Washington, DC – When 47 Republican House members introduced a Congressional resolution endorsing Israeli military strikes against Iran this past August, the National Iranian American Council’s reaction was swift. Within days, NIAC focused significant media attention on the dangerous nature of the resolution and nearly four thousand letters were sent through a NIAC action alert to the top House Republican, Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), calling on him to denounce the resolution. While Boehner’s office maintained silence on the matter, the resolution failed to garner any further support and will expire at the end of this year.
It remains uncertain whether the resolution’s lead sponsor, Louie Gohmert (R-TX), will reintroduce the resolution, which provides unprecedented Congressional support for a foreign military to launch preemptive strikes against another country, in the next Congress. The measure was endorsed by prominent Republicans such as the Middle East Subcommittee’s top Republican, Ranking Member Dan Burton (R-IN), Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence, and Tea Party Caucus Chairwoman Michelle Bachmann (R-MN).
But though the resolution was unveiled with a significant number of cosponsors—over a quarter of House Republicans signed on to the measure prior to its introduction—the measure failed to attract further support from key party and committee leadership such as the incoming House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA); the incoming Chairwoman of the Foreign Affairs Committee Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL); or soon-to-be Speaker of the House John Boehner. Notably, those who did support the measure did not comment on it publicly after it was revealed. The measure also was not endorsed by any Democrats.
NIAC warned that the resolution, H.Res. 1553, sent a dangerous message that Republicans would support military strikes on Iran by Israel, thus undercutting the President’s efforts to prevent such an attack. The resolution was described as a “backdoor to war with Iran” by NIAC Policy Director Jamal Abdi. “[B]y encouraging such an attack, supporters of war are effectively working to circumvent the President and his military leadership, who have warned in dire terms against military action in Iran,” Abdi said. “Once the bombing campaign has commenced, the authors of this resolution may believe, the US would have few choices but be dragged into war.”
Indeed, pressure has come from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the Obama Administration to embrace a more militant approach to Iran and publicly threaten military action. The Prime Minister’s comments gained support from incoming-Majority Leader Cantor and have been echoed by Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT). Defense Secretary Robert Gates pushed back against the call for US provocations, and military leaders like General David Petraeus and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen have warned that military strikes would likely fail to end Iran’s nuclear program and would make Iran’s rulers determined to build a nuclear weapon.
Neoconservative pundits and the Washington Post have criticized the Secretary of Defense for resisting Netanyahu’s pressure and for explaining the possible repercussions of going to war against Iran.
Incoming House Foreign Affairs Chairwoman Ros-Lehtinen, an adamant supporter of “crippling” sanctions who has endorsed military strikes on Iran in the past, has refrained from making public pronouncements favoring war since it became clear she would take the helm of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the next Congress. Polls in recent months show that most Americans currently oppose war with Iran. With ongoing unpopular military commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, overt support for a third war in the Middle East may be judged as premature and a potentially serious turn off for voters.
Ros-Lehtinen spent much of her allotted time at a recent Foreign Affairs hearing pressing the Obama Administration to take further punitive measures against Iran. However, other members of her party hinted that the sanctions push may be part of a series of escalating steps towards military action. Representative Don Manzullo (R-IL) said at the hearing that, “If these sanctions don’t work, then the next step would be a blockade. And the next step would be some type of—you hate to use the word—but military action.”
This startling comment may suggest that, instead of a resolution similar to Gohmert’s that green lights military strikes by Israel on Iran, the Republican-led House is more likely to press Obama on the issue of sanctions until they can declare those measures have been ineffective. In that case, a resolution calling for a blockade may be more likely in the offering. A blockade is an act of war under international law.
A blockade resolution was introduced by House Democrats in 2007 and progressed through the House until successful efforts by NIAC, pro-Israel groups that oppose war with Iran, and other pro-peace organizations convinced Democratic leadership to pull the measure at the last minute. At the time, Democrats halted the measure for fear that then-President Bush would consider the resolution a sufficient authorization for the use of military action against Iran. Now, with a shifted dynamic of Republicans running the House and a Democrat in the White House, such a resolution may be offered to make the President appear unwilling to take stronger measures, giving the appearance of weakness heading into the 2012 Presidential Elections.