“I can tell you explicitly, you have not been given power or authority by Congress to have war with Iran, and in any kind of semblance of a sane world, you would have to come back and ask us before you go into Iran,” Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) declared to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing this week.
The hearing came two days after the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) was designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) by Pompeo’s State Department, in a move that many saw as laying the groundwork for war. Concerningly, Secretary Pompeo refused to rule out using the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) – which authorized war against “those nations, organizations, or persons [the President] determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons” – to justify launching a war against Iran.
In response to Paul’s direct questioning on whether or not the 2001 AUMF could be applied to Iran or the IRGC, Pompeo replied “I would prefer to leave that to the lawyers, Senator.” Pompeo, continuing a long line of suspect statements on the subject, also alleged that “there’s no doubt there is a connection between the Islamic Republic of Iran and al Qaeda.” Contrary to Pompeo’s repeated statements, experts have regularly depicted an antagonistic and hostile relationship between Iran and al-Qaeda.
Nelly Fahloud, an expert who examined classified documents that Pompeo released to the hawkish Foundation for Defense of Democracies when he was CIA Director to bolster claims of an Al Qaeda-Iran link, wrote that “in none of these documents did I find references pointing to collaboration between al-Qaeda and Iran to carry out terrorism.” However, a lack of evidence did not stop the George W. Bush administration from fabricating ties between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda to make the case for war.
While the notion that the 2001 AUMF could legally justify strikes against Iran has also been disputed by legal scholars, the Executive Branch has utilized the 2001 AUMF in at least 41 different military operations and 19 different countries, including in Syria, Yemen and Libya. Moreover, it appears that the Trump administration does not believe it faces many legal restrictions on its ability to start a war without Congressional authorization.
This administration’s actions all point to a desire for confrontation with Iran. In September 2018, National Security Advisor John Bolton is reported to have requested war plans from the Pentagon to strike an Iranian military facility in response to alleged activities from Shia militias in Iraq. Moreover, a Washington Times article published earlier this year indicated that Trump administration officials believe the 2001 AUMF provides them with the legal authority to attack Iran.
Legislation has been introduced to end the 2001 AUMF – sponsored by Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA) – which NIAC and 41 other groups have supported. Additionally, Senators Tom Udall, Rand Paul and Richard Durbin recently reintroduced the Prevention of Unconstitutional War with Iran Act, which “would restrict any funds from being spent on an unconstitutional attack against Iran.”
Given that the administration refuses to rule out that it has authorization for an Iran war, these legislative efforts may be as relevant as ever in deciding whether the U.S. engages in a new military adventure in the Middle East.