Sunday, July 15, 2007

Lessons Learned? Hardly. Paving the way for an attack on Iran

From Think Progress:

On Wednesday, the Senate voted 97-0 to pass a resolution sponsored by Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) to censure Iran “for what it said was complicity in the killing of U.S. soldiers in Iraq.” The resolution required the Bush administration to regularly report to Congress on Iran’s role in Iraq.

While the resolution explicitly rejected authorization for immediate military action, the gist of the resolution declared Iran is participating in acts of war against the United States, thereby laying the foundation for a confrontation with Iran. Newshoggers wrote that the resolution may provide the“political cover for launching a war.”

I hate it when Congress does stuff like this. I know some people like to think that all Congress is supposed to do is pass laws and provide oversight, and for sure, that is their most important role. I believe, though, that Congress also has very important ceremonial roles to play as well, and a part of that is passing non-binding resolutions, Congressional recognition of extraordinary individuals, granting honorary citizenship for significant foreign nationals, and all other forms of pomp. These non-binding-but-feel-good-fuzzy bills help develop a sense of civic nationality, and strengthen the national identity of American citizens. However, bills like that cited in the Think Progress article annoy this shit out of me.

First, I think it's just generally inappropriate for Congress to identify national security threats outside of their oversight obligations. If Iran is really that big a problem for the United States, then the Bush administration should man up, provide significant evidence, a plan of action, and submit it to Congress for the legislative legitimacy that foreign expeditions require. All this bill does is let dorks like Lieberman and his ilk bona fide their conservative credentials by Muslim bashing (which is, let's be honest, what this is about), without having to back it up with any actual facts. I recognize, of course, that the Bush Administration has proven itself untrustworthy in this regard as well, but at least when the executive submits something to Congress there is an expectation that the legislative branch will use the tools at its disposal to vet the claims against independently collected intelligence, and that intelligence provided by the appropriate executive agencies. When it is conducted the other way around (Congress to the President), it gives the executive much more latitude to act without making the appropriate information available to the proper oversight committees, and essentially transfers the oversight responsibilities to the White House. Instead of Bush coming to Congress and saying "Here's a verifiable threat, here's the intelligence, we need to take action" he can simply take action and justify it after the fact by pointing to this ridiculous legislation.

Second, even though the language of the bill requires the Administration to submit regular reports to Congress on Iran's role in Iraq, that caveat does not provide any substantively helpful information. The very fact that Congress is requiring these reports assumes that those reports are worth submission; it assumes that Iran is substantively providing the machinations of war to the different (assumedly Shi'a) sects in the conflict. While I understand that Congress has many resources at its disposal, I also know that the executive branch probably has better access to the appropriate intelligence in this regard than Congress, and we all know how excited the executive intelligence agencies are to grant oversight committees unfettered access to their intelligence. I just don't think that Congress is in a position to make this judgement call. In a related note, Think Progress links to an LA Times article which suggests that "the largest number of foreign fighters and suicide bombers in Iraq come from a third neighbor, Saudi Arabia, according to a senior U.S. military officer and Iraqi lawmakers." So, not only is this legislation, in my opinion, inappropriate, it is also misinformed (assuming a good faith effort was made in researching its necessity, which I doubt), but it also assumes something that is likely untrue - Iran poses a greater threat to Iraqi stability than other neighboring states like Saudi Arabia, or, say, the Turks (here, here, here, and here).

Third, we have all seen how these legislative actions have been abused years down the road. As Think Progress noted:

When the Congress vote to authorize force against Iraq in 2002, it cited as justification the fact that Congress had passed a law in 1998 sponsored by Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS) and co-sponsored by Lieberman that concluded Iraq posed a serious threat. From the 2002 resolution:
Whereas in Public Law 105-235 (August 14, 1998), Congress concluded that Iraq’s
continuing weapons of mass destruction programs threatened vital United States
interests and international peace and security, declared Iraq to be in `material
and unacceptable breach of its international obligations’ and urged the
President `to take appropriate action, in accordance with the Constitution and
relevant laws of the United States, to bring Iraq into compliance with its
international obligations’

These actions set precedent, and when Congress goes about blowing its wad on poorly developed, short-term-thinking legislation, it bites us all in the ass a few years later.

Now, it must be noted that I recognize I am assuming a great deal about the executive branch. I understand that this particular Administration has done nothing to justify the trust that the American people and the Constitution place in the executive institutions. However, the issues I take with this bill stem not from this particular administration, but rather, that which is institutionally appropriate, and substantively wise. The fact that the Bush Administration can not be trusted to provide wise, measured, and careful foreign and military policy advise to the House and the Senate is simply indicative of how terrible this particular administration has been. This bill does not change that. It doesn't strengthen Congress' oversight role, nor does it provide the executive any legitimate route to escalate our foreign relations in the region. All it does is provide the political ass-covering that Bush and co. might use to justify further military action in the Middle East, and I am, quite frankly, ashamed that it passed the Senate unanimously. One can only hope that the House kills this bill in committee, because due to the wording of the bill, it is particularly difficult to vote against.

Update: I was having difficulty with the time stamp. It's been updated to reflect when it was actually posted. Sorry if this caused any problems.