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Stephen Zunes
NationofChange / Op-Ed
Published: Saturday 16 June 2012
President Obama’s “red line” on Iran -- the point at which his administration would consider taking military action against the country -- has been the reactionary regime’s actual procurement of nuclear weapons.

Congress Pushes for War With Iran

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In another resolution apparently designed to prepare for war against Iran, the U.S. House of Representatives, in an overwhelmingly bipartisan 401-11 vote, has passed a resolution (HR 568) urging the president to oppose any policy toward Iran "that would rely on containment as an option in response to the Iranian nuclear threat."

With its earlier decision to pass a bill that effectively sought to ban any negotiations between the United States and Iran, a huge bipartisan majority of Congress has essentially told the president that nothing short of war or the threat of war is an acceptable policy. Indeed, the rush to pass this bill appears to have been designed to undermine the ongoing international negotiations on Iran's nuclear program. According to Iranian-American analyst Jamal Abdi, a prominent critic of both the Iranian regime and U.S. policy, the motivation for the resolution may be to "poison those talks by signaling to Iran that the President is weak, domestically isolated, and unable to deliver at the negotiating table because a hawkish Congress will overrule him."

President Obama's "red line" on Iran -- the point at which his administration would consider taking military action against the country -- has been the reactionary regime's actual procurement of nuclear weapons. The language of this resolution, however, significantly lowers the bar by declaring it unacceptable for Iran simply to have "nuclear weapons capability" -- not necessarily any actual weapons or an active nuclear weapons program. Some members of Congress have argued that since Iranians have the expertise and technological capacity to develop nuclear weapons, they already have "nuclear weapons capability." The hawkish Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) has argued that "everybody will determine for themselves what [capability] means."

In case there was any doubt about the intent of Congress in using this language, when Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) offered a clarifying amendment to a similar clause in a recent Senate resolution -- declaring that "nothing in the Act shall be construed as a declaration of war or an authorization of the use of force against Iran" -- both its Republican and Democratic sponsors summarily rejected the amendment.Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff for Secretary of State Colin Powell, noted how "this resolution reads like the same sheet of music that got us into the Iraq war, and could be the precursor for a war with Iran. It's effectively a thinly-disguised effort to bless war."

As the liberal Zionist group Americans for Peace Now observed, the legislation suggests that "unless sanctions imminently result in Iran voluntarily shutting down its entire nuclear program (and somehow deleting the nuclear know-how from the brains of its scientists), military force will be the only option available to the Obama Administration and will be inevitable in the near term."

Though it is not legally binding, the resolution does limit the president's options politically. As pundit and former Capitol Hill staffer M.J. Rosenberg has noted, the bill was "designed to tie the president's hands on Iran policy." And, as with the case of Iraq, the language of such non-binding resolutions can easily be incorporated into binding legislation, citing the precedent of what had been passed previously.

The End of Containment

There is enormous significance to the resolution's insistence that containment, which has been the basis of U.S. defense policy for decades, should no longer be U.S. policy in dealing with potential threats. Although deterrence may have been an acceptable policy in response to the thousands of powerful Soviet nuclear weapons mounted on intercontinental ballistic missile systems aimed at the United States, the view today is that deterrence is somehow inadequate for dealing with a developing country capable of developing small and crude nuclear devices but lacking long-range delivery systems.

Indeed, this broad bipartisan consensus against deterrence marks the triumph of the neoconservative first-strike policy, once considered on the extreme fringes when first articulated in the 1980s.

This dangerous embrace of neoconservative military policy is now so widely accepted by both parties in Congress that the vote on the resolution was taken under a procedure known as "suspension of the rules," which is designed for non-controversial bills passed quickly with little debate. Indeed, given the serious implications of this legislation, it is striking that there was not a single congressional hearing prior to the vote.

The resolution also demonstrates that the vast majority of Democrats, like Republicans, have embraced the concept of "full-spectrum dominance," the Bush-era doctrine that not only should the United States prevent the emergence of another rival global superpower such as China, but it should also resist the emergence of even a regional power, such as Iran, that could potentially deter unilateral U.S. military actions or other projections of American domination.

Limiting the President

It is unprecedented for Congress to so vigorously seek to limit a president's non-military options in foreign policy. For example, in 1962, even the most right-wing Republicans in Congress did not push for legislation insisting that President Kennedy rule out options other than attacking Cuba or the Soviet Union during the Cuban missile crisis. What might be motivating Congress is the fact that, in electing Barack Obama in 2008, the American people brought into the White House an outspoken opponent of the U.S. invasion of Iraq who not only withdrew U.S. combat forces from that country but promised to "change the mindset" -- the idea that the United States could unilaterally make war against oil-rich Middle Eastern countries that did not accept U.S. domination -- that made the Iraq war possible. Both Democratic and Republican hawks, therefore, appear determined to force this moderate president to accept their neoconservative agenda.

Deterrence, when dealing with a nuclear-armed party, is indeed a risky strategy. The international community does have an interest in preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons, as well as in forcing India, Pakistan, and Israel to disarm their already-existing arsenals. All reasonable diplomatic means should be pursued to create and maintain a nuclear-free zone in that volatile region.

However, the idea that deterrence against Iran would not work because the country's clerical leadership, which controls the armed forces, would decide to launch an unprovoked nuclear attack against Israel or the United States -- and therefore invite massive nuclear retaliation that would cause the physical destruction of their entire country -- is utterly ridiculous. The far more realistic risk to worry about is the enormous devastation that would result from a U.S. war on Iran.

The real "threat" from Iran is if that country achieves nuclear capability, it would then have a deterrent to a U.S. attack that was unavailable to its immediate neighbors to the east (Afghanistan) and west (Iraq), both of which were invaded by U.S.-led forces. Both Democrats and Republicans appear to be united in their belief that no country should stand in the way of the unilateral projection of military force by the United States or its allies.

Indeed, this resolution is not about the national security of the United States, nor is it about the security of Israel. It is about continuing U.S. hegemony over the world's most oil-rich region.

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ABOUT Stephen Zunes

Dr. Stephen Zunes is a Professor of Politics and International Studies at the University of San Francisco, where he chairs the program in Middle Eastern Studies. A native of North Carolina, Professor Zunes received his PhD. from Cornell University, his M.A. from Temple University and his B.A. from Oberlin College. 


The US got out of the crash

The US got out of the crash of 1907 with WW1. 35 million dead but the banks were saved. Just good business, really. Nothing personal.

The US got out of the crash of 1929 with WW2. 60 million dead, 2.5% of the world population, but the banks were saved. Just good business, really. Nothing personal.

Here we are in the crash of 2008 and look how hard the US is trying to start WW3. A billion will likely die in the coming nuclear holocaust.

But the banks will be saved.

Just good business, really. Nothing personal.

Mindless comments fan up the

Mindless comments fan up the oil stock psychosis and shoot up the price of gas. Politicians should do what the wise recommend: talk soft and carry a big stick. Any war with Iran should be secret and a surprise.

The first casualty of war is

The first casualty of war is civil liberties. And they will have war and the rest of us be damned. I wonder if a first strike against Iran will be the tipping point? Our move to a totalitarian police state or a revolution? Another war will break the US financially.

They don't call them wars

They don't call them wars now, they are called "operations" Again you have a third party outside of congress pulling the chain on our weak minded leaders. This is beginning to resemble a star wars movie plot! This being an election year and all, none of them (all 401) will voice the opinions of the people they represent. We truly have no representation, voters have to vote these chickenhawks OUT!

I think the President was

I think the President was silently in favor of that resolution or it would not have received so much support from the Democrats.

I'd like to know the names of the 11 who voted against it.

Please remind me why the

Please remind me why the Founding Fathers granted the right to bear arms to all citizens?

The war-mongering Caliph

The war-mongering Caliph Ohamad should give back his Nobel Peace Prize at once!

But in the end, it's all

But in the end, it's all about the money. Keep in mind the vast sums of government money disbursed to the various contractors used in Iraq and Afganistan. Even now, with US troops out of Iraq, the contractors continue to be paid huge sums from the US Treasury to perform tasks designed to enrich their shareholders and managers. But members of Congress are not fooled, they understand how it works and they are the beneficiaries of this conspiricy. That's why even Democrats went along with this scheme to fleece the taxpayers again. We the people must stand up and shout "NO", not again.

Norman Allen's picture

If they want war, draft

If they want war, draft corporate bosses/board member family members and ask them to pay for it because it is about their freedom, their safety, their profits and their future. The people received nothing but burned end of the stick from the wars our corporate bosses wanted/want. The poor pays with their blood, the middle class with their taxes, the rich, they pay minimal taxes compared to the easy money they make from the rest of us. The people of the world have no reason to fight. It is the elite who pit them against one another for their cash-flow.

Does anyone want to bet most

Does anyone want to bet most of the Neocons pushing for this have NEVER served in our military? What a bunch of sorry insecure greedy cowardly traitors. Remember what the world did to Germany in World War II? The same will happen to us if we follow through and invade Iran. As it stands now the US is the main threat to world peace.

The Congress is clearly in

The Congress is clearly in need of adult supervision. Have they learned nothing since 2003? Where have the profits from military spending gone? Most of us know but the public doesn't seem to care.

Every chickenhawk in

Every chickenhawk in Congress, especially the U.S. House of Prostitution, should be required to donate one son, daughter, niece or nephew to wear a uniform and to march off to another disastrous, ill-advised and fiscally bankrupting novelty war in the Middle East. Unless these bastards are willing to make the contribution to the war effort that the rest of America is making, then they can go fuck themselves.

Norman Allen's picture

Well said!

Well said!

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