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Stephen Zunes
NationofChange / Op-Ed
Published: Tuesday 15 November 2011
New legislation is looking to cause serious threats between the U.S. and Iran.

Iran Threat Reduction Act Actually Enhances Threat of War

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Congress is taking up dangerous legislation which appears to be designed to pave the way for war by taking the unprecedented step of effectively preventing any kind of U.S. diplomatic contact with Iran. The Iran Threat Reduction Act of 2011 (H.R. 1905), sponsored by the right-wing chair of the House Foreign Relations Committee Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, contains a provision (Section 601, subsection (c)) which would put into law a restriction whereby

“No person employed with the United States Government may contact in an official or unofficial capacity any person that. . . is an agent, instrumentality, or official of, is affiliated with, or is serving as a representative of the Government of Iran;”

Never in the history of this country has Congress ever restricted the right of the White House or State Department to meet with representatives of a foreign state, even in wartime. If this measure passes, it will establish a dangerous precedent whereby Congress would likely follow with similar legislation effectively forbidding any contact with Palestinians, Cubans and others.

Despite not having formal diplomatic ties since 1979, there has been frequent low-level contact between the two governments on such issues as combatting drug smuggling and Salafi terrorists. Recent examples include talks which facilitated cooperation in suppressing the Taliban and freeing three American hikers held in an Iranian prison. Such contacts would no longer be possible under this bill.

More seriously, the legislation appears to be designed to push the country toward a military conflict with Iran. History has shown that governments that refuse to even talk with each other are far more likely to go to war.

The bill passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee last week and, with 349 co-sponsors from both parties, is almost certain to pass the House of Representatives as a whole.As is often the case with legislation dealing with foreign affairs that puts limits on executive behavior, there is clause allowing for a presidential waiver. It is very limited, however, allowing the White House to waive the requirement only

". . . if the president determines and so reports to the appropriate congressional committees 15 days prior to the exercise of waiver authority that failure to exercise such waiver authority would pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the vital national security interests of the United States."

The problem is that diplomatic encounters -- particularly with countries with which the United States has tense relations -- often need to be arranged in less than a 15-day period. The entire Cuban missile crisis lasted only 13 days, for example. In the event of a crisis that threatens a military confrontation between the United States and Iran, the Obama administration would have to wait more than two weeks before having any contact with any Iranian officials, which by then could be too late.

Another problem is that meetings with governments with which the United States has no diplomatic relations are usually arranged secretly through back channels. Unfortunately, the odds that none of the 26 Republican members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee would leak news of such a meeting to Fox News or some other media outlet are rather slim. The relatively moderate elements within Iran's factious regime would presumably not want to risk any meetings with Americans becoming known to hard-liners. Indeed, their personal safety could be at risk if found out. Similarly, to avoid attacks from Republicans prior to elections, the Obama administration would presumably want to avoid making such meetings public as well. Fortunately, senior diplomats and intelligence officials are speaking out against this push for war. As veteran CIA analyst and Georgetown University professor Paul Pillar put it, "This legislation is another illustration of the tendency to think of diplomacy as some kind of reward for the other guy, rather than what it really is: a tool for our side."

Similarly, veteran diplomats Thomas Pickering and William Luers observed, "Besides raising serious constitutional issues over the separation of powers, this preposterous law would make it illegal for the U.S. to know its enemy," a principle which has been understood by strategic planners since first articulated by Sun Tzu in The Art of War in the 6th century B.C.

"No person employed with the United States Government may contact in an official or unofficial capacity any person that... presents a threat to the United States or is affiliated with terrorist organizations."

Not only could what constitutes a "threat" to the United States or an "affiliate" with a "terrorist organization" be interpreted rather broadly, it could restrict investigation of possible terrorist attacks. It would have made illegal the recent sting operation that foiled the alleged assassination plot against the Saudi ambassador, for example.

The march to war with Iran appears to have the support a sizable number of liberal Democrats. Indeed, more than 40 members of the so-called "Progressive Caucus" have signed on as co-sponsors of the bill, including: Karen Bass, Robert Brady, Corrine Brown, Yvette Clark, William Clay, Emmanuel Cleaver, David Cicilline, Steve Cohen, Elijah Cummings, Peter DeFazio, Rosa DeLauro, Sam Farr, Chaka Fattah, Bob Filner, Barney Frank, Janice Hahn, Mazie Hirono, Michael Honda, Jesse Jackson, Jr., Hank Johnson, Marcy Kaptur, John Lewis, David Loebsack, Ben Ray Lujan, Carolyn Maloney, Ed Markey, Jerrold Nadler, Frank Pallone, Jared Polis, Charles Rangel, Laura Richardson, Lucille Roybal-Allard, Linda Sanchez, Jan Schakowsky, Louise Slaughter, Peter Welch, and Frederica Wilson.

It should be noted that these clauses were added to the bill by committee chairwoman Ros-Lehtinen at the end of October, subsequent to some of the co-sponsors signing on, yet so far no one has withdrawn their co-sponsorship. Unless the public mobilizes against this legislation, then, it will be passed and the risks of a disastrous war will be markedly increased

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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. 


This sounds like something

This sounds like something George Bush would suggest. If you don't like them, refuse to talk? This is madness, but these clowns plan to hit Iran next. Wars are fought for profit. Even the Ancient Romans understood the necessity of war to feed your people and fill the public treasury. Our leaders use our resources, soldiers, all equipment & billions of dollars to start another war with a country that has done nothing to start one. Our soldiers pay with their lives, physical and emotional injuries and terrible treatment if and when they can get out of the army. The backdoor draft is alive and well in America. We send them in to secure the oilfields and mineral mines of these little countries, and give all the contracts to global corporations. We get all the costs of life, limb, ruined lives and financial bankruptcy while enriching and protecting the interests of the corporations. This is unsustainable, money has been leaving this country by the billions every week since 2008. Why? Nothing was done to repair, restore, regulate or rebuild our markets after causing the worst global crash in modern history.
The people who caused hardship for millions all over the world walk free without fear of investigation or prosecution. Our president has been status quo since day one, he will go along with the attack on Iran. We have become what we once fought......all our integrity, rule of law and constitution have vanished.

It looks, smells, and most

It looks, smells, and most likely will turn into what we all dread, a major conflict of interest. The most interested party involved is the Isrealis, who don't really fear anything. They are pressuring Congress to gauranty them a slam dunk. Congress is all bought and payed for. They do as they please. Now is the time to look at what they do for man kind. Because they sure as hell don't do anything for their country. Besides creating loopholes for the rich and themselves. Now the Isrealis want to fullfill their prophecy. The hell with the rest of us all...

This has got to be a non

This has got to be a non starter. Right?

Even if it passes the house (what the heck is Barney Frank or the other 40+ "Progressive" Caucus thinking?), it can't pass the senate.

Even if it were to pass the senate, how could Obummer sign it into law? OOps, well, given he has a penchant for caving in to destructive right wing repuglican thinking, err... let's hope it does not make it past the senate.....

If this country starts a war with Iran, or goes in to support Israel if they start one (verylikely), we may very well be looking at WWIII.


Game over.

As long as the Iraelis are

As long as the Iraelis are controlling politicians and running our government, war with Iran as a pretense to the abortion of the Palestian state, is inevitable. Only when the world again unites against tyranny as in WWII dealing a humiliating defeat to the instigators of WWIII, the US and Isreal, will wisdom again walk the halls of congress. As in Hitler's Germany, an influentual few only consider the proft to be made from war. It will take in the US what happened to Germany before we cut their malignancy from our nation.

Many times I shake my head

Many times I shake my head about what Congress thinks is important. At times they act xenophobic as in this case. I say prohibit giving people money to talk, but not to talk is disastrous to our nations security. My congressman here in central Ohio has always been a republican lap dog. He brings nothing positive to the table other than being a tottie. 95% of Congress are lame followers who are scared of their own shadows. They are more concerned in getting re-elected than standing up for something. "A hero dies once and a coward dies many times". I am afraid that Congress is made up of cowards.

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