I have often felt that one of the flaws of our democratic system is that it concentrates responsibility for foreign policy in one man, the President, who these days likes to call himself The Decider. Congress does not have the control over foreign policy that it does on questions like health care or the environment. As a result, Americans tend to leave foreign policy to the “experts” and focus their attention on issues that are closer to home. The war in Iraq has shown what is wrong with that approach, and a war with Iran would be even worse.
Fortunately, there are three resolutions before Congress that attempt to put the brakes on hostilities with Iran, by stating clearly that the President cannot take action without authorization from Congress. Most Presidents would probably understand this already, because they are sworn to “protect and defend the Constitution,” but with President Bush, nothing is sure. If he is really committed to war with Iran, he will go ahead regardless of any declarations by Congress, binding or nonbinding, but these resolutions will at least make things harder politically.
A resolution by Representative Peter DeFazio, a Democrat, would put Congress on record as follows.
- …seeking congressional authority prior to taking military action against Iran is not discretionary, but is a legal and constitutional requirement.
A resolution by Representative Walter Jones, a Republican, makes a similar demand.
- Absent a national emergency created by attack by Iran, or a demonstrably imminent attack by Iran, upon the United States…the President shall…receive specific authorization…prior to initiating any use of military force against Iran.
The third resolution is in favor of opening discussions with Iran and Syria, as recommended by the Iraq Study Group.
Normally I don’t place much faith in online petitions, but Just Foreign Policy has set one up to encourage Congress to support these resolutions. If you are an American citizen, I urge you to sign it. (You need to be an American citizen because the petition is directed to your Congressman.) These resolutions are gathering co-sponsors, which is how members of Congress gauge the support of new proposals. Like a snowball, the more co-sponsors a resolution has, the more it is likely to get, until the leadership schedules debate and an actual vote. The petition urges your Congressman to get on board. This seems like the right stage in the debate when citizen pressure could have an effect.
Of course, if you wanted to do more, you could mail a handwritten letter, call, or even visit your Congressman’s local office. You could send your Congressman press clippings and opinion pieces that explain why war with Iran is a bad idea. You could organize teach-ins among your friends. Here at eatbees, I hope to write a series of posts over the next few days that will lay out the history of confrontation with Iran, share some expert analysis, and underline the urgency of the situation.
Should you visit the online petition, you will see that the text can be modified however you choose. I felt that it stated the case clearly, so I left it as it is. But since my Congressman, Heath Shuler, is a newly elected Democrat, I added the following lines.
- I want to emphasize that progressive voters like myself, motivated by anguish over the war in Iraq and unease over the president’s claims to absolute power, voted for Democrats in the last elections in order to change the balance of power in Congress. We would like to believe that our votes meant something, and that Congress will no longer passively wait for the president to make things worse. War with Iran would be a strategic and moral disaster that would make us nostalgic for the days when Iraq was all we had on our minds. Please consider sponsoring the resolutions described in this petition, and indeed, doing even more, by actively lobbying your fellow Congressmen to join you in opposition to war with Iran.