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Let's Have a War

Last week reports were that Congressional action on further Iran sanctions had faded. Apparently not so. The "Iran Nuclear Weapon Free Act of 2013," has been introduced by Senators Schumer, Mendez, and Kirk. It is likely to be taken up after Congress returns in the new year. 

Jim Lobe has a run-down of its major provisions. You can read it here: Lobe Log.

The bill's provisions ham-string diplomatic efforts to negotiate with Iran over it's nuclear program. It would require that Iran give up the program, which is unlikely. It undermines the goal of the current negotiations cutting back and ending any potential nuclear bomb  program. The bill will have none of that.

Then there's this: "…if the Government of Israel is compelled to take military action in legitimate self-defense against Iran’s nuclear weapon program, the United States Government should stand with Israel and provide, in accordance with the law of the United States and the constitutional responsibility of Congress to authorize the use of military force, diplomatic, military, and economic support to the Government of Israel in its defense of its territory, people, and existence…"

The qualifying words and phrases notwithstanding, that looks like blanket permission for Israel to bomb Iran. If Netanyahu decides to do so the United States will be forced to join in.

Lobe calls it the "Wag the Dog" bill. But why not "Let's Give Israel a Blank Check"?

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Absolutely dreadful proposed legislation. No serious national government yields such power to any foreign state. Ever!

Note that it is Congress that will make the decisions here: The bill cites "the constitutional responsibility of Congress to authorize the use of military force, diplomatic, military, and economic support to the Government of Israel."

This is the most absurd legislation that I have seen in a long time. Hardly the way any nation conducts foreign policy.

Why not the Japan Freedom of Navigation Act:

if the Government of Japan is compelled to take military action in legitimate self-defense against China's acquistion of Senkaku Islands, the United States Government should stand with Japan and provide, in accordance with the law of the United States and the constitutional responsibility of Congress to authorize the use of military force, diplomatic, military, and economic support to the Government of Japan in its defense of its territory, people, and existence…"

 

...you get the picture....pick your hot spot and proactively write your legislation...ugh

Please note we are talking about a memorandum that has not even been introduced as a bill, let alone enacted into law. 

 

Note further that if the memorandum has been accurately described and reproduced, the portion concerning Israel would be a “sense of the Congress” resolution.  “Sense of the Congress” resolutions do not make law and are not enforceable.  They simply express an opinion, in this case support for Israel.

 

Last, please note further that if this proposed resolution, including the “sense of Congress” portion, were to be enacted, it would be enacted by a Congress where, as I’ve previously pointed out, of every $200 in campaign contributions, only $1 is from pro-Israel groups.  So, if its introduced into Congress, and if it passes, it will be passed out of conviction, and not because Congress is a puppet legislature controlled by Israel or AIPAC or other Jewish-American groups (the “wag the dog” scenario).   Whether such a resolution would be wise or not is an entirely different discussion.

 

In any event, I  seriously doubt any such resolution will be enacted.

 

And it turns out that the interim deal isn’t even finalized yet, and negotiations about it are continuing.  Iran has already walked out of these new negotiations once because the U.S. has dared to continue to enforce the sanctions that Iran agreed were to be left in place.  President Obama said last week that he believed there was only a 50-50 chance that final negotiations, if we ever get to them, would be successful, i.e., that Iran would agree to a final deal in which it dismantled its nuclear weapons program.  And the French foreign minister has expressed renewed doubt about Iran’s good faith.

 “Sense of the Congress” resolutions do not make law and are not enforceable.  They simply express an opinion, in this case support for Israel.

 

And that is counter-productive to the foreign policy interests of the United States. Then General Patreus said that support for Israel was undermining credibility of the United States in other parts of the mid-east. Neutrality is best. Of course any country has a right to self defense.

When the Balkans were falling apart there was no "sense of Congress" regarding support for Croatia.

Why should Israel be any different?

It is referred to as a BILL and is an act called: ‘‘Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2013’’.

Its sponsors are:  Mr. MENENDEZ( for himself, Mr. KIRK, Mr. SCHUMER, Mr. GRAHAM, Mr.CARDIN, Mr. MCCAIN, Mr. CASEY, Mr. RUBIO, Mr. COONS, Mr. CORNYN,Mr. BLUMENTHAL, Ms. AYOTTE, Mr. BEGICH, Mr. CORKER, Mr. PRYOR,Ms. COLLINS, Ms. LANDRIEU, Mr. MORAN, Mrs. GILLIBRAND, Mr. ROBERTS, Mr. WARNER, Mr. JOHANNS, Mrs. HAGAN, Mr. CRUZ, Mr. DONNELLY, and Mr. BLUNT).

The whole bill is here:

Right, Jeff. Why would anyone wonder about Schumer's funding? So weird to bring it up, amiright?

Look, a senior Democratic senator is working to undermine the president's diplomatic efforts. This is a big deal. Call the bill what you want. The White House has pleaded with Congress to give it time. Schumer has apparently said no. I suppose I'm not surprised, after the heat he took for supporting Hagel. You remember him, right? Crazy how he's driven a wedge between the United States and Israel, isn't it?

 

George D.:  You say that neutrality, rather than support for Israel, is the best course for the United States in the Middle East.  I respect your right to your belief, but neither the President, nor Congress, nor the American people agree with you.  By majorities of from two-thirds to three-quarters, the American people strongly support the alliance with Israel, and of that group, approximately half wish us to provide even more support.

 

You say the U.S. didn’t pass “sense of the Congress” resolutions supporting Croatia, so you ask why do it for Israel. But unlike Croatia, Israel is a strong ally of the United States.  And the United States has done a lot more for its allies than pass “sense of the Congress” resolutions.  We’ve gone to war to protect them.  Even in the Balkans, in a bombing campaign led by the United States, NATO went to war against Serbia to protect Kosovo.  But we’ve never gone to war on behalf of Israel, which has always fought its own battles.  The same can’t be said for Saudi Arabia or Kuwait (the Persian Gulf War), or for South Korea (35,000 Americans killed in that war) or even for Great Britain or France.

 

So, I think the record of Israel in this respect vis-a-vis the United States is commendable. 

Grant:  I didn't fault anyone for bringing up Schumer's funding, but I did try to put this in perspective, and I believe accurately so.  Its not insignificant, for example, especially in light of some of the things that were being said about it above, that portions of the resolution would have no legal effect.  Do you fault me for pointing it out?  Is there anything I said above that you think is not factually true?  As for Hagel, you may recall that I predicted all along that he would be a strong supporter of the President's policies.  Otherwise, the President would not have nominated him, and Hagel would not have accepted the nomination.  So, I'm not surprised at all by his performance since becoming Secretary of Defense.

Margaret:  Whether its labeled a bill or not, I notice that portions of it are entitled “Sense of Congress.”  I’m no parliamentarian, but I think what I said above about those portions not being law and being unenforceable still holds.

A bill is not a law. No one claimed it was.

Frankly the "sense of Congress," could be worse than a law. If this is the attitude ("sense") that pervades the thinking of these lawmakers, and those who may vote for it in the New Year, it would appear that Obama and Kerry are going to see their diplomatic efforts undermined. Then these congressional "leaders" will insist that the U.S. follow Israel into Iraq (unless, of course, they want it the other way around). What is their intent in writing and signing onto this Bill? Their intent would seem to be to derail the negotiations--permanently.

Curious that Obama and Kerry found one more sanction to enforce which resulted in Iran postponing another meeting with the P5+1. (The meeting was rescheduled for today, Dec. 19).

That decision seemed to come along with a meeting Susan Rice had with Israeli officials on December 13 and 14.

Reuters: "Rice, along with her deputy, Tony Blinken, and senior officials from the departments of State and Treasury, met with Israeli national security adviser Yossi Cohen and other Israeli officials on Thursday and Friday (Dec. 13 and 14). 'During the meetings, the U.S. team reaffirmed President Obama's goal of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,' the White House said. The series of meetings was an initial step toward fulfilling a promise Obama made to Netanyahu in their Nov. 24 phone call that the United States would consult regarding the effort to forge a comprehensive solution with Iran."

Then this week we have members of the Senate introduce the  "Iran Nuclear Weapon Free Act of 2013." What a coincidence!

 

"A bill is not a law.  No one claimed it was."  Even if the bill is enacted, I'm saying that those portions of it entitled "Sense of the Congress," will not become law and will not be enforceable, but will merely express, as the term implies, an opinion of Congress.  As I say, I'm not a parliamentarian, but I think that's how it works.  And, of course, it is significant that it would not be law and not be enforceable.  There were statements being made above that these "sense of the Congress" provisions would force us to go to war, when, in fact, if I'm right, they would do no such thing.

"Curious that Obama and Kerry found one more sanction to enforce which resulted in Iran postponing another meeting with the P5+1. (The meeting was rescheduled for today, Dec. 19)."  Are you accusing Obama and Kerry of seeking to undermine their own negotiations with Iran?  Really?  And what's wrong with enforcing the sanctions that are still in place?  Would you rather that they go unenforced and that the sanctions fall apart completely?  You know, it doesn't make the United States wrong just because Iran objects to something.  I trust the United States much more than I do Iran.

"Are you accusing Obama and Kerry of seeking to undermine their own negotiations with Iran?" No, I am not. I wondered if they did it to appease PM Netanyahu, the visiting Israeli officials, and of course members of Congress. I wonder if that wasn't what they reported to the other P5+1 members and maybe even to the Iranians.

Margaret:  You can "wonder" all you want, but why even try to construct  a scenario based completely on conjecture?  And what's wrong with enforcing the sanctions that are still in place?  Would you rather that they go unenforced and that the sanctions fall apart completely? 

“Reuters: "Rice, along with her deputy, Tony Blinken, and senior officials from the departments of State and Treasury, met with Israeli national security adviser Yossi Cohen and other Israeli officials on Thursday and Friday (Dec. 13 and 14). 'During the meetings, the U.S. team reaffirmed President Obama's goal of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,' the White House said. The series of meetings was an initial step toward fulfilling a promise Obama made to Netanyahu in their Nov. 24 phone call that the United States would consult regarding the effort to forge a comprehensive solution with Iran."

 

Why did you mention this meeting?  What do you claim is the significance of it?  Israel and the U.S. are meeting and conferring all the time.  That’s what allies do.  Especially about matters that are important to both of them and that are very sensitive.

Jeff: Maybe you could collect your interrogatives in one comment. You have many questions, don't you?

Jeff:

 

 But we’ve never gone to war on behalf of Israel, which has always fought its own battles. 

 

Iraq was largely fought to protect Israel. The world, and especially the US, does not need to be neo-conned again!

Grant:   Your collection of interrogatories would be longer than mine, given that you asked twice as many questions as I did.  And I was more responsive to your questions than you to mine, given that you weren't responsive at all to mine.

George D.:  The United States didn't go to war in Iraq because of Israel. Sigh.

Jeff:

I said largely fought. There were so many shifting reasons from weapons of mass destruction, to violation of international norms, to human rights abuses, to supporting state sponsored terrorism (that would be various Palestinian groups), to supporting democracy, to liberating people. But yes, defense of Israel was one of those reasons (and a large one according to some news sources).

 

http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Front_Page/FC31Aa01.htmlTo paraphrase Bob Dylan:

 

The second Iraq war 

It came and it went

The reason for fighting 

I never did get

But I learned to accept it

Accept it with pride 

For you don't count the dead

with God on your side

George D.:  The United States didn't go to war in Iraq "largely" beause of Israel.  My recollection is that Israeli officials were warning the U.S. that it was a mistake to invade Iraq.  But at least we are both fans of Dylan.

Well given the historical transparency of the US government we will never know for certain! But we can agree to disagree and leave it at that .... except to round off the discussion by wishing you and yours a very Merry Christmas!!

Thank you, George.  I appreciate it.  I really do.  And a Happy Hanukkah to you!

I e-mailed Schumer, who represents me, saying I would like him to withdraw his support for this proposed legislation; that it undermines our President and doesn't appear to do anything to strengthen stability  in the Middle East.

 

All of these issues seem a bit peripheral to the question of peace or war.  Does anyone think that an attack (by Israel and/or the US) on Iran would not lead to a human catastrophe?  Perhaps thousands dead and cascading results that cannot be easily predicted.  Does anyone still believe in the efficacy of surgical strikes after Iraq and Afghnaistan (and drones in Pakistan and Yemen and Somalia and  . . . . .)..  Shouldn't every effort be made to resolve this short of war?  I don't think I'm being simplistic; wars generally turn out even worse than anyone expected (the US Civil War, WW I just to name two).

 

Kevin

Right you are!! Diplomacy should be given a serious chance and vigorous support.

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About the Author

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages and blogs at dotCommonweal.