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As 2013 draws to close, the negotiations over the Iranian nuclear program have entered a delicate stage. But in 2014, the tensions will escalate dramatically as a bipartisan group of Senators brings a new Iran sanctions bill to the floor for a vote. As many others have warned, that promise of new measures against Tehran will almost certainly blow up the interim deal reached by the Obama administration and its UN/EU partners in Geneva. But Congress' highly unusual intervention into the President's domain of foreign policy doesn't just make the prospect of an American conflict with Iran more likely. As it turns out, the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act essentially empowers Israel to decide whether the United States will go to war against Tehran.

On their own, the tough new sanctions imposed automatically if a final deal isn't completed in six months pose a daunting enough challenge for President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry. But it is the legislation's commitment to support an Israeli preventive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities that almost ensures the U.S. and Iran will come to blows. As Section 2b, part 5 of the draft mandates:

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.
Now, the legislation being pushed by Senators Mark Kirk (R-IL), Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) does not automatically give the President an authorization to use force should Israel attack the Iranians. (The draft language above explicitly states that the U.S. government must act "in accordance with the law of the United States and the constitutional responsibility of Congress to authorize the use of military force.")  But there should be little doubt that an AUMF would be forthcoming from Congressmen on both sides of the aisle. As Lindsey Graham, who with Menendez co-sponsored a similar, non-binding "stand with Israel" resolution in March told a Christians United for Israel (CUFI) conference in July:
"If nothing changes in Iran, come September, October, I will present a resolution that will authorize the use of military force to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb."
Graham would have plenty of company from the hardest of hard liners in his party. In August 2012, Romney national security adviser and pardoned Iran-Contra architect Elliott Abrams called for a war authorization in the pages of the Weekly Standard. And just two weeks ago, Norman Podhoretz used his Wall Street Journal op-ed to urge the Obama administration to "strike Iran now" to avoid "the nuclear war sure to come."

But at the end of the day, the lack of an explicit AUMF in the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act doesn't mean its supporters aren't giving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu de facto carte blanche to hit Iranian nuclear facilities. The ensuing Iranian retaliation against to Israeli and American interests would almost certainly trigger the commitment of U.S. forces anyway.

Even if the Israelis alone launched a strike against Iran's atomic sites, Tehran will almost certainly hit back against U.S. targets in the Straits of Hormuz, in the region, possibly in Europe and even potentially in the American homeland. Israel would face certain retaliation from Hezbollah rockets launched from Lebanon and Hamas missiles raining down from Gaza.

That's why former Bush Defense Secretary Bob Gates and CIA head Michael Hayden raising the alarms about the "disastrous" impact of the supposedly surgical strikes against the Ayatollah's nuclear infrastructure. As the New York Times reported in March 2012, "A classified war simulation held this month to assess the repercussions of an Israeli attack on Iran forecasts that the strike would lead to a wider regional war, which could draw in the United States and leave hundreds of Americans dead, according to American officials." And that September, a bipartisan group of U.S. foreign policy leaders including Brent Scowcroft, retired Admiral William Fallon, former Republican Senator (now Obama Pentagon chief) Chuck Hagel, retired General Anthony Zinni and former Ambassador Thomas Pickering concluded that American attacks with the objective of "ensuring that Iran never acquires a nuclear bomb" would "need to conduct a significantly expanded air and sea war over a prolonged period of time, likely several years." (Accomplishing regime change, the authors noted, would mean an occupation of Iran requiring a "commitment of resources and personnel greater than what the U.S. has expended over the past 10 years in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined.") The anticipated blowback?

Serious costs to U.S. interests would also be felt over the longer term, we believe, with problematic consequences for global and regional stability, including economic stability. A dynamic of escalation, action, and counteraction could produce serious unintended consequences that would significantly increase all of these costs and lead, potentially, to all-out regional war.
If this all sounds like the hypothetical scenarios of a bunch of doves in the Pentagon and the State Department, it is worth recalling the America reaction to the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia which killed 19 U.S. servicemen and wounded hundreds of others. As former Clinton and Bush counter-terrorism chief Richard Clarke recounted in his book, Against All Enemies, President Clinton and the Joint Chiefs contemplated a massive U.S. invasion of Iran in response to the involvement of its agents:
In our meeting with the Pentagon in 1996, Shali was talking about al-out war. The military had a plan for almost any contingency. The plan on the shelf for war with Iran looked like it had been drawn up by Eisenhower. Several groups of Army and Marine divisions would sweep across the country over the course of several months.
(Ultimately, President Clinton opted against the invasion of Iran, in part because of the difficulty in proving the U.S. intelligence case against Tehran to the international community. In the end, the U.S. launched a large-scale covert action campaign against Iranian intelligence assets worldwide. Apparently, the message was received with zero distortion; Iran has not targeted United States interests since.)

The Pentagon's 2012 war-gaming in a simulation called "Internal Look" served to reinforce for U.S. military officials "the unpredictable and uncontrollable nature of a strike by Israel, and a counterstrike by Iran." As for the impact on the global economy, in November, the Federation of American Scientists estimated that a U.S. campaign of air strikes would cost $700 billion; a full-scale invasion could have a total impact of $1.7 trillion.

At the heart of the clash between Congressional hawks and President Obama is a disagreement over the so-called "red line" for Tehran. In the United States and in Israel alike, Obama has said the United States will not allow Iran to obtain an actual nuclear weapon. But most of his Republican foes and some of his Democratic allies have sided with Bibi Netanyahu in demanding Iran never possess a "nuclear weapons capability."  That bottom line on Iranian nuclear know-how wouldn't just scuttle the interim deal and ongoing negotiations with Tehran, as the Obama administration and 10 Democratic Senate committee chairmen have warned. By the standard, an American war with Iran would be almost a foregone conclusion. And if Chuck Schumer, Bob Menendez, John McCain, Lindsey Graham and over 30 other Senators get their way, Israel may well have a green light to start it.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Israel already dictates our Middle East policy (11+ / 0-)

    I guess for some Senators that's not enough. Now they want to give Israel the power to declare a was for us. Today, the Israeli government blew up a 3 year old little girl in retaliation revenge for an attack on a bus. (That'll show those 3 year old toddler terrorists!) This is the government that we want declaring us into another war? Think a war with Iran will be easy? Ten years and over a trillion dollars later, a country a third the size and under military sanctions for over twenty years is still fairly unsubdued. This bill is an insane, batshit crazy usurping of foreign policy and anybody who votes for it is close to committing treason.

    "Given the choice between a Republican and someone who acts like a Republican, people will vote for a real Republican every time." Harry Truman

    by MargaretPOA on Tue Dec 24, 2013 at 05:06:46 PM PST

  •  I've never understood our obsession with Iran. (8+ / 0-)

    As a nuclear power ourselves I've always been uncomfortable telling other countries they can't acquire weapons.  What has Iran done to us since the hostage crisis besides dial up the rhetoric from time to time.  If Iran were in fact to strike Israel first then, yes, we should be first in line to come to Israel's defence, but if Israel launches a "pre-emptive" strike they can be on their own as far as I'm concerned.

    •  Analogy (7+ / 0-)

      U.S. policy toward non-proliferation resembles a guy with a massive stockpile of guns who wants background checks so that "the crazies" don't get guns.

      •  We haven't lived up to our end of the agreement. (3+ / 0-)

        The treaty calls for nuclear states to make good faith efforts to disarm and to share peaceful nuclear technology indiscriminately. We disregard our responsibilities but bully others into honoring theirs under this voluntary agreement.

        Iran has actually been in compliance with the treaty for the most part. It complied with an add on to the treaty for a period, then rejected the additional restrictions, as was its right.

        The truly ironic and insane thing here is the enforcer this moronic legislation is utilizing, Israel, is a rogue nation that has shown little regard for international law, has never signed on to the NNPT, has committed wars of aggression, and has developed and stockpiled all forms of WMD; nuclear, biological, and chemical.

    •  the obsession is simply about punishing (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Patience John

      whatever darkies have the effrontery to refuse American hegemony.  

      Peace is simply not an option, because tens of millions of American jobs depend on the Military-Industrial Complex.

      What's not to understand about "follow the money"?

      don't always believe what you think

      by claude on Wed Dec 25, 2013 at 07:38:57 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Obama can and should veto this bill..... (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    kurt, Lepanto, claude, Smoh

    It  will then take 2/3 of Congress of both houses to pass over his veto, and Democrats who voted for it would have to think long and hard on what it means to defy their own elected chief executive of this country.  

    Why he has not made clear that he will veto this is beyond me.  He makes foreign policy and short of going to war or being impeached it is his constitutional right.

  •  While Obama will veto this bill, Jon is correct to (7+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    FogCityJohn, chuckvw, kurt, Lepanto, corvo, claude, Smoh

    spend time focusing on its language and possible scenarios based upon political dispositions and past actions.

    U.S. foreign policy vis-a-vis Iran, and how Israel fits within that policy, is no small matter.

    "If the Jew who struggles for justice for Palestine is considered anti-Semitic, & if Palestinians seeking self-determination are so accused...then no oppositional move can take place w/o risking the accusation." - Judith Butler

    by David Harris Gershon on Tue Dec 24, 2013 at 06:55:46 PM PST

  •  The Bill's Sponsors (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    FogCityJohn, George3, chuckvw, kurt, corvo

    Introduced by Bob Menendez (D-NJ)

    Ayotte, Kelly [R-NH]
    Begich, Mark [D-AK]
    Blumenthal, Richard [D-CT]
    Blunt, Roy [R-MO]
    Booker, Cory [D-NJ]
    Cardin, Benjamin [D-MD]
    Casey, Robert “Bob” [D-PA]
    Collins, Susan [R-ME]
    Coons, Chris [D-DE]
    Corker, Bob [R-TN]
    Cornyn, John [R-TX]
    Cruz, Ted [R-TX]
    Donnelly, Joe [D-IN]
    Gillibrand, Kirsten [D-NY]
    Graham, Lindsey [R-SC]
    Hagan, Kay [D-NC]
    Johanns, Mike [R-NE]
    Kirk, Mark [R-IL]
    Landrieu, Mary [D-LA]
    McCain, John [R-AZ]
    Moran, Jerry [R-KS]
    Pryor, Mark [D-AR]
    Roberts, Pat [R-KS]
    Rubio, Marco [R-FL]
    Schumer, Charles [D-NY]
    Warner, Mark [D-VA]
    Boozman, John [R-AR]
    (joined Dec 20, 2013)
    Coats, Daniel [R-IN]
    (joined Dec 20, 2013)
    Isakson, John “Johnny” [R-GA]
    (joined Dec 20, 2013)
    Manchin, Joe [D-WV]
    (joined Dec 20, 2013)
    Murkowski, Lisa [R-AK]
    (joined Dec 20, 2013)
    Risch, James [R-ID]
    (joined Dec 20, 2013)
    Vitter, David [R-LA]
    (joined Dec 20, 2013)

    The phrase "legitimate self-defense" is a total joke. Israel would only be acting in "legitimate self-defense" in my book if Iran attacked Israel first, which is not going to happen.

  •  This is the wrong path to take this country (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Throw The Bums Out, corvo, claude

    This bill amounts to providing the framework for a war against Iran against the President's wishes. Such a war would probably be highly unpopular with the American public, given how war-weary the American public is these days.

    I don't think that the U.S. has ever been involved in a war in which Congress either declared war or authorized force (this bill would provide framework for an AUMF against Iran, but is not a war declaration or an AUMF) against the President's wishes.

    There are three natural adversaries of the progressive movement: Republicans, the Democratic establishment, and the mainstream media

    by DownstateDemocrat on Wed Dec 25, 2013 at 12:00:35 AM PST

    •  Well keep in mind that in order to actually win (0+ / 0-)

      a war against Iran would either require so many ground troops that a draft would be required or (possibly) the use of nuclear weapons against civilian targets such as Tehran.  Though it is possible that even nuking major Iranian cities to force them to give up might not work thus we would need millions of ground troops anyway.

      You have watched Faux News, now lose 2d10 SAN.

      by Throw The Bums Out on Wed Dec 25, 2013 at 04:07:04 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  If the US used a nuke on a city (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Throw The Bums Out, Smoh

        it would rightfully be seen by the rest of the world as a mad pariah dog to shoot down in the street at sight.

        Or put in a cage.  Sanctions work both ways; the rest of the world could righteously refuse to do any further business with the US.  No more coffee,  and the US economy comes to a stumbling shambling halt.

        don't always believe what you think

        by claude on Wed Dec 25, 2013 at 08:10:29 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Well then that would mean reinstating the (0+ / 0-)

          draft since that is the only way to get the number of troops required (and to be honest, even nuking a few cities probably wouldn't do it anyway).

          You have watched Faux News, now lose 2d10 SAN.

          by Throw The Bums Out on Wed Dec 25, 2013 at 09:08:04 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  The rest of the world is sick of us. (0+ / 0-)

          And listening to Stephen Colbert on December Ninth, and knowing that his friendship with New Zealander Peter Jackson has opened his eyes to many things that we in the USA are not exposed to (due to deliberate censorship) I was encouraged to hear Colbert cut a new one for David Keith.

          Why a destructive drought in Mediterranean seashore places? What brought that about? People in other nations understand what is going on. They understand we are waging a war, using black ops that cut apart normal weather patterns. Yet the American public is kept too busy with their newest iDevices to understand the real war we are waging on peoplekind, even as we proclaim how we are all about ending global warming.

          So this manufactured drought brings about a food crisis in Syria, which then enabled our nation to continue tofund some rebels, including Al Queda! And the worse the food crisis the better the chances of the CIA funded rebels to win.

          And the blackest part of our secret government is happy to have this war in Syria raging. If Israel is then legally allowed to drag us into a war with Iran, that is the frosting on the cake!

  •  For the love of pete why isn't tradmed dragging (0+ / 0-)

    out the celebrity nuclear physicists to mansplain the dreadful consequences  of lobbing bombs conventional or nuclear at any of these places...

    If the Natanz and Fordow are targets or any other operational facility involved in processing Uranium vs facilities under construction. Those of us who passed a couple of semesters of Chemistry and Physics wonder when did the UN Charter sanction genocidal or planetary suicide actions by member states....

    Conversely if they already have a functional experimental reactor what good is eliminating Arak.

    If Iran's nuclear sites are off limits and this boils down to the cliched strategic high value targets one wonders what happens when you kill non Iranian foreign Nationals such as the Chinese or the Russians.....

    I want 1 less Tiny Coffin, Why Don't You? Support The President's Gun Violence Plan.

    by JML9999 on Wed Dec 25, 2013 at 12:04:19 PM PST

    •  The official position of the One Percent is that (0+ / 0-)

      Radioactivity is not harmful.

      In fact, you could read all about that in Time Magazine, Summer of 2011: "No known data on the hazards and risks of the nuclear industry" - "No known data on the hazards and risks of radioactive elements" and on and on.

      We can't let on that there was plenty of data accumulated in the late forties, fifties and sixties with regards to the deadly consequences of  radioactivity. Any acknowledgement of radiation's health problems  would put a damper  on the nuclear industry, which as our President himself proclaims is "Clean energy." After all, with nuke energy, you have none of those nasty hydro carbons from nuclear energy!

      And I imagine even as I type this, some propaganda-minded soul inside the Pentagon has a new "War on Terrorism" slogan being concocted. Something along the lines of "If they know we won't nuke them, then the terrorists win!"

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