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February 05, 2007

Could Congress stop a war with Iran?
Posted by Rosa Brooks

Writing in today's LA Times, Larry Diamond and Leonard Weiss argue that recent "administration moves could presage an air attack on Iran's nuclear facilities." That's not good, because such an attack "could leave us even more politically isolated and militarily overstretched.... inflame the region, intensify Shiite militia attacks on our soldiers in Iraq and stimulate terrorist attacks on Americans and U.S. interests worldwide."

So... can Congress-- which so far can't even manage to pass a non-binding resolution opposing further troop build-ups in Iraq-- stop such an attack? Weiss and Diamond argue that Congress should at least try:

Congress should not wait. It should hold hearings on Iran before the president orders a bombing attack on its nuclear facilities, or orders or supports a provocative act by the U.S. or an ally designed to get Iran to retaliate, and thus further raise war fever.
The law should be attached to an appropriations bill, making it difficult for the president to veto.

Of course, this President has a tendency to use what we might call secret pocket vetoes: that is, the use of executive signing statements to announce his intention of ignoring the law. But Weiss and Diamond thought of that already, and have a proposed response (which, unfortunately, would be post hoc in nature):

If [the President] simply claims that he is not bound by the restriction even if he signs it into law, and then orders an attack on Iran without congressional authorization for it, Congress should file a lawsuit and begin impeachment proceedings.

They said it, not me!


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Congress needs to quit the "we are a co-equal branch" and "we control the purse-strings" petty whining that only leads to charges that they don't support the troops and that they are defeatists. They need to step up and take responsibility for these wars--and the only responsible course is to end them. The US Constitution gives the Congress that responsibility, to say to the troop commander (the president): "That's enough. Wrap it up and get out. We have affected a regime change in Iraq, at tremendous cost, and it's time to leave. Now. And leave Iran alone. Diplomacy is the answer and war isn't".

Specifically, the US Constitution states that "the Congress shall have Power . . . to provide for the common Defence" and "The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States". So it's crystal clear that the Constitution gives the power to provide for US defense to the Congress, with the President merely acting as troop commander. I don't know how it could be any clearer. There are reams of historical data to confirm it--it isn't like Bush is the first president to act like an emperor--it's a common tendency.

If the President refuses to do what the Congress directs then impeachment is the remedy, the crime being disobedience of the oath the President took to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States".

Or perhaps we should just scrap the Constitution (as we seem to be doing) and put all of our faith in Presidents, now Bush and soon Clinton or McCain. The Deciders. Just let them do whatever they want to do and give them the money to do it, to support the troops of course. Perhaps Obama or Giuliani has a prettier face--let's trust them instead. We'll still call it a democracy even though it really isn't unless you mean by democracy that we have voted for a president/emperor. (Or slightly more than half of half of us have, if we're white.)

This seems to be the present course of events with the moral midgets we have in the Congress. They're so used to dialing for dollars and then doing what they're told that they're all (except a few: Byrd and Paul come to mind) suffering from spinal amputations. They've lost their backbones.

Incidentally, the Founding Fathers were referring to the common defense of the U.S. and not Israel.

I don't think the Diamond and Weiss piece sufficiently comes to grips with the political challenge facing those who seek to prevent a military conflict with Iran.

First, the Congress will never impeach the president if the US is involved in a fresh military conflict with Iran - it just won't happen. There may not be the same degree of rallying around the CIC that there was five years ago. But there will be enough of a rally to protect Bush and his war from Congress.

Nor, if some staged provocation occurs, will it be politically feasable for the Congress to hold back the tide of war as it waits for "confirmation" that the event was really caused by Iran.

To prevent war with Iran, it is necessary to tie Bush's hands politically before the fact. And the key to this is to make a public case that is so compelling that even the unitary Decidership cannot ignore public demands.

Hearings might be useful, but they can just as well be used by rabble-rousing hawks to spread misinformation and lies, and to provoke conflict with Iran, as to prevent it.

What is needed is for Congress to forcefully take up and carry forth the message that only through engagement with Iran can we get out of Iraq. The public has already soured on the Iraq war, and wants to get out, but is puzzled about the way out, about the effects of a US withdrawal etc. So Congress (and presidential candidates) must begin to link Iraq and Iran. If the public comes to see that working with Iran, in the context of a broader regional security discussion, is a necessary condition for extracting our troops from Iraq with half a chance of leaving a stable situation behind in that country and preventing a spreading regional crisis, then it will quickly get behind discussions and negotiations with Iran, and will have no patience at all for those who crave military conflict with Tehran.

Several points should be made loudly and clearly - and repeatedly - as part of this public communications effort:

1. The Baker commission, constituted with the most experienced foreign policy hands of both parties, made it clear that a diplomatic initiative involving all of the major parties in the region is necessary for re-establishig security and order in Iraq, and getting US troops out of there. While reasonable arguments and predictions can be made on both sides of the debate as to what will happen in Iraq following a US withdrawal, it is a moral certainty that there can be no stabilty in Iraq anytime soon without a cooperative regional security framework, as part of which the surrounding states use their influence with their allies and friends inside Iraq to bring a settlement to the country.

2. The Iranian and Saudi talks on the Lebanese political crisis are one model for this approach.

3. In this context, it is simply irresponsible to debate withdrawal from Iraq wihout at the same time opening up the question of discussions and negotiations with Iran. Pretending (like Senator Clinton) to work toward an end to the Iraq war, while at the same time ratcheting up the anti-Iran rhetoric, is demagoguery, not statesmanship.

4. Until we begin serious talks with a regional panel that includes representatives of the Iranian government, our soldiers will be hostages in Iraq. But talks cannot occur while White House war mongers are stirring up conflict. Every single beat of the war drums for military conflict with Iran, every escalation and ratcheting up of the rhetoric, represents a longer US engagement in Iraq, and represents another dead American soldier.

5. Say it again: The White House's refusal to engage in diplomacy with Iran is killing American soldiers.

6. The route out of Iraq passes through the foreign ministries of Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Iran. Thus the provocateurs in Washington who are clamoring for conflict with Iran, and escalating the war of words, might be serving the agendas of some special interests - but they do not serve the interests of the United States or its soldiers now fighting in the Middle East.

One thing that is incredibly puzzling in much of the recent debate is the notion that the constitution establishes the President as some sort of Foreign Policy Czar; that the only power Congress has over the foreign policy of the United States comes from its control of the "purse strings"; and that Congress has no legitimate role to play in the actual setting of US foreign policy.

How quickly we forget! Congress has directly legislated US foreign policy many times. What about the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998, which contains this:

It should be the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq and to promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace that regime.

Or read the Syria Accountability Act of 2003, with its long list of items in the "Statement of Policy." That act directs the Secretary of State to follow certain policies. And it includes passages like this:

(9) the United States will restrict assistance to Syria and will oppose multilateral assistance for Syria until Syria withdraws its armed forces from Lebanon, halts the development and deployment of weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles, and complies with Security Council Resolution 661 and subsequent relevant resolutions.

So why can't Congress pass an "Iraq Reconciliation Act" or somesuch law according to which "the Secretary of State is directed to open a diplomatic channel to Iran and immediately pursue discussions with the Iranian government on Middle East security matters of interest to the United States?"

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For instance, Bush has issued a signing statement with respect to whistleblower protections, & the Supreme Court recently narrowed those protections considerably for government employees. Did the latter consider the former in their deliberations? Seems to me, if so, a concrete example of how signing statements have a real impact. Ditto for any other court referencing the "legislative intent" behind a statute, as they're permitted to do.

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