Parts I and II analyzed the coordinated efforts of Dick Cheney's office, Senator Joe Lieberman and Military public affairs to foment preemptive war with Iran. Part III will examine the likely justifications for such a dismal foreign policy misstep.
"Lieberman was acting as a stalking horse for Cheney's proposal, softening up public opinion for later war propaganda."
-- Gareth Porter, August 16, 2007, writing on Senator Lieberman's vocal support of Dick Cheney's agenda to attack Iran.
The clause in the proposed Kyl-Lieberman amendment to the 2008 military appropriations bill stating "that it should be the policy of the United States to combat, contain, and roll back the violent activities and destabilizing influence inside Iraq of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran" was the next best thing to a formal declaration of war. Fortunately, that paragraph was stricken from the version of the bill that finally passed the Senate. Unfortunately, it had already served its purpose.
As Gareth Porter suggests, Lieberman's main purpose in the scheme to ferment war with Iran is to act as a desensitizer, and in that role, he has followed two lines of operation. First is to desensitize the public (including the Congress and the media) to the fuzzy nature of the evidence used to argue that the Iranian government is supporting Iraqi militants, which Lieberman largely does by packaging hearsay testimonials from military officials as hard evidence. (In case you haven't noticed lately, whenever a Bush camp general speaks out about the war, you can't count how many politicians' lips are moving.) Lieberman's second rhetorical vector focuses on introducing increasingly bellicose rhetoric to support direct military action, as exampled by the stealth declaration of war in the originally proposed Kyl-Lieberman amendment.
In the first case, Lieberman's methods appear to have been highly effective. Even Bob Schieffer of Face the Nation, normally skeptical of baseless administration claims, seems to have taken the hook on the allegations that Iran is arming the insurgents in Iraq, even though Schieffer himself offers nothing more tangible to support those charges than Lieberman has.
As to the second issue: A preemptive declaration of war is unlikely to sit well with the public these days, but acts of self-defense, well now; those are horse feathers of a different color. As Seymour Hersh points out in the current issue of The New Yorker, "the President and his senior advisers have concluded that their campaign to convince the American public that Iran poses an imminent nuclear threat has failed." Seeing that their original plan to sell a military confrontation with the "emerging geopolitical winner of the war in Iraq" was going over like a lead zeppelin, the administration adopted a new stratagem, one expressed by Mr. Bush in August when he told an American Legion audience, "The attacks on our bases and our troops by Iranian-supplied munitions have increased… The Iranian regime must halt these actions. And, until it does, I will take actions necessary to protect our troops."
Once the rationalization for war becomes defending the troops, the lid to Pandora's box blows clear off its hinges.
The Inherent Right to "Bring 'Em On"
The "inherent right of self-defense" is the backbone of the Standing Rules of Engagement for U.S. Forces. The concept states that a commander has not only the authority but the obligation to "use all necessary means available and to take all appropriate actions to defend that commander's unit and other U.S. forces in the vicinity from a hostile act or demonstration of hostile intent." This kind of responsibility normally falls to "on-scene commanders," but ultimate responsibility for "national self-defense" falls to the commander in chief. National self-defense involves "defense of the United States, U.S. forces, and, in certain circumstances, U.S. nationals and their property, and/or U.S. commercial assets." One way to exercise national self-defense is by "declaring a foreign force or terrorist(s) hostile," which the commander in chief is authorized to do. Once Mr. Bush declares someone or something hostile, "individual U.S. units do not need to observe a hostile act or determine hostile intent before engaging that force or terrorist(s)."
Based on the Standing ROE and the Bush administration's assertions about Iran's role in committing hostile acts against American troops, we should have turned Tehran into the world's largest solar panel, like, yesterday man! There is, of course, a slight problem in this line of reasoning. The ROE exist under the authority of the NCA, which is the National Command Authority, which is, basically, Mr. Bush. If Mr. Bush authorizes a strike on Iran based on authority he has given himself, someone in his political opposition might just call him on it. The odds of a Democrat in Congress growing that much spine are slim to none, but you never know.
So it's a good thing the Bush team has a couple of fallback positions. The War Powers Resolution passed by Congress in 1973 gives a president standing authority to "introduce United States Armed Forces into hostilities" in case of a "national emergency" created by an attack on "the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces" (italics added).
Mr. Bush not only has authority from Congress to defend our troops, but Article 51 of Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter states that: "Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense."
Legally, Mr. Bush has his happy highness covered seven ways from Sunday. And since he only recognizes one "Higher Authority," he can bomb-bomb-bomb Iran until Barb-Barb-Barbara Bush tells him to knock it off.
Next: Paying the Piper
Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at Pen and Sword and ePluribus. Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books, ISBN: 9781601640192) will be available March 1, 2008.