Without Even a War

Even now it’s hard to forgive Yoko Ono. Starting in 1969, all of us had to listen to that dull and droning John Lennon song with its endless and almost tuneless chant – “All we are saying, is give peace a chance” – sung, sort of, over and over and over. But this was John Lennon’s first single after the Beatles broke up, and the Age of Aquarius was ending, so that made this song something to hang onto from the departing sixties, even if the thing was so stupid it made you want to pick up a gun and head to Vietnam. That was Yoko Ono’s fault. Lennon had just married her and he wrote the song on their honeymoon:

The song was written during Lennon’s Bed-In honeymoon in Montreal, Canada. When asked by a reporter what he was trying to achieve by staying in bed, Lennon answered spontaneously “Just give peace a chance.” He went on to say this several times during the Bed-In. Finally, on 1 June 1969, in Room 1742 at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal, André Perry recorded it using a simple setup of four microphones and a four-track tape recorder rented from a local recording studio. The recording session was attended by dozens of journalists and various celebrities, including Timothy Leary, Rabbi Abraham Feinberg, Joseph Schwartz, Rosemary Woodruff Leary, Petula Clark, Dick Gregory, Allen Ginsberg, Murray the K and Derek Taylor, many of whom are mentioned in the lyrics. Lennon played acoustic guitar and was joined by Tommy Smothers of the Smothers Brothers, also on acoustic guitar.

It didn’t help. All the inventiveness and energy of the sixties had turned into a kind of brain-dead droning self-congratulatory simpleminded earnestness. That pretty much describes Yoko Ono of course, and the sixties were really over when the two of them moved to the Upper West Side, to the beyond-exclusive Dakota on Central Park West – where Lennon eventually owned five apartments, and where on a cold December day in 1980, Mark David Chapman shot him in the back four times, right there at the entrance. That ended it all. Across the street from the Dakota, just inside the park, there’s now that Strawberry Fields memorial – as in Strawberry Fields Forever – and that’s incredibly sad. Yoko Ono, however, lives on. She’s eighty now, and still very rich, and just as irritating as ever – but that’s okay. She doesn’t matter. The peace-and-love antiwar stuff was over long ago, done in by its dreadful earnestness, and with it being turned into a matter of celebrity and living large, at just the right address, with lots of cool stuff. All movements die, one way or another.

Our war in Vietnam was over anyway, and nine years after John Lennon was shot dead, the Soviet Union was dead and gone too. There was no one left to fight. Those of us who attended the June graduation at West Point, in 1990, heard Colin Powell, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, give an odd commencement address – the Army would find something new and exciting for all these new Second Lieutenants to do, as peace was as challenging as war. Things had changed; in fact, Francis Fukuyama was writing about The End of History – we had obviously reached “the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”

It was all over but the shouting, but then there was a lot of shouting. Within two years, most of those bright-eyed West point graduates from that June afternoon were leading small units chasing Saddam Hussein’s massive but incompetent army out of Kuwait and back into Iraq, and years of trouble followed. That Osama fellow just didn’t buy Fukuyama’s thesis. The Muslim world – Arab and Persian and Indonesian – didn’t buy it either. They showed us that in the nineties, blowing up two of our embassies in Africa, and then with that first bomb in the parking structure under the World Trade Center, and then with what they did on September 11, 2001 – all arguments that the universalization of Western liberal democracy was not going to be the final form of human government, damn it. We’ve been at war with them ever since.

That called for a new movement, and not an antiwar movement this time, and that came in the form of neoconservative movement in the late nineties and their Project for a New American Century with its simple premise. We had seen the End of History and had come out on top, the sole remaining superpower, so we could do what we wanted and could simply remake the world into what it was supposed to be, and we should, by force. This would be OUR century. After all, no nation has ever had the power we have now, exclusive power, really, and we could do some good in the world with it, spreading that fine Western liberal democracy stuff, the best thing that ever was, as shown by the process of elimination. Dick Cheney was a founding member of the group that produced that manifesto, this carefully detailed project paper, and he found himself a pliable young president, without much intellectual capability, to get things underway. He was asked by the younger Bush to find a likely vice president to run with him, and Cheney nominated himself, and the rest is history.

It didn’t work out. Our war in Iraq got us a failing state there, more and more aligned with Iran and Syria, the bad guys, with every day that passes, and we’ll be out of Afghanistan soon, with nothing much to show for our more than ten years there being awesome and powerful. Obama had us play a secondary role in toppling Gadhafi in Libya, and we’re not about to charge into Syria or Egypt now to fix everything, assuring Western liberal democracy in either of those two places. The American public won’t stand for it. They’d had enough of that nonsense. The few remaining neoconservatives, and John McCain, may call Obama a coward and a fool, and a man who hates American exceptionalism and America itself, and a man who’s always apologizing for America when no one should ever apologize for America, ever – but Obama was elected, twice, easily each time, and all movements die. Dick Cheney still pops up on Fox News now and then, offering his brain-dead droning self-congratulatory simpleminded earnestness, kind of like Yoko Ono really, except that he sneers a lot. Yoko Ono never sneered. You have to give her that.

Things have come full circle, even if John Lennon is still dead. The few remaining neoconservatives, and the current leadership in Israel, are now hopping mad that we may soon reach an agreement with Iran, where they move toward giving up their effort to develop nuclear weapons, and we move toward easing up on the devastating sanctions, and everyone calms down and talks a bit more. There would be no war. No one is talking about regime change. All we are saying is give peace a chance. It’s a sixties thing and it’s actually happening:

Iran and six world powers extended high-stakes talks over Tehran’s nuclear program into an unscheduled third day on Saturday, as their top diplomats labored to hammer out a long-sought deal to end a decade-old standoff.

The United States and Iran were cautious and tight-lipped after a five-hour trilateral meeting between their foreign ministers and European Union foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, who is coordinating talks with the Islamic state for the six powers.

They were searching for an agreement to ease international fears that Iran is seeking the capability to make nuclear weapons and, in exchange, offer the Middle East nation limited relief from sanctions that are hurting its economy.

It seems no one wants another war over there, and we could get what we want – no nuclear Iran – and they could have what they want – an economy that works again and reengagement with the rest of the world, in trade and culturally. That no one is saying much is a good sign here, as is the news that the talks will go on through the weekend or later. No one is giving up on this. Secretary of State John Kerry dropped everything and flew into Geneva to work our side of things, so our top guy is now there. British Foreign Secretary William Hague and French and German foreign ministers Laurent Fabius and Guido Westerwelle are saying that the five permanent UN Security Council members and Germany are working on this too. All they were saying is give peace a chance, even if they weren’t singing that dreadful tune.

One minor problem was this:

Kerry arrived from Tel Aviv, where he met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who regards Iran’s atomic aspirations as a menace to the Jewish state.

Netanyahu warned Kerry and his European counterparts that Iran would be getting “the deal of the century” if they carried out proposals to grant Tehran limited, temporary relief from sanctions in exchange for a partial suspension of, and pledge not to expand, its enrichment of uranium for nuclear fuel.

“Israel utterly rejects it,” Netanyahu said.

Later on Friday, U.S. President Barack Obama telephoned Netanyahu to discuss the international talks on Iran’s nuclear program, the White House said in a statement.

“The president provided the prime minister with an update on negotiations in Geneva and underscored his strong commitment to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, which is the aim of the ongoing negotiations,” the White House said.

Netanyahu can be a pain in the ass, but such things always happen, and Ed Kilgore simply sighs:

The likelihood of a deal is underlined by Bibi Netanyahu’s immediate attack on it. Israel’s policy, of course, is that sanctions need to remain in place until Iran’s nuclear capability is eliminated – a position which treats halts in the nuclear program as largely irrelevant.

Those in the U.S., including most of the Republican Party, who take a similar position won’t greet a deal positively, and in any event, many GOP foreign policy hawks don’t support any activity towards Iran unless it’s aimed at regime change.

But for the rest of us, it’s a positive step.

Jeffrey Goldberg notes that Netanyahu is pretty much being ignored, for a number of obvious reasons:

The first reason is that U.S. President Barack Obama has him boxed in. Netanyahu can’t launch a unilateral strike on Iran now that the U.S. is actively negotiating with its leaders. That would just be outré. So Netanyahu is in a time-out of sorts – and therefore semi-marginalized.

The second reason is one Netanyahu, so far at least, has refused to comprehend. His unwillingness to permanently freeze settlement growth on the West Bank, to make the sort of grand gesture toward the Palestinians that would advance the peace process, has caused even those in Washington and Europe who are sympathetic to his stance on Iran to write him off as generally immovable and irrational.

The guy is stuck in the neoconservative nineties, when everyone else sort of returned to the John Lennon sixties, and Andrew Sullivan adds this:

If Iran agrees to freeze its nuclear program for six months, as a bigger, more comprehensive deal is negotiated, then Iran looks like a much more reasonable party in global negotiations than Israel. After all, Israel was asked at the outset of Obama’s term to agree to a very similar deal: freeze settlement construction for six months, while negotiating with the Palestinians on a broader agreement. Netanyahu refused and has continued his settlement policy to the fury of the Palestinians and profound frustration of America and anger in Europe. He’s less flexible than [Iranian President] Rouhani.

Similarly, if Iran eventually agrees to have rigorous inspections to ensure its nuclear program is civilian alone, and if the amazing progress made to destroy Syria’s WMDs continues, then Israel will be even more isolated. It will be the only power in the Middle East with nuclear bombs and chemical weapons.

This is a dead end:

Netanyahu’s belligerence has only made his country more isolated than any decent Israeli PM would allow. If he insists on keeping those WMDs and forging the Greater Israel he dreams of, he will risk turning Israel into a rogue state, increasingly shunned by the West and by the next generation of American Jews. Heckuva job, Bibi!

The echo of what George Bush said about his hapless FEMA Director in the first days after Katrina is intentional.

That’s cool, but the Cheney-neoconservatives are still out there, at Commentary magazine, and Jonathan Tobin is one of them:

After more than a decade of diplomatic deception, the Iranians finally have what they wanted: an American president and secretary of state ready to recognize their “right” to enrich uranium and to hold on to their nuclear fuel stockpile and to loosen sanctions in exchange for easily evaded promises. The next stop is not, as the administration may hope, a deal in six months to end the nuclear threat, but an Iran that knows that the sanctions have already begun to unravel emboldened to dig in its heels even further.

Perhaps only war will do, with us exercising our awesome power, but at the libertarian Cato Institute, Justin Logan says these folks should just chill:

The deal is not a complete, irreversible end of the problem posed by Iran’s nuclear program. What hawkish observers fail to understand is that there is no such solution, through diplomacy, military strikes, or otherwise. Thus the question was never whether this deal could provide Netanyahu’s desiderata: the shipping out of all enriched uranium, the destruction of Fordow and Arak, and an end to Iran’s pursuit of enrichment altogether. Nobody, perhaps even including Netanyahu thought that was possible. Given his various public statements, Netanyahu seemed to think any deal was a bad deal.

So yes, it’s not time to pop-champagne-corks and to forget the world, nor time to throw a tantrum. A prospective interim deal would be a small, but very important, step in the right direction. Given the disaster that would be a war in Iran, we should take this small step and see if it can be built on.

Hey, give peace a chance, and at the American Conservative, Daniel Larison obviously agrees with Andrew Sullivan:

There are three reasons why Israeli officials would publicly attack negotiations with Iran. The first is that they assume that any deal will be unacceptable to them, and are therefore writing off the negotiating process ahead of time. The second is that they want to keep public pressure on to make the deal as tolerable as possible, and the third is that they don’t need to take a risk in endorsing a deal no matter what it involves.

Some combination of the first and third reasons probably explains what Netanyahu thinks he’s doing, but he and his government may be underestimating the danger of isolating Israel on the one issue where Israel enjoys some broader international sympathy. Rejecting the deal out of hand before it has even been finalized gives the U.S. and European governments little reason to listen to Israeli complaints, since the latter are not going to be realistically satisfied – and that will make them much less sympathetic to any Israeli reaction to the deal.

At Mother Jones, Kevin Drum sees that too:

Netanyahu has made it clear that he’s just flatly opposed to any plausible bargain at all. His idea of a deal is that Iran first destroys its entire nuclear infrastructure and then – maybe – sanctions should be eased or lifted. This is pretty plainly not a deal that any national leader in his right mind would ever accept, and Netanyahu knows it. So he’s essentially saying that no deal should ever be made with Iran. Given an attitude like that, who’s going to take him seriously? Nobody. Add to that an unending string of personal affronts against President Obama, and it’s a credit to Obama’s self-control that he’s still willing to talk to Netanyahu at all.

That may be so, but at the Washington Post’s site, Max Fisher says don’t forget about Congress back here:

Many lawmakers, particularly but not exclusively Republicans, are beginning to rally around the idea that any sanctions relief would be dangerous and requires their opposition. It doesn’t hurt that appearing tough on Iran is a politically popular position that poses few risks for lawmakers and substantial benefit. Keep in mind that according to public opinion polls, Americans hold highly negative views of Iran. In addition, lawmakers have been denouncing the Obama administration over Middle East policy for years. …

This is where Netanyahu could play a major role, and potentially scuttle any nuclear deal with Iran, should one emerge from Geneva. Sanctions relief will be controversial in Congress, and Republican lawmakers will try to draw as much attention to the issue as possible so as to rally public opposition. What they lack is a public face to put on their campaign. Netanyahu can provide that: He is popular in the United States and has demonstrated a flair for rallying Congress. He’s also not particularly shy about criticizing the diplomatic outreaches with Tehran. If Netanyahu continues arguing against an Iranian deal, and particularly if he does so in a way that’s crafted to resonate in any domestic American debate, he could make the Obama administration’s task in Congress much harder.

Well, yes – Netanyahu practically campaigned for Mitt Romney back in 2012, and the Christian right always sides with Israel, never with our president, because Israel is Jesus Land and the apocalypse is coming and Obama and his kind will be Left Behind – but Obama was elected twice, easily. Telling America that the choice here comes down to a simple choice between two men – Obama or Netanyahu, choose only one – might not be wise.

This won’t be pretty, and in the Guardian, Ian Black notes that things aren’t any easier in Iran:

In the Islamic Republic, the key to momentum will be sufficiently tangible economic improvements to build up the popular support Rouhani needs to bolster his position vis-a-vis diehard conservatives and the Revolutionary Guards, imbued with decades of suspicion towards the US, the West and their Arab allies. The continuing confrontation over the war in Syria, where Tehran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah back Bashar al-Assad to the hilt, while the Saudis support the Sunni rebels, has been a vivid reminder of Iran’s regional reach and influence. For the moment though, Rouhani appears to enjoy the backing of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has urged critics “not to consider our negotiators as compromisers.”

Things are tricky on both sides, but Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, just quoted John Lennon. All he is saying is give peace a chance.

Sure, but in Foreign Policy, Stephen Walt argues that’s easier said than done:

Which side will win? I don’t know, but I do think this is a winnable fight for Obama if he tries. If the negotiators in Geneva can reach an agreement that 1) avoids war, 2) reduces Iran’s incentive for a bomb, 3) moves them further from the nuclear threshold, and 4) strengthens the already-tough inspections regime, and presents it to the American people as a done deal, I think the public will support it strongly. …

The rest of the [nations in the negotiations] will be ecstatic (except maybe Russia and China, because they benefit from the United States and Iran being at odds), and they will be making supportive noises as well. Hardline opponents won’t be able to attack the deal without engaging in transparently obvious special pleading, partly on behalf of a country that already has nuclear weapons and hasn’t been all that cooperative lately. Under these circumstances, some of those diehard opponents in Congress might think twice about killing the deal, because their fingerprints would be all over the murder weapon.

Indeed, that may be why they are now proposing new sanctions: better to kill the diplomatic process before it produces results than to try to discredit a reasonable deal later on.

Why would they do that? Peace is better than war. John Lennon said so from Room 1742 at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal, back in 1969, and we have come full cycle. Even if his song back then was awful, we tried the alternative, for a full decade, and that was far worse than any dreadful and smug antiwar song from the late sixties. Yoko Ono has a lot to answer for, but not that. Yeah, give peace a chance.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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One Response to Without Even a War

  1. Rick says:

    That song wasn’t really all that dreadful in itself, it only becomes so when you hear it over and over again, the way people in earlier years used to sing that vapid “Where have all the flowers gone?” and before that, “Michael, Row Your Boat Ashore” — over and over until you wanted to rip your ears right off your head.

    I actually have some black and white video I took of John and Yoko singing it at Bryant Park in NYC back in maybe 1972. I was too far away to see them but you can hear the song as a soundtrack as I walked around taking shots of the audience, some raising their fists in the air in time to the music, as if in a moving picture version of a Soviet poster — as one professor who saw the tape once told me, it was a case of “life imitating art”.

    I know I’m in the minority here — and as much as I don’t like Netanyahu, especially don’t like Israeli settlements — but I agree with Bibi on this one. I think Iran has essentially won with any deal the make with us at this point, since (as I understand it) they can reduce their enrichment to ridiculously low levels, but still be back in business in a matter of weeks, and then build a bomb before anyone in the rest of the world is any the wiser. Netanyahu made a good point at the UN when he pointed out that Iran is testing long-range missiles, things that are essentially useless to anyone, just landing with a thud, unless they have nuclear warheads on them.

    But does it really matter, since lots of countries, including Israel and the United States, have bombs now? And do we even have any choice anymore? Is proliferation even worth worrying about anymore?

    I don’t know, maybe not. But at least if we’re going to do this, we should be honest enough to admit that Iran is playing us all for suckers.

    Rick

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