Last month’s introduction by Reps. Gary Ackerman (D-NY) and Mike Pence (R-IN) of H. Con. Res 362 has raised the ire of many who believe the actions that are called for within the resolution could very well lead the U.S. down the path to a military conflict with Iran.Yet, there is strong bipartisan support for this resolution with 220 cosponsors as of June 29. The Senate version, S. Res. 580, currently boasts 32 cosponsors. In fact, in a truthout report by Maya Schenwar and Matt Renner, a Pelosi staffer is quoted as saying this resolution will “pass like a hot knife through butter.”
During the Rob Kall Radio Show on June 25, Congressman Robert Wexler (D-FL) graciously took time from discussing his new book, “Fire Breathing Liberal” and his push for impeachment inquiries to address concerns that were being raised regarding this resolution that he, himself, cosponsored.
The issue at hand was the language in the resolution that “demands that the President initiate an international effort to immediately and dramatically increase the economic, political, and diplomatic pressure on Iran to verifiably suspend its nuclear enrichment activities, by inter alia, prohibiting the export to Iran of all refined petroleum products; imposing stringent inspection requirements on all persons, vehicles, ships, planes, trains and cargo entering or departing Iran; and prohibiting the international movement of all Iranian officials not involved in negotiating the suspension of Iran’s nuclear program.”
Confession: I had to look up inter alia to find that it means “among other things.”
As an invited caller, I shared with Congressman Wexler my experience the prior evening. I read the passage above to a group attending a lecture by Dr. Bob Bowman, Lt. Colonel, USAF, ret, a fighter pilot in Vietnam, who also directed the DoD “Star Wars” programs under Ford and Carter. Bowman is on a speaking tour to restore the Constitution and hold the Bush administration accountable through impeachment.
As I read from Res. 362, a collective groan rose from the audience as people scrambled for pen and paper to take down the information. Dr. Bowman declared it was something we had to fight. He paused and reflected before stating, “It cuts very close to being a declaration of war.”
In response to this, Rep. Wexler offered, “Let me start by just creating a foundation from my view which is that I intensely distrust President Bush particularly as it relates to the use of military force.”
He went on to state that, “We have a responsibility to prevent President Bush from unilaterally attacking Iran similar to what he did, of course, with Iraq.” This is the reason, he added, that he is also a cosponsor of H.R. 3119. This resolution prohibits the use of funds for military operations in Iran without prior authorization by Congress.
Congressman Wexler explained that “Resolution 3119 could not be clearer in indicating that Congress will not give Mr. Bush a blank check and that we support a policy of engagement rather than military force.”
Researching H.R. 3119 immediately following Wednesday’s interview found that it was introduced one year ago and has gained little traction with only 29 cosponsors – all Democrats. Three more names, including Rep. Wexler’s, were added on June 26 bringing the total count to 32. At this point, H.R. 3119, legislation that has not passed, really serves as no deterrent.
In detailing his reason for supporting 362, Mr. Wexler remarked “I signed on to the resolution you spoke about initially because I believe and I still do, although I understand your concern and I respect it, that 362 called for enhanced economic – as you read – economic, political, and diplomatic sanctions.”
In respect to the language that follows that calls for President Bush to “prohibit the export to Iran of all refined petroleum products,” and begin “stringent inspection requirements on all persons, vehicles,” etc. entering or departing Iran, Congressman Wexler contended that the resolution “makes no reference whatsoever to the use of military force, it makes no reference, of course, to any language that would support an embargo. Although, again, I want to point out that I understand your concern and I understand your reluctance because it is strong language.”
Indeed, the word “embargo” cannot be found within the four-page document, but prohibiting trade or commerce with another country in order to isolate it, e.g. preventing refined petroleum products from entering Iran, is by definition an embargo.
When pressed by Rob that comments coming in to him were pointing to a Naval blockade, Rep. Wexler dismissed it by saying there is no language in the resolution that calls for a Naval blockade. Again, the word “blockade” is not used. But, any effort to prevent supplies from reaching a country – which this resolution calls for – is after all a blockade.
Ultimately, the congressman conceded that he understood the “concern that the mechanism of enforcement in theory might be a Naval blockade.” “But,” he explained, “that’s the use of a military confrontation act and that is not something that I would support unless there was prior congressional approval. I understand the concern particularly in that it’s President Bush that we are talking about, but I don’t think reasonably that there is any language in 362 that authorizes a Naval blockade. If there is, I would not have signed it.”
I asked, “What then would imposing stringent inspection requirements on persons, vehicles, ships – what would that look like then?” Rep. Wexler replied, “It’s a good question.” So pleased was I that I asked a “good question,” I failed to recognize that the conversation drifted into a discussion over the concern of a “nuclearization” of the Middle East and the question was never addressed. Lesson learned.
Often times what is not written into legislation or little things that are inserted such as “inter alia” can be far more damaging than what is actually written.
What lessons have we learned from the Bush administration? 1. If the President and Vice President are given a blank check, for example the 2001 “Authorization for Use of Military Force,” they will surely take full advantage of it. 2. If the President and Vice President are not given permission by Congress to wreak havoc – they will anyway.
One attribute, among others, that separates Rep. Wexler from many of his colleagues on the Hill is his willingness to engage in dialogue beyond the perfunctory sound bite. One thing about Rob Kall, editor and publisher of OpEdNews.com is his drive to go the extra mile. Not a common practice these days in the corporate-owned mainstream media. Rob, looking to clarify some issues regarding 362, reached out the following day to Congressman Wexler who readily agreed to continue the conversation. Look for Rob’s upcoming article about the media aspect of this.
The dominant theme presented to Rep. Wexler in follow-up was the question of what really is going to keep President Bush, who already unilaterally and preemptively attacked a sovereign nation with no repercussions from a Democratic majority, from repeating the scenario with Iran.
Rep. Wexler, in his reply, held fast to his belief that H. Con. Res. 362 would not open the door to any military action by the U.S. against Iran. He explained, “First and foremost H. Con. Res. 362 is a non-binding resolution which is only a statement/expression of Congress without any force of law.”
While it is true that the resolution is non-binding. It is ironic that a non-binding resolution would “demand” the President take a specific action. Even more ironic is the fact that what is being asked seems to be right up the Bush administration’s alley.
Mr. Wexler again reiterated that “nothing in this resolution shall be construed as an authorization of the use of force against Iran.”
But, if the President takes the direction to, for example, prohibit export of refined petroleum products to Iran or restrict movement of Iranian officials who are not involved in negotiating the suspension of Iran’s “pursuit of nuclear weapons,” and it triggers a military conflict which in all likelihood Bush will not back away from, Congress can wash their hands and say, “Hey, we said there was nothing in our resolution that authorized that.”
Congressman Wexler, in his follow-up with Rob Kall, emphasized again the call for all this to happen with the support of the international community.
The issue of an international context was reinforced in a dismissive reply on June 25 by Ackerman and Pence who claim criticism of the resolution is “utter nonsense.”
The resolution does demand that the President “initiate an international effort.” Is it enough for the President to place a few calls to “initiate” an international effort and then call it a day? I don’t know. The resolution doesn’t say. What it also doesn’t say is that the actions demanded within the resolution require UN approval.
Many believe the fact that the U.S. unilaterally attacked Iraq was not the overriding problem in 2003. Would support of the international community have made our venture into Iraq acceptable and legitimate? I think not.
A Democrat and a Republican Speak Out
Congressman Rob Andrews (D-NJ) who is not seeking reelection in November after losing to incumbent Frank Lautenberg in the Senate primary, made a rather bold and unexpected statement regarding the Bush administration and Iran at a public forum on Iraq on June 13. Andrews was an early and staunch supporter of the Iraq war and has routinely taken a tough stance on Iran. During his Senate primary campaign, he received the endorsement of the Political Action Committee of Cherry Hill for his commitment to the security of the State of Israel.
Andrews stated [see video] “There is a real and consistent concern that the government of Iran is attempting to acquire nuclear weapons. Now there has been saber rattling about this. There’s going to be an attempt, I believe, to “Gulf of Tonkinize” this issue before the November election and I think you can anticipate all kinds of Naval adventures in the Persian Gulf that will try to be used as a pretext for an attack upon Iran. I think that that will be the strategy in the November election.” A call earlier today to Rep. Andrew’s office for further comment has yet to be returned.
There was no mention of specific legislation. Still, his remarks add credence to what many fear – that the President could use this demand, non-binding as it is, to create an embargo against Iran to provoke the Iranian government. To date, Rep. Andrews has not cosponsored H. Con. Res. 362.
GOP Congressman Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD), like Andrews, served 18 years in Congress. Gilchrest, who stated that he regrets his early support of the Iraq war, also lost his state’s primary this year.
On June 26, Rep. Gilchrest took to the House floor. He questioned what the impact of Resolution 362 and its tightening of sanctions on Iran in a broader way would have on U.S. policy in the Middle East and the impact of the conflict between the two nations.
He responded to his own questions by stating, “I will say, in my judgment, Mr. Speaker, that Resolution 362 will exacerbate, make much more difficult, the problems in the Middle East, and the relationship of Iran with the United States, and the relationship of Iran. Knowledge and an informed policy in the Middle East, a surge of diplomacy, can make a key difference. When Nikita Khrushchev said he was going to bury the United States, what was Eisenhower’s response? He invited Nikita Khrushchev to the United States to tour the Nation, and it began to lessen the conflict between the two countries.”
He concluded by stating that in the fall of 2007, 58 House members on both sides of the aisle signed a letter to the parliament in Iran asking for a parliamentary exchange. That letter, he said, “was hand-delivered by some of us in Lisbon to Iranian parliamentarians. They took it to Iran. And what is their response to us? They want a dialogue. There are members of the Iranian parliament that want a dialogue. Consensus and dialogue. We need more carpenters. Vote against Resolution 362.”
A Unique Perspective
There is an unspoken understanding that online discussions concerning Israel, AIPAC, Iran and the U.S. Congress often descend rapidly into accusations of politicians being “beholden” – or worse – to AIPAC and Israel and alternatively, charges of anti-semitism are often volleyed back without effort made to find common ground. This does little to promote the shared goal of a peaceful Middle East.
I reached out to Rabbi Michael Lerner, an activist and editor of Tikkun, a progressive Jewish and interfaith magazine, for his thoughts.
Rabbi Lerner stressed that he was not an “insider in this struggle,” but openly shared his perspective. He observed that “AIPAC and many other parts of the American Jewish establishment have bought into the paradigm of ‘domination over the other’ as the only way to achieve safety and security in this world.”
He added “There are the majority of American Jews who do not support the war in Iraq and would not support a war in Iran unless it was perceived as being Israel’s only path to self-defense.”
When asked specifically about H. Con. Res. 362, the Rabbi explained, “From our standpoint, the blockade of Iranian oil is a provocative step meant to push Iran into taking counter-steps that would then allow Israel or the U.S. to provide their own people with alleged justification for a larger assault.”
Rabbi Lerner emphasized that “The major forces pushing this are NOT the State of Israel and the American Jewish establishment, but Vice President Cheney and the oil companies whose interests he serves. It is they who worry most about Iran emerging as the dominant force in the Middle East, particularly as the US moves out of Iraq in the years following an Obama election to the presidency.”
“After having fought a war in Iraq so that we could hand over the oil fields to the US oil companies, something that was vigorously denied in the past but in the past few weeks has become the explicit goal of the US puppet regime in Iraq, US oil interests are not willing to see their promised mega profits be threatened by Iran. They imagine that this may be their last moment (that is, from now till Jan. 20, 2009 when the new president takes office) at least for another four or eight years, and so they want to do something that could provoke a larger war that the new president would have to support.”
As it relates to members of Congress, Rabbi Lerner concludes, “The American Jewish Establishment, operating through AIPAC and many other sources, has aligned itself with this crusade of folly, first in Iraq and now in Iran. And, they have been able to call upon many of their supporters in Congress to do likewise.”
Rabbi Lerner does see another option. “We in the Network of Spiritual Progressives call it the “Strategy of Generosity” and we’ve developed a specific manifestation of that when we call for a Global Marshall Plan as the best way for the U.S. and Israel to achieve homeland security.”
They have found that this is the “only plausible alternative to the ‘Strategy of Domination’ and this has been introduced to Congress as House Resolution 1078 two months ago by Congressman Keith Ellison and others.”
Please read more of Rabbi Michael Lerner’s remarks in his OpEdNews post here.
A final thought: Those of us who disagree with the course our government has established can blog and comment relentlessly, but without consistent direct action, we won’t veer far from it. As Ray McGovern, CIA analyst turned activist, often says – sometimes you gotta put your body into it.