2C: the FCNL Staff Blog

Congress 'Un-Declares' War with Iran

By Kate Gould on 05/22/2012 @ 05:00 PM

Tags: Iran, Middle East

Kate Gould

All of Congress is now on the record declaring that they have not authorized the use of military force against Iran in the latest round of legislation passed in the House and the Senate. This unanimous 'un-declaration' of war by Congress is a crucial victory, with particular significance given its passage on the eve of the U.S.-Iran talks in Baghdad.

The House was the first chamber to 'un-declare war', with its inclusion of a proviso in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that this legislation does not authorize war with Iran. This stipulation that "nothing in this Act shall be construed as authorizing the use of force against Iran" is a remarkably sober note of caution and common sense in an otherwise dangerous and reckless piece of legislation. The NDAA allocates billions of dollars of weapons that could be used for an attack on Iran and requires the administration to prepare for war and dramatically escalate the U.S. militarization of the Middle East. Notably, the NDAA exceeds the limitations on Pentagon spending that Congress agreed to in the Budget Control Act by about $8 billion--much of which is allotted for the anti-Iran weaponry.

Rep. John Conyers (MI) championed this amendment to 'un-declare' war with Iran with a bipartisan group of representatives: Rep. Ron Paul (TX), Rep. Keith Ellison (MN), and Rep. Walter Jones (NC). In less than a week, Congress received more than 1,000 calls through FCNL's toll-free number from grassroots activists across the country who support this and other anti-war, pro-peace amendments that FCNL was working on. Partly as a result of your advocacy against war with Iran, the Conyers/Paul/Ellison/Jones amendment was considered so uncontroversial that it made its way into the NDAA as part of a package (called 'en bloc amendments') of non-controversial amendments, rather than going to the House floor for a separate vote.

'Un-declaration' is 'Uncontroversial' in House, Hotly Contested in the Senate

Anti-Iran provisions are routinely given this special shortcut into "must-pass legislation" like the NDAA, but legislation containing the word "Iran" that is not agitating for either military or economic warfare rarely qualifies as "uncontroversial."

In fact, on the same day that the House unanimously approved Rep. Conyers' amendment, senators fiercely debated the same sort of provision offered by Sen. Rand Paul (KY) clarifying that the Senate sanctions bill is not an authorization of the use of force against Iran. Sens. Lindsey Graham (SC) and Joe Lieberman (CT) blasted this 'un-declaration' of war. These objections blocked the bill from passage until a compromise was reached that retained Sen. Paul's language but also included a provision which, per the request of Senator Graham and others, echoed President Obama’s remarks that the military option is still on the table.

Why an 'Un-Declaration' of War Matters

While the legislation passed in both chambers of Congress has troubling implications for U.S.-Iran relations, the fact that Congress is now on record affirming that the legislation does not authorize war is a major achievement for the campaign against another war of choice. This 'un-declaration' of war sets a historic precedent that could be used to tone down the implications of future saber-rattling legislation.

And saber-rattling legislation is very much what this is all about.

The House's orders for drones, fighter jets, rockets, machine guns for mounting on warships, and heavy artillery systems designed to 'counter the Iranian threat' would escalate brinksmanship in the Persian Gulf, pushing the United States perilously close to the edge of war.

The Senate sanctions bill doesn't help matters either. The bill will further erode the President's flexibility, both technically and politically.  Negotiations require compromise from both sides, and the key concession that Iran has sought is a significant easing of the U.S. sanctions regime against the Iranian economy. The "Negotiator in Chief's" ability to lift sanctions in exchange for Iranian cooperation on its nuclear program is already severely compromised.

Congress' assertion that neither the NDAA, nor a far-reaching sanctions bill, authorize the use of military force against Iran demonstrates progress.

Any progress in cooling down Congress' all-too common affliction with Iran war fever improves the broader political climate. Given the fragility of U.S.-Iran relations, even slight progress can make the difference between a stand-off and a war.

Urge Congress to take the next step to prevent war, by supporting diplomacy with Iran.

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