Senator Rand Paul Calls the Question on War with Iran
Before we have a war with Iran, shouldn't the Senate and the House have at least one debate and vote on it? Isn't that what the Constitution demands? Isn't that what is demanded by the War Powers Resolution (which, despite its name, is binding law)?
If you agree to the principle that Congress should debate and vote on a war with Iran before any such war takes place (which also happens to be the Constitution and the law), when do you think a good time would be for the Senate and the House to start taking up the question? Should we wait until after there is further escalation? Should we wait until after some real or invented Persian Gulf of Tonkin incident, when Members of Congress can be steamrolled by cable news and right-wing talk radio? Or should we start having the debate now, when rational argument still has a chance, so that Members of Congress will be forced to choose sides between American generals, who oppose war with Iran, and the Israeli Prime Minister, who wants war with Iran?
Kentucky Senator Rand Paul thinks we should have the debate right now.
On Tuesday, Sen. Paul took to the Senate floor to oppose unanimous consent of a new Iran sanctions bill so he could introduce an amendment that would ensure that nothing in the act shall be construed as a declaration of war or an authorization of the use of force against Iran or Syria, and affirm that any use of military force must be authorized by Congress.
The latest Iran sanctions bill is being pushed at a very sensitive time: in the next few weeks, talks with Iran about its nuclear program are supposed to resume. Clearly, some people in Washington want to undercut President Obama ahead of those talks, restricting his ability to participate in an effective diplomatic process that would de-escalate tensions (and lower gas prices), and some of the Republican drive for new legislation on Iran is clearly motivated by this.
In particular, Senator Lieberman wants to add the Graham-Lieberman-AIPAC-Netanyahu so-called "resolution about containment being an unacceptable policy" as an amendment to the sanctions bill.
But the Graham-Lieberman-AIPAC-Netanyahu resolution is not about sanctions. The Graham-Lieberman-AIPAC-Netanyahu resolution is about lowering the bar for war.
To say the Graham-Lieberman-AIPAC-Netanyahu resolution is about saying that "containment is an unacceptable policy" is to engage in a deadly deceit. President Obama has clearly stated - at AIPAC, no less - that his policy is not to try to "contain" a nuclear-armed Iran, his policy is to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
But that's not the policy that Graham, Lieberman, AIPAC, and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu want. They want it to be U.S. policy that it is a "red line" for the U.S. not to allow Iran to have a "nuclear weapons capability," whatever that is - depending on how you define this term, Iran is already there. In other words, Lieberman et al want to lower the threshold for the United States to go to war, to a place indistinguishable from the status quo today.
If Graham, Lieberman, AIPAC, and Netanyahu get to determine U.S. policy, then there is no realistic chance of a diplomatic agreement. U.S. and European officials do not believe that there is any realistic chance that any combination of sanctions and diplomacy that will induce Iran to cease enriching uranium. They do believe that there is a chance that sanctions and diplomacy could induce Iran to sign a verifiable agreement that would address international concerns about its nuclear program.
But Graham, Lieberman, AIPAC, and Netanyahu don't want that. They want diplomacy to fail, so they can have a war with Iran.
Here's how the situation was recently described in the Jerusalem Post:
"Congressional offices reported they were impressed by the numbers and enthusiasm of AIPAC members lobbying them for tighter sanctions but privately complained that the lobby group was pushing too hard for another war when their ... increasingly war weary constituents were calling for accelerating the withdrawal from Afghanistan." [my emphasis - RN]
(The same piece in the Jerusalem Post states openly in its headline that "One of [Netanyahu's] objectives is to help defeat the incumbent because Obama in a 2nd term might not be so easily bullied.")
So, behind all this talk about "tightened sanctions" on Iran is really a drive for war (and a drive to elect Romney.)
If war is what is being talked about, shouldn't we have an open debate? Why should this just be a conversation between AIPAC lobbyists and Members of Congress? Shouldn't the broad American public have a say? Isn't that what the Constitution and the law demand?
When Sens. Graham and Lieberman brought forward their bill, Senate Democrats asked that it include language affirming that nothing in the bill authorized the use of military force. Graham refused.
Now Senator Rand Paul is coming forward with exactly the same idea. Shouldn't those same Senate Democrats support their own idea?
If you agree, ask your Senators to support Senator Rand Paul's amendment.
Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy.