Congress Can Stop an Attack But Probably Will Not Live Up to Its Constitutional Responsibilities
As the failure of the surge becomes more evident, the threat to Iran is going to increase. The Bush Administration is not in a mode of de-escalation as they see that as retreat or surrender. And, if the present approach in Iraq is not working, as is becoming increasingly evident, then that only leaves one alternative – escalation.
RAW Story is reporting that President Bush met with conservative evangelical leaders James Dobson of Focus on the Family to rally support for taking military action against Iran. In describing the 90 minute meeting with the president and discussions with other Christian leaders Dobson used extreme rhetoric reminiscent of the “mushroom cloud” claims in the build up to the Iraq attack. Dobson said: “Many people in a position to know are talking about the possibility of losing a city to nuclear or biological or chemical attack. And if we can lose one we can lose ten. If we can lose ten we can lose a hundred, especially if North Korea and Russia and China pile on.”
Is Bush using Dobson and his evangelical allies as messengers of fear? Is he using them to put out the word that the U.S. is facing extreme threats from Iran? Are they an intentional part of the drum beat to war?
If this meeting is one more step in the rhetorical build-up to an attack on Iran, an attack that will change the subject from the failed Iraq “surge”, then what can Congress do about it?
Mother Jones Magazine published an article in their May/June issue by Jonathan Schwarz that lays out Congressional options for preventing a military attack on Iran. The bottom line – Congress has the power to stop an attack but do they have the courage to assert their constitutional power?
The vote yesterday on an amendment offered by Representative DeFazio, Paul, Hinchey, and Lee to H.R. 1585, the fiscal year 2008 Department of Defense Authorization Act, required congressional approval before an attack on Iran. The result is a sign that the Congress probably does not have the courage to stand up and assert their authority as a co-equal branch of government solely vested with the power to declare war and fund the military. The amendment would have clarified that no previously enacted law authorizes military action against Iran. It also prohibited funding authorized by the FY'08 Defense Authorization bill or in any other act from being used to take military action against Iran without specific authorization from Congress unless there is a "national emergency created by an attack by Iran upon the United States, its territories or possessions or its armed forces." The vote was 288 against and 129 for, with 100 Democrats voting against the amendment including Reps. Emanuel and Hoyer.
So, it seems, if the president wants it the United States is on a course to attack Iran and the Congress will be complicit and complain after the country is trapped in a broader quagmire. When? Well, in the past Karl Rove has said you don’t roll out a new product in the summer, and September has become the time when Congress, including congressional Republicans, are talking about reviewing the Iraq policy. By then the failure of the surge will be evident, the 2008 elections will be close on the horizon and the Bush administration may need a change in script. Iran may provide the answer.
* * *Bush met with Dobson and conservative Christian leaders to rally support for Iran policy
President George W. Bush met privately with Focus on the Family Founder and Chairman James Dobson and approximately a dozen Christian right leaders last week to rally support for his policies on Iraq, Iran and the so-called "war on terror."
“I was invited to go to Washington DC to meet with President Bush in the White House along with 12 or 13 other leaders of the pro-family movement," Dobson disclosed on his radio program Monday. “And the topic of the discussion that day was Iraq, Iran and international terrorism. And we were together for 90 minutes and it was very enlightening and in some ways disturbing too."
Details of the meeting were disclosed by Dobson during Monday's edition of his Focus on the Family radio program.
Dobson described Bush as “upbeat and determined and convinced,” adding, “I wish the American people could have sat in on that meeting we had.”
Dobson went on to enumerate a series of meetings convened by Christian right leaders in Washington to discuss the supposedly existential threat to the United States from a nuclear Iran.
“I heard about this danger [from Iran] not only at the White House but from other pro-family leaders that I met during that week in Washington," he said. “Many people in a position to know are talking about the possibility of losing a city to nuclear or biological or chemical attack. And if we can lose one we can lose ten.
"If we can lose ten we can lose a hundred," he added, “especially if North Korea and Russia and China pile on.”
Later in his broadcast, during a discussion about Iran with author and self-proclaimed “prophecy expert” Joel Rosenberg, Dobson drew a parallel between current Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad and Adolf Hitler.
“The world looked at Hitler and just didn't believe him and tried to appease him the way we're hearing in Washington today,” Dobson remarked. “You know, the President seems to me does understand this, as I told you from that meeting I had with him the other day, but even there it feels like somebody ought to be standing up and saying, ‘We are being threatened and we are going to meet this with force -- whatever's necessary.’”
Dobson continued, “Some of our listeners might not like that but I tell you, if we didn't stand up to Hitler, we'd be speaking German today.”
Originally published on RAW Story at http://rawstory.com/news/2007/Bush_meets_with_Dobson_Christian_right_0514.html
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How Congress Can Stop Bush From Attacking Iran?
by Jonathan Schwarz
May/June 2007 Issue
Gauging the Bush administration's true intentions toward Iran is not easy. Each week brings a new story that hints at a struggle between the hardliners who'd like to take down one more point on the Axis of Evil and the realists who prefer one disastrous Middle East conflict at a time. Given the administration's track record, uncoordinated and sporadic attempts by members of Congress to prevent an attack on Iran will restrain it no more than would cobwebs. Yet Congress does possess the power to stop a war—if it chooses to exercise it. If we wake up one morning to find cruise missiles flying, the responsibility will not be Bush's alone. It will also belong to a Democratic-controlled Congress that could have acted but decided not to.
What, then, would a serious congressional strategy to block a war with Iran look like? Constitutional scholars and congressional staff agree there's no one magic answer. The alarming truth is that 220 years after the adoption of the Constitution, there are few settled answers about what legal powers the executive branch possesses to start a war. But there are several steps Congress could take to make a war with Iran politically very difficult for the White House.
Unfortunately, the Constitution isn't much help here. It does state that Congress alone has the ability to declare war, but precedent, inertia, and technology have eroded this power almost to naught. (In the age of intercontinental ballistic missiles, the commander in chief can launch an apocalyptic nuclear strike without so much as a courtesy call to the speaker of the House.) The 1973 War Powers Act requires the president to "consult" Congress before launching military action; if he doesn't receive further authorization, he must cease operations within 60 days. But this leaves the door wide open for all sorts of attacks—a massive bombing campaign could certainly be carried out within two months. Bill Clinton arguably breached the War Powers Act during his 78-day Kosovo bombing campaign, without consequences.
The limiting factor on a determined president, then, is not whether an attack is legal. Rather, it is how high a political cost he's willing to pay. Just because Bush can launch an attack on Iran in the absence of congressional action does not mean he can legally do so in contravention of congressional action. If Congress specifically forbids Bush from attacking Iran, and he does so anyway, it would precipitate a political crisis. Fortunately, Congress has some powerful tools at its disposal. Here's what it could do:
Cut Off Funding
Congress' biggest constitutional bargaining chip is the power of the purse. It could send an extremely strong message by stipulating in future supplemental defense appropriations bills that none of that money could be spent on attacking Iran. Freshman Sen. James Webb (D-Va.) tried to add such a restriction to the $93 billion in supplemental appropriations that went before Congress earlier this year. There is an inexact precedent for this in the 1982 Boland Amendment, which prohibited U.S. intelligence agencies from covertly spending money to overthrow the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. The Reagan administration's attempts to circumvent this law became the genesis of the Iran-Contra scandal.
The Bush administration might well claim such a requirement was an unconstitutional infringement on the president's authority to defend the country and the troops from Iranian "meddling" in Iraq, and proceed with an attack on Tehran anyway. To prevent this, Congress could make such a funding prohibition "non-severable" from the rest of the appropriations bill. This means that if the president ignored that particular section of the bill, the entire bill would become inoperative. Congress also could prohibit Bush from using any other funds to attack Iran, essentially challenging the administration to blatantly violate federal law.
Close the Loopholes
Both of the Authorizations to Use Military Force (aumfs) passed by Congress—in September 2001 for Afghanistan, and October 2002 for Iraq—contain language that might conceivably be used to justify an attack on Iran. The 2001 aumf authorized the president to use force not just against the perpetrators of 9/11 but also against anyone who "harbored such organizations or persons." After the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, Iran arrested several senior members of Al Qaeda. Though they are apparently being held as bargaining chips with the United States, someone could argue that Iran is in fact "harboring" them.
Attacking Iran under the 2002 AUMF, which gave the president power to defend against "the continuing threat posed by Iraq," is even more of a reach. But squaring that kind of circle is what executive branch lawyers are for. As a former Bush administration official told me, "If I had to make the case for war with Iran, I would definitely look to the 2002 authorization. So that's one loophole Congress would want to nail shut." Congress would be prudent to rewrite both AUMFs to explicitly exclude action against Iran.
Get Good Intel
There's already been some congressional push-back on the administration's murky claims that Iran is behind attacks on American troops in Iraq. That is a start, but ongoing, aggressive oversight of how the White House is using intelligence about Iran is critical.
The most recent National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran's nuclear capability, completed in 2005, judged that Tehran could not build a nuclear bomb much earlier than 2015. A new NIE is near completion but may be held up by the administration, because its findings will likely echo those of the 2005 NIE and should reflect the CIA's reported inability to find conclusive evidence of any Iranian nuclear weapons program.
So, despite what the Bush administration says, there's plenty of time to strategize. The congressional intelligence committees should demand that the new NIE be finished, and then hold high-profile hearings on its findings, with witnesses explaining why there's no cause for panic. Congress could also commission an nie that examines the possible consequences of an American attack on Iran. Its findings would likely dampen war fever.
Don't Get Fooled Again
We now know that in early 2002, President Bush authorized the CIA to smuggle exiles into Iraq, where they would announce a coup, forcing Saddam to attack them in violation of the southern no-fly zone, and providing the United States with a pretext to invade. This plot was never executed, but it raises questions about whether the administration might be planning a similar provocation against Iran. According to The New Yorker's Seymour Hersh, the White House is running clandestine operations in Iran without the legally mandated congressional oversight. Vice President Cheney and his staff are reportedly avoiding oversight requirements by running the operations through the Pentagon rather than the CIA and using Saudi funding rather than money appropriated by Congress.
Congress must immediately demand answers about what the administration is doing now in Iran. Only a coordinated congressional effort can uncover the truth and help Americans understand how they could be bamboozled into yet another war.
Of course, the unfortunate reality is that without public pressure, the Democratic leadership is unlikely to take most or even some of these actions. It doesn't help that Democratic presidential candidates have been echoing the administration's refrain that "all options are on the table" regarding Iran. If the Democrats continue to sit tight as the White House decides its next move, the administration will have won the first battle of the next war without firing a single shot.
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FINAL VOTE RESULTS FOR ROLL CALL 365
(Democrats in roman; Republicans in italic; Independents underlined)
H R 1585 RECORDED VOTE 16-May-2007 8:29 PM
AUTHOR(S): DeFazio of Oregon Amendment
QUESTION: On Agreeing to the Amendment
---- AYES 136 ---
---- NOES 288 ---
---- NOT VOTING 13 ---