In the original phrasing of the draft resolution, as reported by ThinkProgress, the language was vague enough to allow for almost any Israeli use of force against Iran to be immediately and without question backed by the United States with “diplomatic, military, and economic support.” On Tuesday, Sens. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Bob Corker (R-TN) — the Chair and Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee respectively — won unanimous approval of an amendment to S. Res. 65 that significantly diluted that language.
In the most important section of the resolution — the section previously stating that U.S. policy would be to support Israel in near any strike against Iran — language was added making clear that the U.S. itself must be the sole determinant for when force is used:
Urges that, if the Government of Israel is compelled to take military action in legitimate self-defense against Iran’s nuclear weapons program, the United States Government should stand with Israel and provide, in accordance with United States law and the constitutional responsibility of Congress to authorize the use of military force, diplomatic, military, and economic support to the Government of Israel in its defense of its territory, people, and existence;
The insertion of the word “legitimate” into the clause on self-defense helps narrow the possibility that the measure could be seen as implicitly approving a preventative or pre-emptive Israeli attack on Iran. Instead, while the decision to attack would remain Israel’s, the U.S. would decide whether a strike meets its own standard for legitimacy. This is important as, while the resolution was never intended to substitute an actual declaration of war from Congress nor an Authorization of the Use of Military Force as seen prior to launching Iraq War, it will serve as an official statement on U.S. policy.
When Menendez and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) first introduced the non-binding measure in February, it was with the intent that the full Senate vote on it before President Obama’s trip to Israel. Instead, it was met with criticism in the form of pressure from pro-peace groups and even a scathing New York Times editorial lamenting how Congress “gets in the way” of a peaceful solution to the Iranian nuclear issue.
“This new language is the kind of language that should have been in the first version,” Joel Rubin, Director of Policy at the Ploughshares Fund, said about the amendment. “Fortunately the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chose to mark it up, which is relatively rare for this type of resolution, and chose to do it in a way that sharpened up the concerning clause.”
“Americans for Peace Now welcomes amendments made by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to temper [the] problematic Iran-war resolution,” the group said in a statement on Tuesday, adding that Corker and Mendendez “deserve credit for dealing seriously and substantively” with concerns about the measure.
The two senators’ offices did not respond to ThinkProgress’ requests for comment about the senators decision to make changes to the resolution’s language.
The amendment doesn’t, however, completely close the door to the future Congressional authorization of war against Iran. Graham, in explaining his thinking behind the original draft of the resolution, readily admitted that it was designed to be part of a “step-by-step” process towards authorizing war against Iran. The Obama administration has still not ruled out the use of force against Iran if deemed necessary to prevent its acquisition of a nuclear weapon, that would only be after the exhaustion of all other available tools.