Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) in the coming days plan to unveil a new joint resolution to “strongly support the full implementation of United States and international sanctions on Iran and to urge the President to continue to strengthen enforcement of sanctions legislation.” Couched in such seemingly benign language, the resolution saves its most worrisome clauses for the end, including an open-ended policy of U.S. support for any Israeli strike against Iran:
Urges that, if the Government of Israel is compelled to take military action in self-defense, the United States Government should stand with Israel and provide diplomatic, military, and economic support to the Government of Israel in its defense of its territory, people, and existence.
Graham first announced his intention to introduce such legislation in 2012, but never followed through. The new bill co-sponsored by Menendez goes beyond previous attempts to show support for Israeli policy towards Iran. The last such attempt was a 2011 proposal from Reps. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) and Louis Gohmert (R-TX) that would have “approved” any strike Israel performed. Menendez and Graham’s proposal is all the more threatening in that it is backed by credible legislators, though known hawks against Iran, and is ostensibly bipartisan.
The joint resolution is non-binding and would serve as neither a declaration of war nor an Authorization of the Use of Military Force like the near carte-blanche approval granted to President George W Bush at the onset of the Iraq War. It would, though, serve as an official announcement of U.S. policy to support any Israeli strike, whether the Obama administration had been previously consulted or not. This would include strikes against Iran that would be preventative — or seeking to stop any threat before it materializes — instead of a preemptive strike against an imminent threat, which is much more widely accepted as legitimate.
The Senate proposal dovetails with a bill announced on Wednesday from the heads of the House Foreign Affairs Committee to ratchet up sanctions on Iran yet again while shifting policy to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapons capability.
Current and former military officials have warned of the potential consequences of strikes against Iran in several reports. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey last year backed away from American support of an Israeli strike, saying “I don’t want to be complicit if they [Israel] choose to do it.” Dempsey also warned that a strike against Iran could possibly break the international coalition that has been placing pressure on Iran. That coalition recently concluded a positive round of talks in Kazakhstan and are set to meet again in Istanbul in March.
The Obama administration has not ruled out the use of force against Iran if necessary to prevent its acquisition of a nuclear weapon, but only after the exhaustion of all other available tools.
The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin reported that Graham told her that the “self-defense” language in his resolution should include preemption and that his Iran resolutions are meant to be a “step-by-step” process to authorize war:
Graham argued on Iran, “I think it is the challenge of our time. We are really going to be defined by Iran’s quest for a nuclear weapon.” He characterizes himself as “skeptical” that diplomacy would work. In sponsoring a Senate resolution that passed overwhelming that containment is not an option, Graham said, “I think we helped bring [Obama] to the dance.” Now, “the real issue is making it clear all options are on the table and that we have Israel’s back. That’s what the president said at AIPAC last year; ‘We have Israel’s back.’” That leads to his current proposal, which he thinks will garner wide support: “If Israel acts in its own defense — even preemptively — we will support Israel economically, diplomatically, and politically.” [...]
On his Iran resolutions, Graham favor step-by-step approach. “You have to build a case,” he explained: First, you rule out containment, then pledge support to Israel, and if that doesn’t work, tell Obama, “Mr. President, here’s authorization.” He does not take lightly the consequences of using force. “If we hit Iran, we open Pandora’s box. If they get a nuclear weapon, we empty Pandora’s box,” he said. Iran in the long-term, he argued, does not have the capability to withstand American force. “We win, they lose,” he said, echoing Ronald Reagan’s admonition about the Cold War. He also suggested that if we do need to act, “you are not just going to hit one mountain. You’d try to take down the country’s defense system.”