Monday, January 29, 2007

Democrats Need to Check Bush's Iran Authority

I'm a Democrat who believes in a pragmatic progressivism and clearly I have good reason to prefer the Democrats far more than the Republicans, but it's important to understand that in the current era neither American political party is performing at its best. Scott Ritter has an article in Truthout that discusses how Bush and the Republicans own the Iraq fiasco whether they like it or not, but if the Democrats are not careful and simply allow Bush to do what he wants, they're going to co-own whatever policy develops in Iran; this excerpt begins near end:
Only Congress holds the power of the purse. While a President may commit American forces to combat without the consent of Congress (for periods of up to 180 days), he cannot spend money that has not been appropriated. There is, in the passing of any budget, inherent authority given to the President when it comes to national defense. However, Congress can, if it wants to, put specific restrictions on the President's ability to use the people's money. A recent example occurred in 1982, when Congress passed the Boland Amendment to restrict funding for executive-sponsored actions, covert and overt, in Nicaragua. While it is in the process of getting a handle on America's policy vis-à-vis Iran, Congress would do well to pass a resolution that serves as a new Boland Amendment for Iran. Such an amendment could read like this:

An amendment to prohibit offensive military operations, covert or overt, being commenced by the United States of America against the Islamic Republic of Iran, without the expressed consent of the Congress of the United States. This amendment reserves the right of the President, commensurate with the War Powers Act, to carry out actions appropriate for the defense of the United States if attacked by Iran. However, any funds currently appropriated by Congress for use in support of ongoing operations by the United States Armed Forces are hereby prohibited from being allocated for any pre-emptive military action, whether overt or covert in nature, without the expressed prior consent by the Congress of the United States of America.

However it is worded, the impact of such an amendment would be immediate and could forestall any military moves planned by the Bush Administration against Iran until Congress can fully familiarize itself with the true nature of any threat posed to the United States. President Bush seems to be hellbent on making war with Iran. The passage of time is, in effect, the enemy of his Administration's goals and objectives. By buying the time required to fully study the issues pertaining to Iran, and by forestalling the possibility of immediate pre-emptive action through budgetary restrictions, Congress may very well spare America, and the world, another tragedy like Iraq. If a Democrat-controlled Congress fails to take action, and America finds itself embroiled in yet another Middle East military misadventure, there will be a reckoning at the polls in 2008. It will not bode well for the Democrats currently in power, or those seeking power in the future.

In his article, Ritter covers considerable ground and although he suggests he is skeptical, he reminds people that any policy toward Iran has to be aired and studied by both Republicans and Democrats. Actually, I would argue if enough Republicans join Democrats, we can avoid another Iraq-style bamboozlement concerning Iran. If Congress will get moving. And if Republicans can set aside their obstructionism for the sake of our country.

Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo, however, reminds us in strong terms that Bush, whatever we eventually decide about Iran, is the wrong president to be in charge of such a policy:
Think back over this young year. How much have you heard about Iraq and how much have you heard about Iran? From where I'm sitting news of tits for tats with Iran, skirmishes between Iranian and American personnel, Cheney-heralded naval deployments are the order of the day. If you listen to these things closely everything is now turning toward Iran. Iraq, though central to everything, is also becoming old news.

(snip)

You may remember quite a bit earlier in our long national nightmare the White House and its toadies and acolytes were very big on the so-called 'fly-paper' theory of the Iraq War. All the bombings and killings were a sign that the policy was working. Rather than have the terrorists hitting us in America or other spots around the world we had created a terrorist killing field in Iraq where we could wipe them out on our own terms, right where we wanted them. That and create a democracy there too.

I still remember one really clever TPM Reader writing in and telling me: that's brilliant. Sort of like by creating a really dirty hospital, we're going to create a place where we can fight the germs on our own terms!

I don't know about you but sometimes I feel like we're in this eerie afterburn of our four long years of disaster. The public has rendered its verdict. Every thinking person has rendered their verdict. But the administration is still going on more or less as though nothing's happened. ...

Like the line says, first do no harm. And for the United States as a country, right now, that means doing everything constitutionally, legally and politically possible to limit the president's and even more Vice President Cheney's free hand to shape and execute American foreign policy. Sift it all out and it's that simple. Stop them from doing any more damage. All the rest is commentary and elaboration.

Ritter is right about the procedure and he offers some excellent points but instinctively I'm on Marshall's side on this. After six years of a profoundly flawed presidency, I have no faith that Bush and Cheney are capable at the last moment of doing anything other than giving us more of the same or, worse, recklessly rolling the dice.

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