As a new front in the Middle East powder keg opens up in Lebanon, as Iraq descends into what can only be called civil war, as the Taliban makes a comeback in Afghanistan and as the U.S. continues to rattle its sabers at Iran and Syria, it might make sense to step back and think more broadly about how the peace movement is ever going to turn this country away from its anti-democratic, dangerous support of repressive regimes in Israel, Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Middle East. After all, though the war in Iraq has been especially brutal and hideous, the U.S. has been throwing its weight around in this region for a long time, particularly since the end of World War II.
Iran is a good example. In the early ‘50s the United States teamed up with Britain to overthrow the democratically-elected government of Mohammed Mossadegh and replace him with Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, known for the brutal and sadistic Savak which maintained him in power for over 25 years via widespread torture and repression.
Why was Mossadegh overthrown? Because of his plans to nationalize the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, now known as BP.
Oil is both the bottom line and the primary interest of the U.S. when it comes to Middle East policy, and that interest has become more intense as oil reserves dwindle in the United States. Today only 3% of known oil reserves are in the USA while 60% are in the Middle East. Given what even George Bush has hypocritically called “our oil addiction,” and given the inordinate power of oil/energy corporations like ExxonMobil, five of whom are in the top 10 of the Fortune 500 biggest companies in the world, it is not surprising that the U.S. has been playing the role that it has over the last half century.
Fast forward to 2002. I was running a U.S. Senate campaign in New Jersey on the Green Party line against corrupt Democrat Bob Torricelli and multi-millionaire Republican Doug Forrester. I decided to run for this office primarily because I felt it was critical that there be forceful and visible anti-war voices opposing the Bush Administration’s efforts to use the 9-11 Al Qaeda attacks to advance their militaristic, oil-imperialistic and repressive agenda.
A major campaign issue for me was global warming. In my campaign brochure the second paragraph said, “Move towards energy independence, reverse global warming and create jobs through a crash program to get energy from the sun, the wind and other renewable fuels.”
As I campaigned through the state I found literally no opposition and much positive head-nodding when I said, “we need to shift to solar, wind and renewable energy so that we can reduce our dependence on Middle East oil and get ourselves out of that part of the world.” Regular folks of different cultures and income levels all easily saw the connection between reducing our use of oil, increasing the use of renewables and decreasing the threat of terrorism and war.
Ever since then, for the last four years, as I’ve been active in both the peace movement and the movement to slow, stop and reverse global warming, I’ve done what I could to encourage peace activists to make these connections and to encourage environmental activists to do the same, while also emphasizing the social and economic justice implications of peace and clean energy policies.
The massive April 29th demonstration in NYC a few months ago was a watershed moment. The first of the six demands on the main coalition leaflet said, “No more never-ending oil wars!” The sixth demand declared, “Act now to reverse the climate crisis and end the war on nature.” Others addressed issues like civil liberties, immigrant rights and domestic human needs.
A month later Al Gore’s global warming movie, An Inconvenient Truth, opened at theatres around the country, and it is having a major impact. Polls show that a large majority want action to address the climate crisis, just as they show that a solid majority wants the U.S. to leave Iraq.
It is essential that we make these connections. Activists in the peace movement need to appreciate that to the extent to which this country gets serious about energy conservation and efficiency and dramatically shifts from oil, coal and natural gas to clean energy sources like wind and solar—-a necessity if the world as we know it, and as it can be, is to survive—-to that extent will the underlying basis for oil-imperialistic wars decrease.
On April 29 a group of students from Middlebury College in Vermont carried a banner which summed it up: “No More Oil Wars—-Clean Energy Now!” This popular sentiment must find expression in government policy, and it is our job this fall to make every candidate running for Congress understand that this is what our people want. We should be circulating the VotersForPeace Pledge which declares that those signing “will not vote for or support any candidate for Congress or President who does not make a speedy end to the war in Iraq, and preventing any future war of aggression, a public position in his or her campaign.” We should be pressuring all candidates running for Congress to say where they stand on the Climate Crisis Coalition’s ClimateUSA platform. We must make visible this popular desire for peace, a rapid transition to clean energy and justice. We should oppose those who oppose this agenda and support those who support it. Until November 7th, there is no more important work.