Increasingly concerned about the escalating rhetoric
against Iran by senior U.S. officials, including President George W. Bush, members
of Congress are trying to put limits on his ability to attack the Islamic Republic.
Their efforts so far have primarily taken the form of what one lobbyist refers
to as "Resoliferation" that is, the proliferation of a number
of mostly nonbinding resolutions in both the House of Representatives
and Senate asserting that Bush must seek Congress's approval before any attack
on Iran or any of Iraq's other neighbors.
The latest resolution, introduced Wednesday by a group of five House Democrats,
declares that it is the policy of the United States not to enter into a preemptive
war with Iran and bans the expenditure of Congressionally appropriated funds
for covert actions designed to achieve regime change or to carry out any military
actions against Tehran in the absence of an imminent threat.
Several influential senators have also posed pointed questions to the administration
about whether it believes it has the constitutional authority to carry out military
action against Iran without Congress's approval.
"Is it the position of this administration that it possesses the authority
to take unilateral action against Iran, in the absence of a direct threat, without
Congressional approval?" asked the newly elected Virginia Democrat, James
Webb during testimony by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Jan. 11. Rice said
she would have to respond later.
Webb, who achieved overnight stardom last week when he delivered a remarkably
tough Democratic response to Bush's State of the Union address, reiterated his
question in a pointed letter to Rice that gained him additional notice earlier
this week. "This is, basically, a 'yes' or 'no' question regarding an urgent
matter affecting our nation's foreign policy," he wrote.
Indeed, the fact that the administration has not yet issued any formal response
to questions such as that posed by Webb has stoked fears on Capitol Hill and
elsewhere that the White House believes not only that the answer is indeed "yes,"
but also that it is planning to attack Iran sooner rather than later.
Adding to those fears this week was a battery of new charges, especially by
senior military officers, that Tehran is supplying Iraqi Shi'ite militias with
weapons ranging from deadly, armor-piercing "explosively formed projectiles"
(EFPs) to Katyusha rockets of the kind used by Lebanon's Hezbollah against Israel
in last summer's month-long war but which have yet to be seen in use in Iraq.
In addition, U.S. officials have suggested that Iranians were behind a sophisticated
attack Jan. 20 on a government compound in Karbala in which one U.S. soldier
was killed and four others abducted and subsequently slain.
The incident, which is still under investigation, stirred speculation that
it may have been carried out in retaliation for the seizure of a number of Iranian
diplomats and security officials in two high-profile raids by U.S. forces over
the past five weeks. Five of the Iranians are still being held.
"We have picked up individuals who we believe are giving very sophisticated
explosive technology to Shi'ite insurgent groups, who then use that technology
to target and kill American soldiers," said Undersecretary of State for
Political Affairs Nicholas Burns Thursday in an interview with National Public
"It's a very serious situation. And the message is, Iran should cease
and desist," added Burns, who, clearly conscious of the growing concern
about the administration's intentions, repeatedly insisted that Washington has
no intention of attacking Iran in retaliation.
"We don't intend to cross the border into Iran, we don't intend to strike
into Iran, in terms of what we are doing in Iraq," he said, conspicuously
leaving open the possibility that Washington might yet attack Iran for other
reasons, such as Bush's longstanding warning that "all options are on the
table" regarding Tehran's nuclear program.
Some observers here have long believed that, in the absence of a diplomatic
solution to U.S. demands that Iran freeze its uranium-enrichment program., Bush
intends to attack Iran's nuclear facilities before the end of his term. However,
Congressional concern rose sharply with the president's speech on Iraq strategy
In that speech, Bush accused both Iran and Syria with granting safe passage
in and out of Iraq to "terrorists and insurgents" and accused Iran,
in particular, of "providing material support for attacks on American troops."
In response, he announced the deployment of a second aircraft carrier strike
group to the Gulf and pledged to "destroy the network providing advanced
weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq."
His remarks came just hours after U.S. forces seized Iranian officials, who
have still not be released, in a raid on the Iranian consulate in the Iraqi
Kurdish city of Irbil.
The reaction on Capitol Hill was virtually instantaneous. "When you set
in motion the kind of policy that the president is talking about here, it's
very, very dangerous," Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel told Rice the following
day during the same hearing in which Webb asked her whether the administration
thought it had the authority to attack Iraq, a question also raised by the new
chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Joseph Biden.
Since then, and despite the rising tide of charges by administration and military
officials regarding Tehran's alleged support for Shi'ite militias, the clerk
of Congress has received a growing number of resolutions to steer the administration
toward a less confrontational course.
On Jan. 16, Oregon Rep. Peter DeFazio introduced a resolution with 18 Democratic
cosponsors, including the powerful chairman of the House subcommittee for defense
appropriations Rep. John Murtha, declaring that Bush lacked the authority to
take military action against Iran without Congressional approval. Biden has
since said he will introduce a similar measure in the Senate.
On Jan. 18, another bipartisan group, including Murtha and Republican Rep.
Walter Jones, submitted a second resolution demanding that the president seek
congressional authorization before initiating the use of force against Iran
absent a "demonstrably imminent attack by Iran" on the U.S. or its armed
That was followed several days later by another, also signed by Murtha, as
well as eight other congressmen, that expressed the sense of Congress that Bush
should implement a recommendation explicitly rejected by Bush
by the Iraq Study Group headed by former secretary of state James Baker and
former Rep. Lee Hamilton that Washington "engage directly with Iran and
Syria" in trying to stabilize Iraq.
On Jan. 24, Sen. Robert Byrd, the Senate's the longest-serving member, introduced
another "sense of the Senate" resolution on the need for Congressional
approval for any offensive military action against another nation, a position
that was explicitly endorsed in respect to Iran last week by Senate Majority
Leader Harry Reid.
While all of these resolutions are either nonbinding or include provisions
that could be easily ignored or circumvented by a White House administration
determined go to war and willing to stage a provocation to do so, lobby groups
and activists on both the left and the right say they hope they will serve as
a "shot across the bow" of administration hawks.
"Its about time Congress focuses attention on this issue and tries to
take back its constitutional right to declare war and not simply write a blank
check to the president," according to Carah Ong, an Iran specialist at
the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, who is coordinating antiwar
efforts by some 50 groups across the political spectrum.
(Inter Press Service)