Also at DKos.
Praise the Lord and purse the ammunition. A genuinely bi-partisan movement seems to be emerging in the House of Representatives to block a preemptive U.S. attack on Iran, but crafting effective legislature of that nature may prove difficult.
Michael Roston of Raw Story tells us that Representative Walter Jones (R-NC)--the former ideologue who once forced the House of Representatives cafeterias to change "French fries" to "freedom fries" on their menus--will introduce legislation that will require Mr. Bush to seek approval from Congress before initiating any military strikes on Iran.
Jones said that "One of the many lessons from our involvement in Iraq is that Congress needs to ask the right questions prior to exercising its Constitutional authority to approve the use of military force," and that the legislature needs to make it "crystal clear" that "…no previous resolution passed by Congress authorizes such use of force."
Jones's resolution states that Mr. Bush may not take action in Iran "Absent a national emergency created by attack by Iran, or a demonstrably imminent attack by Iran."
Representative Ron Paul (R-TX) thinks this wording may give Bush too much leeway. He fears a repeat of the Tonkin Gulf incident that prompted Lyndon Johnson to escalate America's military involvement in Vietnam.
Given the U.S. naval buildup in the Gulf and growing tensions between America and Iran, Paul has good reason for concern. Standing Rules of Engagement give a commander the right and obligation to "take all necessary and appropriate action for his unit’s self-defense" in response to a hostile act (an attack or use of force) or hostile intent (the threat of imminent use of force).
Retired Admiral Frank Kelso, a former Chief of Naval Operations, once said “The demonstration of hostile intent is the single most difficult decision that a commander has to make during peacetime.” This is especially true in the age of medium and long range anti-ship cruise missiles that can be launched from ships, aircraft or shore facilities. A wide variety of factors may indicate a pending missile launch, and commanders may feel compelled to take preemptive action to defend their vessels.
Applying the Brakes
It remains to be seen just how far Congress can go to stay Mr. Bush's hand in an Iran scenario. It can probably pass legislation that specifically states the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) passed in 2001 does not give Mr. Bush permission to preemptively strike Iran. Unfortunately, the War Powers Act of 1973 allows a president to commit U.S. forces to combat for 60 days before a declaration of war or specific statutory authorization is required from the legislature.
Repealing the War Powers Act could be a counterproductive move. Vice President Dick Cheney has called the Act "…an infringement on the authority of the president.” If Congress strikes down the Act, the White House may "interpret" that as a removal of all restrictions on Mr. Bush's power to initiate and conduct war.
Since Article I of the Constitution empowers the legislature to "…make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces," Congress could conceivably repeal or alter the Standing Rules of Engagement, but to do so would be imprudent; it could be the equivalent of tying military commanders' hands behind their backs.
Like Iraq with an "N"
As many observers have noted, the rhetoric and posturing toward Iran is reminiscent--if not nearly identical--to the run up to the invasion of Iraq. The recent appoint of Admiral William Fallon to replace General John Abizaid as head of Central Command is seen by military pundit Ralph Peters and others as a preparatory step for conducting naval and air strikes on Iran's nuclear facilities should Mr. Bush decide such actions are necessary.
It may be that the best way to stay Bush's hand will come from international pressure. Russia's recent delivery of TOR M-1 surface-to-air missiles to Iran sent a clear signal of Russia's position on any U.S. military action against Iran. China is thought to have made an agreement to develop Iran's Northern Pars natural gas field, and reportedly told the U.S. not to interfere in the venture. The timing of China's shoot-down of one of its own weather satellites can hardly be regarded as coincidental. Iraq's President Jalal Talabani has encouraged the U.S. to engage in direct diplomacy with Iran. Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar-Spanta has reportedly ruled out the possibility of America using his country as a base of operations for a military operation against Iran.
Mr. Bush has effectively isolated himself from the entire world. He's lost his international allies, he's lost Congress and he's lost the American people. But there's some question as to whether that's registered with him yet.
Bush has replaced most of the key civilian and military members of his national security team. Bill Kristol's cadre of neoconservative ideologues still appear to be the major influence on his foreign policy, and Kristol is an unabashed proponent of military action against Iran.
Vice President Dick Cheney, thought by many to be the real power behind the Bush presidency, is a long time Iran hawk. According to an Associated Press story, Iran offered to help stabilize Iran and end its support of terror groups Hamas and Hezbollah back in 2003. Lawrence Wilkerson, former Secretary of State Colin Powell's chief of staff, thought it was "a very propitious moment" to strike a deal," but, Wilkerson said, Cheney vetoed it. It seems highly unlikely that Cheney will back down from his "big stick" posture on Iran now.
One senses an almost universal atmosphere of both defiance and despair regarding the Bush administration. It's almost as if key players both at home and abroad are saying, "We'll do everything we can to rein this guy in, but if we can't, well, he's on his own."
The White House appears to have backed down on its National Security Agency warrantless surveillance program. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has announced that the program will submit to the secret court that oversees the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), but details on how the new arrangement between NSA, the Justice Department, and the court are unclear because administration officials won't discuss them.
So I don't take the administration's reversal on the NSA surveillance issue as a sign that it's starting to heed outside influences.
Whether Congress, the courts and the international community can stuff the Bush II executive branch back in its box remains to be seen.
Stay tuned, boys and girls. Anything can happen in the next 30 minutes.
Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at Pen and Sword.