Medea Benjamin on Iran and Saudi Arabia

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Medea Benjamin in Kansas City, 2019-02-16
The accompanying video and the transcript below are the first 51:27 (mm:ss) of a presentation by Medea Benjamin at All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church in Kansas City, MO, on 2019-02-16] as a benefit for KKFI. This was followed by a question and answer period that is not included here. A podcast of the complete presentation with the 32 minute question and answer period is available via “Global Roots Radio” on KKFI.

Judy Ancel: [00:00:01] I everybody. My name is Judy Ancel. I'm a volunteer, member of the Public Affairs Committee of KKFI. That is a committee that is promoting news and public affairs on the station. And one of the things that we do is to try to bring you speakers who are frequently on the airwaves of KKFI.

Judy Ancel: [00:00:43] And our current speaker tonight qualifies. Thanks to Amy Goodman and Democracy Now!, we often hear her voice speaking from wherever she may be either in the Middle East or Washington, D.C., talking about issues of [[Wikipedia:human rights|human rights]]. And so it is with great pleasure that we asked Medea to come. And she said yes, even though she leaves Friday for Iran. And was going to go to Venezuela. And is obviously quite occupied with trying to keep our government from invading somebody. Take your pick.

Judy Ancel: [00:01:25] So, anyway, if you want to join in promoting public affairs at KKFI, our committee is always looking for new members with good ideas and some energy to put into it. And I want to first off to thank the volunteers. Would the people in the Public Affairs Committee stand up? That's our chair, Greg.

Judy Ancel: [00:01:44] Anyway, thank you all. And, we did that "Kicking the Koch Habit" Conference last Summer. And we're doing this. And hopefully, Bill Clause permitting, we're going to be putting on a play very soon. A political play, of course. We're full of ideas, but we want more. So if you're interested in volunteering for news and public affairs, please contact Ebony Johnson, who is out at the reception table, taking your credit cards and whatever, checking you in. She's our volunteer coordinator. And she will get your name down and make sure you find out about our meetings.

Judy Ancel: [00:02:33] With that I also want to thank KKFI for sponsoring this event. This is a benefit for KKFI. But I also want to thank the co-sponsor organizations, who have helped promote this event and have tables out there. And they are Military Families Speak Out, Kansas City Veterans for Peace, Kansas City Our Revolution, Citizens for Justice in the Middle East, Jewish Voice for Peace-KC, PeaceWorks Kansas City, and Friends of Community Media. And thank you all.

Judy Ancel: [00:03:26] So Benjamin is the co-founder of the women-led peace group called Code Pink. How many of you have ever heard of Code Pink? How many of you are wearing pink? OK. Well they wear pink all the time. And usually you see them in the halls of Congress wearing pink.

Judy Ancel: [00:03:48] She is also a co-founder of an organization that meant a lot in my life, [[Wikipedia:Global Exchange|Global Exchange]], which is a human rights organization based in [[Wikipedia:San Francisco|San Francisco]], which has for years been fighting for human rights all over, particularly Latin America. That's how I know about them from the work I've done there. And have made a big difference in terms of being able to impact corporate behavior in offshore plants that produce things like the pink that you're wearing or not.

Judy Ancel: [00:04:23] So Medea has been an advocate for social justice for more than 40 years. She must be old. She doesn't look it though. And you know I just finished reading her second to the last book. Which is her book on Saudi Arabia called A Kingdom of the Unjust, aptly titled. Oh, my God. It's quite a read. And we've got a bunch of them out there in back. So I highly recommend it. I haven't read her book on Iran, which is her latest book. But people I talked to who have say it is just chock full of information that you never knew that you need to know. Especially about one of the premier candidates that were about to go to war with I guess. So, read up.

Judy Ancel: [00:05:18] Anyway she's a prolific writer. She has frequent articles in The Guardian, Huffington Post, Common Dreams, AlterNet, and The Hill. But the thing I think that Medea is best known for these days is her courage in standing up and speaking truth to power. I don't know how many he saw the video Our Revolution posted on their Facebook page of the demonstration just this week during the hearings with Elliott Abrams, a certified war criminal, home where a number of members of Code Pink interrupted the hearings three different times and got arrested. You can ask her what happens to people when they get arrested. It's kind of interesting. I, of course, in the video, I saw Medea there videotaping the whole thing. And it's so important to speak out, because nobody is speaking out on Venezuela right now. You know neither the Democrats nor the Republicans. A few stray Democrats but not the leadership. And it is so important the work that they are doing. So with great pleasure I welcome Medea Benjamin.

Medea Benjamin: [00:06:49] It's wonderful to be here. And it was so exciting to see all of your tables out there with such great organizations and work that so many of you are doing.

Medea Benjamin: [00:06:59] I must say that I'm a bit of a coastal snob, having been born in New York, then gone to San Francisco then moved to Washington, D.C. But I get really inspired when I'm not on the coast and I find that people are doing really fantastic work. And it's often much harder circumstances. So I really want to thank you for those of you who are doing this. Some of you are newer to it, and some of you doing it for a long lifetime. And I've met a couple of you in many circumstances over the years including, where's Don? Where did Don go? Doing work around Central America decades ago. And here we are almost full circle in terms of U.S. involvement in Latin America. You know during the time the U.S. was and is still involved in perpetual wars in the Middle East, we used to say there was one silver lining, and that was they were too busy to look over at Latin America. And during that time you had the pink tide with all of these countries in Latin America getting progressive governments doing amazing things to eliminate poverty. In Brazil under Lula was incredible.

Medea Benjamin: [00:08:12] And in Argentina, Bolivia, in Uruguay, and Ecuador, and Venezuela, and having this real solidarity among Latin American countries. I was one of the U.S. representatives to an economic coalition put together of the progressive governments of Latin America called ALBA, which means "dawn". And through that it was the whole idea was how are we going to lift up the countries in Latin America that were the poorest? How can we help them by giving them maybe some subsidized oil, by helping with their agriculture, all kinds of solidarity kinds of things. And that unfortunately has really fallen apart. Now that so many of the countries in Latin America have been taken over by conservative governments, right wing governments, even bordering on fascist governments.

Medea Benjamin: [00:09:16] And in the meantime the country of Venezuela really being under siege right now. And I don't want to get into Venezuela too much, but I think it's important to say that this is a playbook that we've seen over and over and over. You take one leader of a country, and pretend he's the only one that's governing their country, and demonize him so much to turn him into the devil incarnate. And then that justifies whatever you want to do to destroy that country even more.

Medea Benjamin: [00:09:52] And I'm not an apologist for Maduro. I know they've made lots of mistakes in Venezuela, particularly around economic issues. I also know that during this time the price of oil just tanked. And to recognize there was a lot of internal sabotage that's been going on ever since the time Hugo Chavez came to power and really wanted to transform the government and to give this kind of solidarity to the rest of Latin America. And then you add on that the economic sanctions that as 2017 have been so, so crippling that you get a real crisis situation.

Medea Benjamin: [00:10:30] And then the U.S. steps in as if it is the savior in that crisis that it helped to create. And that's where the situation is today. And I think Judy with your introduction talking about in many of these things the Democrats not being much better than the Republicans. And certainly Venezuela is an example of that. I used to live for a long time in San Francisco and Nancy Pelosi was my Representative. And she's very sharp cookie. And a lot of things, she's really been able to do things like help to take back the House and the Congress, which is really important.

Medea Benjamin: [00:11:07] But when I saw her the other day standing with the representatives of the parallel government that the Trump administration has put in place in Venezuela, I think that does not represent the interests of her constituents in San Francisco. I think she'd be hard pressed to find anybody in San Francisco who would say that setting up a parallel government and putting somebody as president who has never been elected by one person in Venezuela to be president is somehow part of a democratic transition.

Medea Benjamin: [00:11:38] So Judy also mentioned the hearing that just took place in congress. And those of you do remember the dirty deeds of Elliott Abrams, you can just think about how horrific it was to see that man walked into the Congress and be seated as a witness and treated by most people most of the congressional people, not all of them, as if he had something to teach us that would be beneficial for US national and for the interest of the people in Venezuela. When somebody like him acts as if he cares about people of Venezuela, you know, let's be clear: Elliott Abrams does not give a damn about the well-being of the people of Venezuela. He gives a damn about Venezuela's oil, and that is about it. And he wants to be part of the regime change. And he is somebody that has done this before. So in that sense the Trump administration brought in somebody who was indeed well-placed to engineer this coup. But we are seeing a coup taking place right now. And instead of reading about it in the history books 10 or 20 years from now and seeing how a people in Venezuela, already suffering from an economic crisis, was made worse by a coup. Let's see what we can do to stop that from happening.

Medea Benjamin: [00:13:10] So I moved to Washington, D.C., about 12 years ago from San Francisco because they wanted to be here in the in the belly of the beast. And some of you might not know what Code Pink is. We started after the 9/11 attacks. With this idea that the 9/11 attack was horrendous. Our job was to find who attack us and bring them to justice but not using it as an excuse for those who wanted to invade and topple other governments that had nothing to do with 9/11. And you might remember the color coded alerts of the Bush administration: The stupid yellow, orange, red, kind of thing. So ours was a response to that. The "Code Pink": It was going to be "Code Hot Pink" until we found that was a porn site, so we couldn't do that.

Medea Benjamin: [00:14:09] It was to be acting as a short term organization. We didn't want to be an organization. We'd just come together and join the growing uprising around the United States to say no to the U.S. using it as an excuse to invade other countries. And you know we did our job as citizens. How many of you participated in some anti Iraq war demonstration? So most hands are going up in this room and some are maybe too young to have done it. But we did our job as citizens. And unfortunately at that time the Bush administration called us a focus group and went ahead and ignored the focus group and did the invasion of Afghanistan, then the invasion of Iraq. And here we are now over 17 years later with US troops still in Afghanistan. We have "Military Families Speak Out" here. And thank you for the wonderful work of that organization. And Veterans for Peace and the other groups, who all of these years have said we shouldn't have gotten involved in these wars to begin with. Let's get out of them. And in just pains me.

Medea Benjamin: [00:15:25] And I am here certainly not to defend the Trump administration. Let me say there are certain times that a broken clock is right and that is around Afghanistan and Syria, to bring the troops out of there, to bring them back home. And we should not allow the neocons to stop bringing these troops home.

Medea Benjamin: [00:15:49] There's another one in which the clock is right. Maybe this is the third time that broken clock is right, and that is around Korea. It is actually a very positive thing that the Trump himself has met with Kim Jong-un. I've been to North Korea. It is a country that desperately needs to be opened up and brought back into the fold world. And to end the war there that has never been over since 1950s. The longest. I mean, talk about the longest war: It's not Afghanistan. It's Korea, because that war never ended.

Medea Benjamin: [00:16:26] And so to have Trump reaching out. And there is going to be a second summit coming up very soon in Vietnam between Kim Jong-un, the chairman of North Korea and Donald Trump.

Medea Benjamin: [00:16:38] And already we hear the clamoring coming mostly from the Democrats, the naysaying. We even have pieces of legislation that they are introducing, and these are liberal Democrats, saying things like -- one piece of legislation says that Donald Trump is not authorized to withdraw any troops from South Korea. That's crazy. They've been there since the 1950s. Don't you think it's time to withdraw those troops in South Korea, especially if the South Korean government wants those troops withdrawn? And yet there are Democrats that are saying, "No: We demand those troops stay there." There are other Democrats, who have another bill that is saying that one of the only concessions that the US government has made so far in North Korea, you know it has let up on very crippling economic sanctions, is to say that we will suspend the military exercises that we do with South Korea, because they are seen as threatening to North Korea. Their called exercises like decapitation of the North Korean leadership. There are exercises with playing what would happen with unleashing nuclear weapons in North Korea. So the North Koreans have rightly suggested that while we are in the process of negotiation, might be nice not to have these war games going on. And Trump has suspended them. And so the Democrats that are coming back and saying, "No, we want those military exercises to proceed." And this is all too kind to trip up the negotiations.

Medea Benjamin: [00:18:19] And it's important for us to recognize that we have to love peace more than we dislike Donald Trump. When he actually seems to be doing something that is actually good for world peace, let's work with him on that. Let's push him on that.

Medea Benjamin: [00:18:40] But in general Donald Trump is no peacemaker. So let's go to some of the things that are really bad happening right now in this Trump administration. And one of them. Is the way that Donald Trump has embraced even more closely this relationship with Saudi Arabia. Now this is a relationship that has gone on with Democrat and Republican administrations since the time of the founding of Saudi Arabia in 1932. In 1938 they discovered oil. So it's really since the time of the discovery of oil and then especially during World War II, when the U.S. realized that it needed the oil from Saudi Arabia and made a pact with Saudi Arabia that we will protect your kingdom as long as you keep selling us oil.

Medea Benjamin: [00:19:32] And this pact is going on for decades. Even today when the U.S. does not need Saudi Arabian oil, well thanks to things like fracking, unfortunately, the U.S. continues to be a close ally and protector of Saudi Arabia. Let's look for a minute what it is that we are helping to protect. This is an absolute monarchy that has never tried to even pretend to have elections. I mean here we are saying that Venezuelan elections aren't free and fair. And yet our great buddies in Saudi Arabia don't even bother to have elections, where the leadership is passed on from king to king to prince to crown prince, right now. And a country where there is tremendous internal repression against the minority Shia community, against the entire gender of women, against anybody who is a dissident. There's no free speech, no freedom of elections, no freedom of assembly.

Medea Benjamin: [00:20:34] And where there has been an effort on the part of P.R. firms, who are handsomely paid by the Saudi government -- and many of them are in the town that I now live in, Washington, D.C. -- to pretend that Saudi Arabia is evolving, and that it's part of this reform, because they have this young Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, whose dad, who is no longer like totally there mentally, has basically passed over the reins to this crown prince, who is now just 33 years old. But he was given the power when he was 30 years old. And there was a tremendous P.R. campaign to say the kingdom is changing, because now they have this new young, vigorous, visionary crown prince. And he came to United States -- this is just a little over a year ago -- and travelled around and met with all of the notables in Washington, D.C. Then he went to MIT and Harvard University, where he was feted at the elite universities. Then he went and met with Bill Gates and he went to Silicon Valley and that we'll build the high tech companies. He met with Oprah Winfrey. Everybody acting like this was a leader of a country that was somehow evolving into an open society.

Medea Benjamin: [00:22:03] And in the meantime he was cracking down back home. And it only came to light with the death of the Washington Post journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, who was brutally barbarically murdered in the Saudi consulate in Turkey. And then literally chopped up with a bone saw. And we can only speculate now that his remains were melted down in some kind of acid, because we have no idea where those remains are.

Medea Benjamin: [00:22:37] And it was only then, because he was a well known writer for an elite paper like The Washington Post, that people started paying attention and saying well maybe this crown prince is not all that he is cracked up to be.

Medea Benjamin: [00:22:53] In the meantime, it is the crown prince himself, Mohammad bin Salman, who started the Saudi involvement in the war in Yemen. Now if you have probably been paying any attention to international news and anything about Yemen, you've probably heard it over and over again that Yemen is the most catastrophic situation, humanitarian crisis, in the world today.

Medea Benjamin: [00:23:18] But it is barely covered by the national media. And the few times it is covered, people really don't get a sense of what's going on there. And it is so important because our hands are so bloodied with that war, because of the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia that was once based on oil, but over the years turned into a relationship with them buying our weapons, buying over a hundred billion dollars of our weapons with U.S. companies like Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and Boeing, and all of these companies seen as great patriots. They are the ones that are making billions of dollars by selling weapons to Saudi Arabia.

Medea Benjamin: [00:24:05] And what is Saudi Arabia doing with those weapons. They're using it daily to bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb the people of Yemen. And it was already a poor country, because Yeme didn't have oil. But now it is just a horrendous situation, where every 10 minutes there is the Yemeni child dying from the effects of this war and the hunger that is created because of the destruction of the infrastructure.

Medea Benjamin: [00:24:32] I used to work as a nutritionist. That was my job. I used to work for the United Nations. And my job was in Africa to work in rehabilitation centers with kids who were coming in basically so dehydrated that most of the time we were able to bring them back to life and they would just die in our arms. And I decided I couldn't keep working on that, that I had to deal with the political issues of why is that happening?

Medea Benjamin: [00:25:02] And in the case of Yemen it is absolutely human made. It's a human made disaster. It is a disaster where our companies are making so much money from the death and destruction and killing of innocent Yemeni children. I just read an article as I was sitting back there talking about how the Israelis are making so much profit over the war in Yemen, that they, too, are selling weapons under the table to their enemies, the Saudis, who are now really their friends. And they are sending mercenaries there. And they are doing all kinds of things to make money, as the US is doing, and as all of the Western democracies are doing off of this war in Yemen. It is big business. War is big business.

Medea Benjamin: [00:25:51] And who suffers most, of course, is the children. And if you've seen any pictures of these Yemeni children, if you don't weep, it's cause you have a heart of stone. Because they've lost their body mass. It is skin and bones, literally. And this is what is happening before our eyes. And there are at least some people in Congress who have taken this up as an issue, and I want to pay tribute to them. People like Chris Murphy in the Senate, who has said the blood of the Yemeni children is on our hands. He said like it is. And Bernie Sanders, who has taken it up in the Senate as well. And people like the congressman from the Silicon Valley, Ro Khanna, from California. Who knew he that he would be such a great proponent of peace.

Medea Benjamin: [00:26:44] And they introduced a very unique way of getting at the issue of U.S. support for the war in Yemen, not only selling the weapons but giving the logistical support. Actually, until recently, we were refueling their airplanes in the air, which only means that those airplanes didn't have come down to keep bombing. They could just stay up and keep bombing. And giving the logistics means we were telling them what targets. And supposedly we were telling them what not to target, like schools and hospitals and things like that. And they would use that to actually then target those places.

Medea Benjamin: [00:27:20] And a third of their targets were civilian infrastructure. And they also targeted weddings. They targeted funerals. And so here, we had a chance in congress to say that there is a resolution that was passed back in the days of Vietnam back in 1973 called the War Powers Resolution. And it's a resolution that had been used in all of these years until it's been picked up right now in Congress to say that war has never been declared in Yemen. The U.S. is actively involved in hostilities although I will tell you there are many people in Congress who tried to say that they're refueling their airplanes and giving then logistical support did not mean we were involved in hostilities.

Medea Benjamin: [00:28:14] But through the work of a broad coalition of organizations -- and anybody here have been working on that? Well, around the country, we've had a lot of people, not only the traditional peace groups but also the humanitarian community like Oxfam and Save the Children and {{wBread for the World}} and all of these groups. And we've been working actually with some conservative groups as well. And got to the point where once the House became in the hands of the Democrats, we were able to get the bill to the floor and to pass it last week.

Medea Benjamin: [00:28:50] And that's very very important. Now it's going to go to the Senate this upcoming week. We hope it's going to pass in the Senate. And then it will go onto the desk of the orange man in the White House. And we will see if that indeed becomes the first bill that he will veto, a bill to stop the U.S. from participating in the destruction of the country of Yemen.

Medea Benjamin: [00:29:18] So it's positive that there is some energy in Congress to stop that war. But before I from our relationship with Saudi Arabia I do want to say one other thing, which is the reason that the crown prince was touting as being a reformer was why? Women were going to be allowed to drive.

Medea Benjamin: [00:29:36] Let's talk about low bars, right? Because it was the only country in the world where women were not allowed to drive.

Medea Benjamin: [00:29:48] So, YES! He's going to let women drive. And he's such a reformer.

Medea Benjamin: [00:29:52] Meanwhile he takes the very women who have been working on that campaign, some of them for decades, and throws them in prison. And those women are in prison right now. And they're being tortured in prison right now. And they are being put in solitary confinement in prison right now. And these are the women who really should be heralded as the ones who fought and won, finally, the right to drive. And instead of doing that, the prince put them in prison. Can you understand why?

(man in audience): [00:30:32] He's making them pay a price for what they did.

Medea Benjamin: [00:30:42] Right exactly. He doesn't like what they did, because he does not want advocacy in his country, because advocacy is very dangerous if you are a dictator.

Medea Benjamin: [00:30:52] And one other thing the women had started to do was to work to end the guardianship system, which is a system where a woman is treated as a minor her entire life. From the time you're born to the time you died, you have to have a man, who acts as your guardian. And that man might be your father. It might then be your husband. And later in life it might be your son. But that man determines some of the most important things in your life, like if you can get married, who you're going to get married to, some jobs, if you are going to get a passport, if you travel.

Medea Benjamin: [00:31:33] So these women were working to get rid of the guardianship system. And he wanted to put a stop to that. OK, we're giving you the right to drive, and don't ask for anything else. But most important is what you say: He doesn't want the example of people advocating and winning something to start spreading. And so we have this very perverse relationship with Saudi Arabia. Now just this last week on Wednesday and Thursday -- I don't know if you got any of the news about it, there was a lot of coverage about it -- but it was a meeting that happened in Warsaw, Poland. That the Trump administration put together tauting that they were going to bring together a coalition of countries from not just the Middle East but farther afield to come together. And originally they said it was to deal with Iran -- how are we going to deal with Iran? But there was a lot of uproar, of saying, "Wait, wait, wait." There are other problems in the Middle East.

Medea Benjamin: [00:32:42] So they broadened it and said it's about peace and security in the Middle East. So this meeting just took place on Wednesday and Thursday. But at one of the press conference around the meeting, I think it was one of the CBS news people: She asked how can you talk about the human rights abuses in Iran when you don't talk about them in Saudi Arabia? This was to Mike Pence. He kind of looked at her like, "What?" She had to repeat the question again. He basically said, "That's a ridiculous question.".

Medea Benjamin: [00:33:19] So it's not a ridiculous question. And for most of the world, they see through the tremendous hypocrisy of the United States of not questioning Saudi Arabia of this tight embrace that the Trump administration has while it is going whole hog after Saudi Arabia's nemesis and Israel's nemesis, which is Iran. And so you know I wrote the book Saudi Arabia, because I'd been doing work on Israel and Palestine. I come from a Jewish family. They didn't like my work on Israel and Palestine, and they would always say to me, "Oh, what about all these horrible Arab countries? Why don't you do something about them?"

Medea Benjamin: [00:34:00] After hearing that for a number of years, I thought, well, maybe I should look into some of these Arab countries and looked into Saudi Arabia and realized what a horrible government that was and wrote a book about it. But as I was writing a book about Saudi Arabia, I realized that you can't really talk about Saudi Arabia without talking about Iran.

Medea Benjamin: [00:34:22] And knowing that my government has its sights set on Iran as the place for a next war, I realized how important it was to get out and talk to people about Iran. Because it's often said that war is the way that Americans learn about geography. And it's important to not let that happen in the case of Iran.

Medea Benjamin: [00:34:49] And is anybody here Iranian-American? Do we have any Iranian-Americans here? Do we have any people here who have been to Iran? Ahh, when were you there?

(woman in the crowd): [00:35:03] 1973.

Medea Benjamin: [00:35:03] Ohh. A while back. And you?

(other woman in the crowd): [00:35:06] 1980s.

Medea Benjamin: [00:35:08] So it's hard not to fall in love with Iran when you are there. I mean it's just a beautiful, beautiful country with an incredible history of about a 2500 year history. And literature, architecture, poetry. Iranians love their poets. It's funny, they have different squares. And here in our squares in the U.S. it's usually some military guy who's on a horse with some weapon. But in a lot of the squares in Iran you'll find the poets, who are being heralded.

Medea Benjamin: [00:35:42] And they also have, going up to more modern times, a history have a relationship with the United States during the days in the 1900s of the Shah that was very close to the United States and close to the Western world and trying to "modernize" Iran.

Medea Benjamin: [00:36:10] And it was during those days that the Shah of Iran gave the oil concessions to a British company that is today BP. And the British company was earning a lot of profits off Iranian oil, and Iranians were starting to question whether that made sense for them. And wouldn't it make more sense for them to nationalize their nation's oil and have the profits go for the people of Iran. Strange notion.

Medea Benjamin: [00:36:42] But this was indeed in the 1950s. And the Iranians then voted in somebody in power became prime minister, Mohammad Mosaddegh, with the mandate to nationalize Iran's oil. And he went about doing that to the horror of the British oil company and the British government, who then went to the U.S. government and said they can allow this to happen. It's a terrible example not just for Iran. What about other countries with resources that we need. And we have to teach them a lesson.

Medea Benjamin: [00:37:23] And that's when the U.S. CIA got involved in a coup that overthrew the democratically elected government of Mohammed Mosaddegh in 1953. That is something that Iranians will never forget. Because history of Iran would be totally different if the US had never overthrown that government. Most Iranians say there would never been an Islamic republic in Iran had not their democratically-elected leader been overthrown.

Medea Benjamin: [00:37:51] And that's so important for us to understand, because you know, at the time it was consider it a very successful coup by the CIA of U.S. government. In fact it was so successful that they used it the next year to overthrow the Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala, used it in the Congo to overthrow Patrice Lumumba. They tried to use it but didn't succeed in the case in Cuba.

Medea Benjamin: [00:38:21] But that's the first model of a covert CIA operation. But when you see what success then led to: It led to the Shah coming back in, cracking down on the population, creating a horrific intelligence network that spied and then arrested and tortured any dissenters. It also led to the Iranians becoming the number one purchaser of U.S. weapons.

Medea Benjamin: [00:38:54] And it led to the movements to overthrow the Shah going underground or going out into the diaspora overseas. And so they continued to fight against the Shah.

Medea Benjamin: [00:39:07] And when they were finally successful in 1979 overthrowing the Shah, who was it that had the most power? It was the clerics, because the mosques were the only places where people could openly congregate. And so the Islamists then had the upper hand to shape the way that the revolution would be manifested. And that led to the Islamic Republic that continues today and just had its 40 year anniversary last week.

Medea Benjamin: [00:39:44] So you can imagine that the Islamic revolution that overthrew the Shah was anti-US, very clearly because of the U.S. meddling in the affairs of Iran for all those years. And it was anti-Israel as well. It supported the Palestinian cause for many years. And it was a time when the U.S. broke relations with the Iranian government. And over all those years the last 40 years those relations have been negative with ups and downs over the years, crises coming up, some little improvements in relationships, but never having diplomatic relations, and always some kind of sanctions on Iran until the time of the Obama administration.

Medea Benjamin: [00:40:41] And I started out criticizing Democrats, because oftentimes you see they're both war parties. And under Obama he kept a lot of the wars going of the Bush administration. But his really one foreign policy achievement was the Iran nuclear deal. That the negotiation of that deal that John Kerry negotiated was such a major shift, potentially, in the Middle East. And when John Kerry talked about it, he talked about the Iran nuclear deal as being one that would hopefully lead to talking to Iran about lots of other issues, and working with Iran on how to solve some of the conflicts in the Middle East.

Medea Benjamin: [00:41:33] Well, instead when Trump was campaigning for President, he said "What a horrible thing the Iran nuclear deal was. We're still, ... going to rip that up, spit on it." And indeed when he came into office he ripped up the Iran nuclear deal. Now, he didn't rip up the Iran nuclear deal -- that's wrong. He withdrew the United States from the nuclear deal, because it's important to recognize that this nuclear deal wasn't between just the United States and Iran. It's also negotiated with France, Germany, the U.K., Russia and China. It was approved by the entire European Union. It was approved by the unanimously by U.N. Security Council.

Medea Benjamin: [00:42:20] But there was one fatal flaw of that deal. And it's not the things that Trump says, like it had a sunset clause to it. The fatal flaw was that it was not a treaty. It did not get approved by the Senate, because Obama didn't think he had the votes there. So it was an executive agreement, which meant that Trump could come in and do what he did, which was rip it up.

Medea Benjamin: [00:42:47] Now this is an agreement also to recognize that it was working. To this day it's been 13 times since the International Atomic Energy Association, the organization charged with monitoring the agreement, has said that Iran is in compliance. It's also to recognize: How many nuclear weapons does Iran have?

(crowd): [00:43:17] Zero.

Medea Benjamin: [00:43:20] OK. I want everybody to hear that: Can you say it loud?

(crowd): [00:43:22] Zero.

Medea Benjamin: [00:43:22] Zero. Iran has zero nuclear weapons nuclear weapons. How many nuclear weapons does the country in the Middle East that was so against the Iran nuclear deal, it's called Israel, how many nuclear weapons does Israel have?

(crowd): [00:43:38] We don't know.

Medea Benjamin: [00:43:42] This is a smart audience. We don't know, but we know they have them, of course. And some would say there's about 200 of them.

Medea Benjamin: [00:43:44] But here you had Netanyahu with the gall to come before the US Congress and say we cannot trust the Iranians. This deal is not good enough, not tight enough. And yet his country has nuclear weapons, will not allow any kind of inspectors to go in. It would be a joke to just think about that. And has not joined any kind of nonproliferation treaty. And yet they're the ones saying that the treaty with the Iran was not good enough.

Medea Benjamin: [00:44:22] And so when the Trump administration pulled out, it was doing the bidding of Bibi Netanyahu. And it also put itself in conflict with the Chinese, the Russians, and the Europeans, because they want the deal to continue and they are staying in the deal. Well it's not just that the U.S. said "OK, we're not in this deal anymore." What it really means is then that the Trump administration reimposed sanctions.

Medea Benjamin: [00:44:54] Now these sanctions are really crippling sanctions. These sanctions don't just say no U.S. companies can do deals with Iran. It says any company anywhere in the world that wants any kind of business with the United States cannot do any deals with Iran. It's called extraterritorial sanctions. It's the height of imperial hubris to say that we will tell everybody around the world who they can and can't do business with.

Medea Benjamin: [00:45:33] And unfortunately, because the dollar is still so strong and is the international financial currency, the U.S. government can do that. And so there are attempts to circumvent these sanctions. But it's very hard to do because the big companies like the European companies -- Daimler, Airbus, Total, any of the oil companies -- they have already pulled out of Iran.

Medea Benjamin: [00:46:09] And it has meant many billions of dollars of businesses that Iran is not allowed to do. And what is happening that is constricting the currency has lost about 80 percent of its value. It means that people are having a very difficult time feeding their families, getting medicines they need.

Medea Benjamin: [00:46:31] And this is on purpose. The U.S. is doing this on purpose, because it wants the Iranian people to so hate their governments that they will rise up and overthrow the government. But the Iranian people, many of whom do not like their government, look around the region and say, "Uh oh, we don't want to be like Syria. We don't want to be like Libya. We don't want to be like Iraq. And they think maybe we're better off doing reform from within than having some overthrow, where there would just be chaos. And indeed there will be chaos in Iraq.

Medea Benjamin: [00:47:09] And so our job now is to figure out how can we rein in the Trump administration from waging a new war with Iran. There are bills in Congress that we are working on that say that the Trump administration does not have the right to get militarily involved in a war with Iran.

Medea Benjamin: [00:47:30] But more important than that is an initiative now to say that we want to rejoin the Iran nuclear deal. And that is something that has just become, as of, I think, yesterday the official position of the Democrat Party, thanks to a lot of work that people have been doing.

(crowd): [00:47:49] (applause)

Medea Benjamin: [00:47:55] We want to make that the official position of every single candidate who is running for President. And it is a way for us to say to the rest of the world that there are people in the United States who are disgusted by the Trump administration's attempts to strangle the Iranian people. Because again we want to get our hands on Iran's oil and gas and other resources.

Medea Benjamin: [00:48:23] And so I want to end by just throwing out a couple of things that I hope we're going to have time for some discussion. One is to say that some of the things that kept repeating in my talk tonight was about how a war is a big business. And our organization, Code Pink, and there's a sign up sheet out there if any of you want to get on our mailing list and we hope you do or you go home just look up "CodePink.org" and get on the list. And there is somebody here, who wanted to start a local chapter of Code Pink, if you could raise your hand. If anybody would like to you afterwards, that would be great.

Medea Benjamin: [00:49:00] But we have started something called "the deaths from the war machine campaign", working with Peace Action and a lot of other organizations. And it's to try to get our cities and our universities and our pension funds. Just like the environmental movement has said, "Stop investing in big oil." We're saying, "Stop investing in the weapons business.".

Medea Benjamin: [00:49:27] And we have been successful in getting a couple of dozen congresspeople to pledge that they won't take money from the war machine. The latest one was Jim McGovern from Massachusetts, which is very important because he is now a very powerful leader in the House, the leader of the rules committee. And he is setting the standard of saying it is a conflict of interest if you're voting on this bloated Pentagon budget and you are taking money from the very companies that are benefiting from that. That seems to the American people like it would be a conflict of interest. So I know you have a new congresswoman here, and it would be good to push her to ask her to take the pledge to divest from the war machine.

Medea Benjamin: [00:50:12] And finally I think I want to end by reading some inspirational quotes around why I think the first and last efforts of our government should be diplomacy, diplomacy, diplomacy, nonviolence, nonviolence, nonviolence.

Medea Benjamin: [00:50:31] And the great Chinese philosopher LaoziLao Tzu said many, many years ago, "It is only when you see a mosquito landing on your testicles that you realize there is always a way to solve problems without using violence."

Medea Benjamin: [00:50:57] And I'll end with one by Martin Luther King that may be a little more elegant: Don't let anybody make you think God chose America as his divine messianic force to be a sort of policemen of the whole world. We must rise up and beat our swords into plowshares and nations must not rise up against other nations. I don't know about you but I ain't gonna study war no more.

Medea Benjamin: [00:51:23] Thank you.

Notes[edit]