Same Sheet of Music for War, Different Tune?
By Kate Gould on 05/16/2012 @ 05:52 PM
Update on 5/17: Congress voted 401-11 for H.Res. 568, against the advice of many national security officials. However, that vote only happened after one of the leading proponents of the legislation re-defined that threshold in a sober, pragmatic way, to clarify there is no authorization for war and made clear that the Congress was not opposing a diplomatic solution that would potentially allow for Iran to have a peaceful nuclear program.
When Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, the former chief of staff for Secretary Colin Powell, and I were visiting with members of Congress and their staff to jointly oppose a resolution that would lower the threshold for war with Iran (H.Res. 568), he warned that “this resolution reads like the same sheet of music that got us into the Iraq war”.
In less than 48 hours, Congress is expected to vote in favor of that same 'sheet of music', yet in response to an alliance of national security experts and a grassroots campaign that many of you have been a part of—many in Congress are speaking out for diplomacy, not war.
Not too Late to Call!
While Congress debated the resolution last night, Congress won’t vote on the resolution until later today or tomorrow. (As soon as there is a vote, I will update this blog post with the vote count.)
However, as of this writing, it’s not too late to take action by calling 1-855-68 NO WAR (1-855-686-6927) to contact your member of Congress and tell them to vote NO on H.Res. 568, to oppose the push for war with Iran.
Your Action has Already Shifted the Debate
Passage of this dangerous legislation would certainly erode the fragile political space the administration needs to successfully negotiate with Iran, as a host of national security experts have pointed out. Senator Dianne Feinstein (CA), Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee highlighted how this resolution could undermine negotiations, saying:
“I really believe that these negotiations should proceed without any resolutions from us right now....This is a very sensitive time. Candidly, I think diplomacy should have an opportunity to work without getting involved in political discussions about a resolution.”
However, the debate over this legislation directly acknowledged the opposition that it has encountered from national security officials, a coalition of national peace and security organizations, faith leaders, and a grassroots campaign across the country, which FCNL has played a leading role in organizing. Congress has received more than 3,000 calls and tens of thousands of emails and letters against this resolution, and even the legislation’s strongest proponents directly responded to the concerns that so many of you raised.
Berman's Clarion Call to RAISE Threshold for War with Iran
While leading the effort to support a resolution which endorses a lower threshold for war with Iran, Rep. Berman took to the House floor to deliver a clarion call to effectively RAISE the threshold for war with Iran that has become so widely accepted in Congress.
Col. Wilkerson said that the resolution is “a thinly-disguised effort to bless war” because it calls for lowering the current threshold for war from the long standing U.S. ‘redline’ of a nuclear-armed Iran to ruling out a “nuclear weapons capable Iran”, and because it effectively takes all options off the table except for the so-called ‘military option’.
‘Nuclear weapons capable’ is such a dangerous threshold because, as I’ve written about before, it is a vague term, undefined in the legislation, that could be interpreted as a call for military action now--simply because Iran has a nuclear program at all—even though the U.S. and Israeli intelligence establishment agree that Iran is not building nuclear weapons and has not made a decision to do so.
While the resolution itself doesn’t define at what point Iran would reach this point of no return for war, Rep. Howard Berman (CA), ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, went to the floor to clearly define ‘nuclear weapons capable’, and to speak out for diplomacy, not war, with Iran.
Rep. Berman’s cautionary remarks carry tremendous weight because in addition to being one of the leading voices on foreign policy in Congress, he introduced this resolution with Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL), Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
In a pointed rejection of attempts by others who have hinted that the U.S. attack Iran merely for having a nuclear program, most notably Senator Lieberman, co-author of this companion legislation in the Senate and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Rep. Berman defined this ‘point of no return’ for Iran according to the same lines that many U.S. and Israeli intelligence officials have endorsed.
Rep. Berman defined this point of no return, or ‘nuclear weapons capability’, by referencing a definition of the term that was given by former Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair in a 2009 testimony to Congress, with a few additional caveats:
- 1) Fissile material production
- 2) Design weaponization and testing of a warhead
- 3) a delivery vehicle
Berman pointed out that Iran has a delivery vehicle (#3) but does not have #1 and #2, but are making progress on those steps.
Berman continued to explain that he would consider Iran to be nuclear weapons capable if Iran:
Will the Senate Sing a Different Tune?
In addition to Rep. Berman, several other proponents of the legislation emphasized that this resolution is not an authorization for war. They are correct—the legislation is non-binding, and doesn’t authorize war or anything else. Rather, the resolution does put Congress on the record as endorsing policies that would lower the threshold for war and push diplomacy further off the table. However, as dangerous a ‘sheet of music’ that it is, it is important to note that the debate on this script showcased how many in Congress are singing to a very different, pro-diplomacy tune cautioning against war.
The Senate is expected to take up the resolution as early as this week or next on S. Res. 380, the companion legislation, introduced by Senators Joe Lieberman (CT), Lindsey Graham (SC), and Bob Casey (PA). Write and call your senators, to ask that join national security experts in rejecting a lowered threshold for war, and speak out for diplomacy, as some have in unexpected quarters of Congress.