"Oh, they'd never let that happen."
Heard that reaction when you've expressed concern that the administration might authorize an attack on Iran? The Democratic Congress, it's assumed, would surely defer to its war-weary constituency and bar the administration from starting another one. But with Americans focused on Iraq, the Democrats don't need to defer to public opinion on Iran like they do with Iraq.
In fact, according to John Byrne in Raw Story, leading Democratic members of Congress are "uncertain" about how to handle Iran. Their pronouncements on the use of force are not only few and far between but perfunctory in nature.
Take new House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. He recently informed The Jerusalem Post that force was "not an option we want to consider until we know there is no other option." But, he added, "I've not ruled that out."
Hoyer, wrote reporter Hilary Leila Krieger, claimed that his view "is shared by his party, rejecting assertions that the Democrats would be weaker than the Republicans on Iran." Nothing like a public admission by a Democrat that he never met an act of war he wouldn't rubber-stamp.
Thus has Hoyer provided us with our first opportunity to lament his appointment over John Murtha, who doesn't seem to be one of those Democrats sharing Hoyer's view. "The president," said Murtha, "does not have legal authority to go into Iran." That's a start, but we need him to grab the administration by the lapels and shake it, like he did the Iraq War.
You would think Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who had backed Murtha for House majority leader, agrees. Think again. In May, 2005 she gave a speech to AIPAC, in which she said: "The United States will stand with Israel now and forever. Now and forever." We get it, Nancy -- now and forever. Does that still stand if Israel decides to use their tactical nukes?
What about Hillary Clinton? In a January 2006 speech, she said that "we cannot take any option off the table in sending a clear message to the current leadership of Iran -- that they will not be permitted to acquire nuclear weapons." What else can you expect when she's just now coming around to de-escalation in Iraq?
In 2006 other top Democrats addressed the use of force against Iran. However ironic its intentions, GOP.com posted their comments:
John Kerry: "[I]'ve said point blank that you leave that option on the table. . ."
Joe Biden: "I think the President is going about it the right way."
Evan Bayh: "The Iranians are hardened people. They've made a strategic decision that they want to acquire nuclear weapons. I don't think they will respond to words alone."
Christopher Dodd: "I don't disagree that we ought to leave the military option on the table, but I don't think we've been working hard enough on the diplomacy side of this."
And Obama? Back in 2004, he said that the "big question is going to be, if Iran is resistant to [pressure], at what point are we going to, if any, are we going to take military action?" His stumbling reply suggests that, in a perfect world, he'd come down firmly on the side of peace.
What's most apparent is that prominent Democrats are acting on the assumption that an attack will involve only bombing. Americans, including our leaders, operate under the illusion that bombing is risk-free -- when was the last time an American attack plane was shot down? -- not to mention benevolent, as Kosovo supposedly was.
More to the point, we may unconsciously feel that by bombing Iran we'll redeem ourselves. In other words, we can make up for attacking a country that had no nukes (Iraq) by bombing one that actually does. Or, is trying to develop them -- maybe. Hey, at least the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) speaks to it in a firm tone of voice. That counts for something, right?
Meanwhile, a couple of other prominent Democrats have contented themselves with straddling the proverbial fence. In April, The Las Vegas Sun reported that Sen. Harry Reid "said the U.S. has no military option in Iran. 'We don't have the resources to do it' because of the ongoing war in Iraq." His motives may not be pure, but at least he spoke out in opposition.
Meanwhile, Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA) is suspicious that the administration is cooking intelligence on Iran. "I want to be absolutely sure," she said, "that we base decisions. . . on pristine and pure intelligence, or the closest we can get to that."
There must be some Democrats in either the Senate or the House who stand unequivocally against the use of force on Iran. What about Russ Feingold?
Afraid not. He too said, "We must never take any option off the table."
There is, of course, one Congressperson that those of us to whom war is the last, worst option can always count on -- Dennis Kucinich. In September, he wrote a letter to the public, in which he said, "The US must guarantee Iran and the world community that it will not attack Iran."
Then, surprising us all, Joe Biden changed his tune. When Secretary of State Rice appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee after Bush's speech last week, he delivered this message: "I believe the present authorization granted [him] to use force in Iraq does not cover. . . [an attack on Iran], and he does need congressional authority."
Though he even added, "I just want to set that marker," with Biden, talk is cheap. It remains to be seen if he'll put his money where his mouth is should the administration call for air strikes.
Then, last week, Harry Reid finally steeled himself and said, "The president does not have the authority to launch military action in Iran without first seeking congressional authorization."
But, as is often the case, it's left to House members -- the lower profile the better -- to take the initiative in standing up to the administration. For instance, back in September, Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, a Republican no less, sent a letter to President Bush, signed by 19 members of the House (both parties).
It pointed out that refusing to negotiate with Iran had yielded no positive results and suggested opening a dialogue. "We believe," it read, that "America's diplomats are the best in the world and should be allowed to apply their talents to our conflict with Iran."
Then, on January 12, maverick Republican and Iraq War opponent Walter B. Jones, another Republican, introduced House Joint Resolution 14, which "makes it crystal clear that no previous resolution passed by Congress authorizes such use of force." It specifies that, except in an emergency, the president can't attack Iran without Congressional approval.
He's joined by Murtha and Gilchrest, as well as Neil Abercrombie (D-HA), John Larson (D-CT), Marty Meehan (D-MA), Richard Neal (D-MA. Libertarian Ron Paul (R-TX) also signed on, commenting on how sad it was that "we're introducing a resolution restating the Constitution."
Much as it pains us to quote him, Pat Buchanan wrote: "If Biden, Kerry, Clinton, and Obama refuse to sign on to the Jones resolution, they will be silently conceding that Bush indeed does have the power to start a war on Iran."
Representative Peter DeFazio (D-OR) has drawn up a similar resolution. It rejects the administration's arguments that the 'Commander in Chief Clause' in the Constitution, as well as the Authorization of Force Resolution, grants it the right to attack another country without Congressional approval. Initial signees include Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), John Conyers (D-MI), Rush Holt (D-NJ), Elijah Cummings (D-MD), Steven Rothman (D-NJ), Sam Farr (D-CA), and Lloyd Doggett (D-TX).
If Iranian loss of life concerns us as little as that of Iraqis has, we should at least heed what Scott Ritter has to say in his new book, "Target Iran," about oil flow disruptions and price hikes. "Every American businessman who needs to factor in the cost of oil in the bottom line," he writes, "must understand that [in the event of an attack on Iran] they will face almost immediate financial ruin."
Buchanan, we're forced to concede, also made sense when, appearing on "The Joe Scarborough Show," he said that if the administration decides to attack Iran, Congress will either be "supportive or paralyzed." In fact, if Iran, spooked by our presence in the Persian Gulf, launches a missile at one of our aircraft carriers, Congress may well approve a retaliatory strike in a heartbeat. Just because procedure has been followed doesn't mean a war is any less ill-conceived.
Meanwhile, before war fever reaches epidemic proportions, let's call our congressmen and senators and let them know that, "We support a resolution that requires the President to seek Congressional approval before initiating military action against Iran."