The Middle East Channel

The Republican back door to war with Iran

A game plan to draw the United States into a third war in the Middle East may be quietly unfolding before our eyes.

Late last week, Republicans in the House or Representatives unveiled H.Res.1553, a resolution providing explicit support for an Israeli bombing campaign against Iran. The measure, introduced by Texas Republican Louie Gohmert and forty-six of his colleagues, endorses Israel's use of "all means necessary" against Iran "including the use of military force".

"We have got to act," Gohmert has said in regard to the measure. "We've got to get this done. We need to show our support for Israel. We need to quit playing games with this critical ally in such a difficult area."

But Gohmert's resolution may be an unprecedented development -- Congress has never endorsed pre-emptive military strikes by a foreign country.  What's more, this is the minority party signaling to Israel that they can count on Republican support should the President object to Israeli strikes on Iran -- as did George W. Bush in 2008.  The resolution also explicitly endorses "any means necessary", a carte blanche for the use of nuclear bunker-busting bombs.

The measure may be overtly political, coming just one week before the Congressional recess in which Members of Congress will return home to their districts to campaign and raise money for the upcoming midterm elections. Democrats and Republicans are in a foot race to demonstrate who can be toughest on Iran. But while Democrats continue to tout newly imposed "crippling" sanctions as evidence of their commitment to pressure, Republicans appear to be moving on to the next phase and are openly endorsing an Israeli strike. Gohmert even argued that instead of sanctions, Congress should have passed his resolution green-lighting military strikes on Iran.

But by encouraging such an attack, supporters of war are effectively working to circumvent the President and his military leadership, who have warned in dire terms against military action in Iran, and instead goading a third country into launching the first strike. Once the bombing campaign has commenced, the authors of this resolution may believe, the US would have few choices but be dragged into war.

In fact, this measure is no small part of a neoconservative agenda to go to war with Iran. The green light resolution is precisely what John Bolton called for two weeks ago in a Wall Street Journal piece that reads as a playbook for dragging the US into military conflict with Iran.

Bolton lays out a game plan in which Congress can "reassure" Israel in order to make a military strike possible. He argued that with "visible congressional support in place", the President's concerns about an Israeli strike can be short-circuited.

Some of the resolution's supporters, like Michele Bachmann, face tough re-election bids this November and are looking for more red meat to throw the hawks that make up their base.  

Bachmann, who for years supported budget-busting foreign wars under George W. Bush, is now the leader of the deficit-obsessed Tea Party Caucus. The caucus has yet to produce a policy paper outlining a plan for a budget-neutral war with Iran.

Others, such as Congressman Dan Burton -- now the top Republican on the House Middle East Subcommittee -- would hold important leadership positions to shape Iran policy were Republicans able to regain the majority this November.

But by endorsing military strikes, supporters of H.Res.1553 are playing games with US national security and could provoke the US into a third war in the Middle East.

By couching the resolution's endorsement of bombing Iran as an issue of Israel's right to self defense -- an area that is sacrosanct for many in Congress -- supporters of war are framing the question as one of support for Israel rather than the numerous other messy questions that one might want to answer before endorsing military strikes. Will this engulf the Middle East in a "destabilizing" (General Petraeus), "cataclysmic" (Joint Chiefs Chairman Mullen) regional war? Will military strikes even stop Iran's nuclear program? Or will they merely set the program back, convince Iran to leave the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, and guarantee that Iran aggressively pursues a nuclear deterrent?

The resolution does not go into the murky details of how devastating a military strike on Iran would be to the US and Israel, not to mention the civilian death toll in Iran, the collapse of Iran's democratic opposition movement, and the consolidation of popular support by Iran's now-disputed government.

It doesn't take into account the dire warnings from US military leadership who have consistently expressed serious concerns about any military options.

But it does give House Republican supporters an opportunity to pretend that they are more concerned about national security and allow them to burnish faux pro-Israel credentials. In some districts, this will play quite well in November.

There are serious consequences for this transparent ploy. A Congressional green light for military strikes is not just politics; it could significantly alter perceptions for those in Israel pressing for strikes and undercut efforts by the President and US military leadership to protect against such impulses.

There is a reason Louie Gohmert is not President, Michelle Bachmann is not the Secretary of Defense,  and that the Tea Party does not comprise the Joint Chiefs. But the scary thing is that this resolution, just by being introduced, may very well represent one step forward towards the US being dragged into a war with Iran.

War with Iran will seem farfetched until it is a fait accompli.

Jamal Abdi is Policy Director at the National Iranian American Council.

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