This week, Congress is considering two pieces of legislation relating to Iran. The first undermines a diplomatic solution with Iran and lowers the bar for war. The second authorizes a war of choice against Iran and begins military preparations for it.
H.Res.568: Eliminating the Most Viable Alternative to War
The House is expected to vote on H.Res. 568. Read the resolution. Section (6) rejects any United States policy that would rely on efforts to contain a nuclear weapons-capable Iran. Section (7) urges the President to reaffirm the unacceptability of an Iran with nuclear-weapons capability and opposition to any policy that would rely on containment as an option in response to Iranian enrichment.
This language represents a significant shift in U.S. policy and would guarantee that talks with Iran, currently scheduled for May 23, would fail. Current U.S. policy is that Iran cannot acquire nuclear weapons. Instead, H. Res. 568 draws the “redline” for military action at Iran achieving a nuclear weapons “capability,” a nebulous and undefined term that could include a civilian nuclear program. Indeed, it is likely that a negotiated deal to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran and to prevent war would provide for Iranian enrichment for peaceful purposes under the framework of the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Treaty with strict safeguards and inspections. This language makes such a negotiated solution impossible.
At the same time, the language lowers the threshold for attacking Iran. Countries with nuclear weapons “capability” could include many other countries like Japan or Brazil. It is an unrealistic threshold.
The Former Chief of Staff of Secretary of State Colin Powell has stated that this resolution “reads like the same sheet of music that got us into the Iraq war.”
H.R. 4310: Authorizing War Against Iran and Preparing the Military for it
While H. Res. 568 undermines our diplomatic efforts and lowers the bar for war, H.R. 4310, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 begins military preparations for war. Section 1221 makes military action against Iran a U.S. policy. Section 1222 directs our armed forces to prepare for war.
SEC. 1221. DECLARATION OF POLICY.
(a) Findings- Congress makes the following findings:
(2) At the same time, Iran may soon attain a nuclear weapons capability, a development that would threaten United States interests, destabilize the region, encourage regional nuclear proliferation, further empower and embolden Iran, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, and provide it the tools to threaten its neighbors, including Israel.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), as well as U.S. and Israeli intelligence, have all agreed that Iran does not currently have a nuclear bomb, is not building a nuclear weapon and does not have plans to do so. Both U.S. and Israeli officials also agree that a strike on Iran would only delay their nuclear program and actually encourage them to pursue a nuclear weapon.
Sustained, diplomatic engagement with Iran is the only way to ensure transparency and prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. Rejecting or thwarting any inspections-based deal we are currently seeking with Iran, even when analysts are expressing guarded optimism that a near term deal is achievable, makes pre-emptive military action against Iran more likely.
(7) In order to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, the United States, in cooperation with its allies, must utilize all elements of national power including diplomacy, robust economic sanctions, and credible, visible preparations for a military option.
Pursuing these non-diplomatic options, contrary to popular myth, does not help negotiations. U.S. policy toward Iran for the last three decades has primarily taken the form of economic sanctions, threats and isolation. None of these things has created meaningful change in the behavior of the Iranian government or achieved the transparency we seek. In fact, history has demonstrated that sanctions often preclude war; they do not prevent it. Sanctions hurt the same ordinary Iranians that we claim to support, and undermine their efforts to encourage democratic change in their country. Threatening military action against Iran can only undermine sensitive and critical diplomatic negotiations that could be our last chance to achieve the transparency and cooperation we seek from the Iranian government.
(8) Nevertheless, to date, diplomatic overtures, sanctions, and other non-kinetic actions toward Iran have not caused the Government of Iran to abandon its nuclear weapons program.
The United States, IAEA and Israel have all publically recognized that Iran does not have a nuclear weapons program. In a January 2012 interview on CBS’ Face the Nation, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta stated unequivocally that Iran is not trying to build a nuclear weapon. This clause further ignores that the U.S. and Iran have barely engaged in direct negotiations. Prior to last month’s negotiations, the U.S. and Iran had only engaged in 45 minutes of direct talks since 2009.
(b) Declaration of Policy- It shall be the policy of the United States to take all necessary measures, including military action if required, to prevent Iran from threatening the United States, its allies, or Iran’s neighbors with a nuclear weapon.
This is an authorization for the use of military force against Iran. It ignores the warnings of both current and former U.S. top military brass who have spoken in opposition to the use of military force against Iran, including former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and current Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. A February 2012 poll demonstrated that less than 20% of the Israeli public supports an Israeli strike on Iran if approved by the United States. Congress must avoid the same mistakes it made in the Iraq war and reject any language that can be construed as authorizing war against Iran.
SEC. 1222. UNITED STATES MILITARY PREPAREDNESS IN THE MIDDLE EAST.
Section 2 (A) pre-positioning sufficient supplies of aircraft, munitions, fuel, and other materials for both air- and sea-based missions at key forward locations in the Middle East and Indian Ocean;
(B) maintaining sufficient naval assets in the region necessary to signal United States resolve and to bolster United States capabilities to launch a sustained sea and air campaign against a range of Iranian nuclear and military targets, to protect seaborne shipping, and to deny Iranian retaliation against United States interests in the region;
(D) conducting naval fleet exercises similar to the United States Fifth Fleet’s major exercise in the region in March 2007 to demonstrate ability to keep the Strait of Hormuz open and to counter the use of anti-ship missiles and swarming high-speed boats.
A plain reading of these provisions in H.R. 4310 taken together with H.R. 568 makes it clear: Congress is setting the stage for war with Iran.