"I think the chances are better than even that we'll start bombing Iran within the next couple of months," McGovern told more than 160 people Sunday at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Raleigh.
McGovern has joined other analysts who predict a U.S. attack on Iran is imminent. Author Robert Dreyfuss, a contributing editor at The Nation, wrote recently, "The pieces are falling into place for Operation Regime Change II, this time in Iran. You'd think, given how badly it went the first time, and how utterly unpredictable a showdown with Iran would be, that the Bush administration would have at least changed its M.O.--but no."
McGovern, who prepared the president's daily CIA briefing under Nixon, Ford and Reagan, says he "would not at all rule out" a suggestion by Karl Rove and other Bush neocons that "the way to get back up in the polls is start another war. That's Rumsfeld's history--when things go wrong, he'll widen the problem. I wish that were funny. It's not.
"I really hope that he won't do that, but the indications are there that he has already decided to attack Iran, and for some strange, bizarre reason, the West Europeans are not as strongly opposed to that as they were to Iraq," he says.
McGovern and Dreyfuss say a war with Iran could be deadly for both sides.
"Iran is not Iraq, and it would be a major war," McGovern says. Iran could send "four divisions [of soldiers] into Iraq overnight."
Dreyfuss wrote that Iran has "500,000 battle-hardened Pasdaran" (members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) ready to fight, "plus the people they have control or influence over in Iraq."
McGovern also was the keynote speaker at last Saturday's antiwar rally in Fayetteville, where more than 1,000 people gathered for a march and rally marking the third anniversary of the start of the Iraq war. The numbers were down from last year's 4,000, but organizers said the lower figure reflects the fact that more demonstrations happened around the country this year.
In addition to McGovern, those at the "Bring Them Home Now" event heard from Iraqi pharmacist Rashad Zidan, one of seven Iraqi women who are touring the United States calling for an end to the U.S. occupation. Zidan, whose trip is sponsored by the U.S. peace group Code Pink, will also speak Wednesday night (March 22) at 7 p.m. at N.C. State in 222 Dabney Hall, near the brickyard.
Zidan, like most of the speakers, had to compete with a vocal group of about 100 counter-protesters from Free Republic and the Rolling Thunder motorcycle gang. Because of their location on a hilltop above Rowan Park, the counter-protesters were perfectly positioned to use bullhorns to project their voices, effectively disrupting speakers.
"I'm not speaking to the people who have a stone heart," Zidan yelled. "They would not understand me.... We're just not free. We're just under occupation, and every free people would fight against occupation and try hard to be free again."
Raleigh Code Pink activist Shannon Hardy scolded the counter-protesters for interrupting Zidan. "Shame on you," Hardy yelled several times into the microphone.
Both McGovern and speaker Michael Berg, whose son Nick's beheading was gruesomely captured on videotape in May 2004, called on all U.S. citizens to accept responsibility for the ongoing war and work to stop it.
"This war is not George Bush's war anymore," Berg said, "and this war is not Congress' war anymore. This war belongs entirely to you and to me. We, not they, are responsible for it."
In his Raleigh talk, McGovern wrote down the letters W-A-R, and he said the acronym stood for "We Are Responsible."
Paul Schroeder, whose son, Marine Lance Corporal Edward "Augie" Schroeder, was killed in Iraq last August, said his son told him the war "was not worth the cost" in lost lives.
"We are doing exactly what he would do if he was still alive," said Schroeder, who was joined on the stage by his wife, Rosemary Palmer. Schroeder called on Bush to find a political solution to end the war.
"American blood is not worth your pride, Mr. President," he said. "You can swallow your pride and admit to a mistake. Leadership, Mr. President, leadership. That's what's required now before more lives are wasted."
The Fayetteville protest's most stirring speech came from the Rev. Cureton Johnson, an activist and pastor of Fayetteville's First Baptist Church. Referencing last Sunday's gospel account of Jesus cleansing the temple of the moneychangers, Johnson said voters should do the same thing with politicians who support the "unholy war" in Iraq.
"Liddy Dole needs to go home, and John Edwards needs to stay in Chapel Hill," Johnson said. "Indeed, it's time to speed up the timetable to bring our troops home. We face terror right here in America.... When folks' heating bills rise 200 percent or more in one year, that's terrorism.
"Brothers and sisters, it's time to cleanse the temple in the District of Columbia," he said. "Let us drive out the politicians who might plunge us into more senseless war. Indeed, it's time to take a preemptive strike at the ballot box. It's time for a preemptive vote and to change the course of this nation."
Christina Cowger, chair of N.C. Peace Action, said the United States must adopt Peace Action's call for "a new foreign policy based on respect for human rights and democracy. Our campaign says, let's all stand up and say 'no' to the immoral and dangerous preemptive war doctrine and ongoing U.S. efforts to dominate the globe. That's wrong, and we are against it.
"We need to transfer resources from war-making to taking care of our people. What kind of country spends $400 billion a year on its military when 17 percent of its children live in poverty and about 20 percent of its people have no health insurance?"
Elena Everett of the Institute for Southern Studies brought an anti-military recruitment message to the stage. She said the U.S. government was engaged in a "poverty draft" because while cuts are being instituted for Pell grants and subsidized student loans, funds are being increased for military recruitment.
"This is a conscious and vile effort to take away the hope of our youth, to take away our choices, to take away our future," Everett said, "leaving few alternatives to military conscription."
Chapel Hill activist Dennis Markatos-Soriano says he was encouraged despite the smaller turnout in Fayetteville from 2005.
"There were enough people here today to give me some hope," he said. "The numbers are for us. The American public wants us to move forward, wants us to get out of Iraq. We need to get a clear policy message to our leaders and make that happen."
Cary mother Michelle Rose, who rode a charter bus to the demonstration, said the politicians in Washington are paying attention to the antiwar movement.
"The war in Iraq is going to be an issue not only in '06, but in '08," Rose says. "We're sending a message about how convoluted and misguided this administration is."