trying to go for war. And the political strength it took President John F. Kennedy to pull back and to curtail war. There was a real conflict there, and the chances of conflict were real. The chances of a nuclear war were real, and yet we had leaders who understood the need for diplomacy. Diplomacy is not weakness — it’s strength. The use of arms as a substitute for diplomacy is idiocy. Those who are responsible for that kind of thinking need to be called on it — need to be held accountable. It’s lazy intellectualism and lazy politics that cause people to vote for war. We can no longer afford this. We need to change our position in the world. If we don’t we will lose our nation. That’s why I’ve been speaking out in Congress for years to try to avert conflict.

You can look at what I said in the lead-up to the war against Serbia. You can look at what I said coming out of 9/11 and the lead-up to the war in Iraq and these other wars that we’ve had. The one ray of light that I saw was that some of the conservative Republicans questioned our actions in Libya.

Look, if you want to stop war, you have to have communication with people. I mean, if you look back to the Cuban Missile Crisis, which is one of the gravest crises of the 20th century, it was the fact that the United States and Russia were able to engage in communication [that saved us]. So we have to be very careful that we don’t pass any kind of a law that would restrict not just our First Amendment rights and not just freedom of association, but would restrict the basic kind of diplomacy that’s used, because everyone here knows that diplomacy is not just leaders talking to leaders. All kinds of backdoor diplomacy goes on, and I think that that needs to be taken into consideration.

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