(Retitled: Congress is about to Pour Lighter Fluid on Iran)
Note: This article was published in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune on September 4, 2008. Documentation for the article was not published with the original article. I provide it here for readers who wish a more complete justification for the argument in the original article.
William O. Beeman
The U.S. Congress may inadvertently lay the foundations for war against Iran when it reconvenes in Washington in early September.
Two essentially identical non-binding resolutions, House Concurrent Resolution 362 and Senate Resolution 580 call upon President Bush to “immediately and dramatically increase the economic, political and diplomatic pressure on Iran to verifiably suspend its nuclear enrichment activities.”
The House Resolution has more than 200 co-sponsors, including Minnesota Representatives Bachman, Kline and Ramstad. The Senate Resolution has more than 30 co-sponsors, including both Minnesota Senators Coleman and Klobuchar.
The methods for increased pressure differ slightly in the two resolutions. The House Resolution calls for “stringent inspection requirements” of all goods entering or leaving Iran. The Senate Resolution does not call for the inspection of all goods, but joins the House resolution in calling for an embargo of refined petroleum products to Iran, which lacks the refining capacity to meet its need for gasoline. Achieving either goal would require a naval blockade—a de-facto act of war on the part of the United States, though paradoxically both resolutions explicitly exclude authorization for military action.
Other provisions call for an economic embargo of banking operations, with the House resolution adding a prohibition of international movement on the part of Iranian officials.
Both resolutions have begun to cause alarm throughout the United States, and have caused several Representatives to withdraw their co-sponsorship of the bill. Representative Robert Wexler (D-FL) summed up the concerns in an article for the Huffington Post, “It is clear that despite carefully worded language in H. Con. Res. 362 that ‘nothing in this resolution should be construed as an authorization of the use of force against Iran’ that many Americans across the country continue to express real concerns that sections of this resolution will be interpreted by President Bush as ‘a green light’ to use force against Iran.
Representative Barney Frank (D-MA), according to the Jewish Daily Forward offered a representative from the antiwar group Peace Action on July 5 an apology: “I regret the fact that I did not read this resolution more carefully.” He further told The Valley Advocate (Northampton, MA): ’ "I'm all for stricter sanctions against Iran, but the blockade part goes too far. I'm going to call the sponsors and tell them I'm changing my vote."
Both Wexler and Frank are are assuming some risk, because they are opposing the powerful American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which had a strong hand in the drafting of both resolutions. Just days before the resolutions were introduced in the House and the Senate AIPAC issued a memo outlining what should be done to put more pressure on Iran. The language of the memo mirrors the language of the resolutions . The introduction of the resolutions also conveniently coincided with AIPAC’s Annual Policy conference during which they had more than 7,000 people on the hill to lobby. Their top legislative priority was for co-sponsorship of the resolutions. AIPAC is careful to avoid direct calls for military strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities, but makes no secret that it would support such an action by the United States or Israel.
The most unfortunate aspect of the two resolutions is that they contain numerous outright falsehoods, misinformation and alarmist exaggeration about Iran and its nuclear development program. Of the 23 clauses in the Senate Resolution, only five present incontrovertible statements of fact . The many legislators who have signed on as co-sponsors, having subscribed to this false information, could be attacked by the Bush administration if they oppose a later request for military attack, as happened in the Iraq invasion.
Sadly, these resolutions make it clear that the battle to stop a war with Iran is not over.
William O. Beeman is Professor and Chair of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota, and is President of the Middle East Section of the American Anthropological Assocation. He has lived and worked in the Middle East for more than 30 years. His most recent book is The “Great Satan” vs. the “Mad Mullahs”: How the United States and Iran Demonize Each Other. (Chicago, 2008).
5. http://aipac.org/The_Issues/index_11793.asp, also http://www.aipac.org/Publications/AIPACAnalysesMemos/AIPAC_Memo_-_U.S._Must_Do_More_to_Prevent_a_Nuclear_Armed-Iran.pdf
6. See appendix 1 below
7. see appendix 2 below
AIPAC Authorship of H. Con. Res 362 and Sen. Res. 580
AIPAC will say they do not write legislation, but just days before the resolutions were introduced, they issued a memo ( http://aipac.org/The_Issues/index_11793.asp) outlining what should be done to put more pressure on Iran (comparison below). The introduction of the resolutions also conveniently coincided with AIPAC’s Annual Policy conference during which they had 7,000+ people on the hill to lobby and their top legislative ask was for co-sponsorship of the resolutions (available on their website). In addition, the response from Gary Ackerman and Mike Pence to accusations on the blockade issue in a “Dear Colleague” letter were identical to AIPAC talking points posted on their website.
AIPAC has declared that they will use the votes on this resolution on their elections scorecard, which may be why so many members have signed onto it.
The United States should sanction the Central Bank of Iran for its involvement in the funding of terrorism and the financing of Iran's proliferation activities.
H.Con.Res 362/Senate Resolution 580
Congress urges the President, in the strongest of terms, to immediately use his existing authority to impose sanctions on - the Central Bank of Iran and any other Iranian bank engaged in proliferation activities or the support of terrorist groups;
The United States should impose sanctions on companies that have invested more than $20 million in Iran's energy sector in violation of the Iran Sanctions Act (ISA), originally passed in 1996.
H.Con.Res 362/Senate Resolution 580
Congress urges the President, in the strongest of terms, to immediately use his existing authority to impose sanctions on - energy companies that have invested $20,000,000 or more in the Iranian petroleum or natural gas sector in any given year since the enactment of the Iran Sanctions Act of 1996.
The United States also should use existing authority to sanction foreign entities that continue to do business with the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps ...
H.Con.Res 362/Senate Resolution 580
Congress urges the President, in the strongest of terms, to immediately use his existing authority to impose sanctions on - all companies which continue to do business with Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
William O. Beeman
Senate Resolution 580—Inaccuracies in the Document
1. Wholly False
a. Iran had a covert nuclear program for 20 years (it was not covert, and was started by the United States 30 years ago)
b. The IAEA has confirmed Iranian covert nuclear activities. (The IAEA has cleared Iran of all required inspections, and affirmed Iran’s compliance)
c. Iran could have enough Highly Enriched Uranium to make a nuclear weapon by 2009. (The NIE did not say this, and Iran can not possibly have enough HEU by 2009 to make a weapon. Even if they did it would take years to actually develop such a weapon.
d. Iran has missiles that can reach parts of Europe. (Only true if you count Southern Russia as “part of Europe.” Iran has nothing that could reach Central or Western Europe.)
e. Iran has repeatedly called for the elimination of Israel. (No such calls have ever been issued. This is a blatant lie).
f. Iran has refused offers of negotiation (Iran has repeatedly stated its willingness to negotiate, provided there are no preconditions).
g. Developing weapons is outpacing economic sanctions (it is impossible to know what this means, and it is therefore false).
a. Allowing Iran to acquire nuclear weapons is a grave threat to international security (only discussable if Iran is proven to have a weapons program. The statement applies to any non-nuclear weapons nation, not just Iran).
b. Allowing Iran to acquire a nuclear weapons capability will upset the balance of power in the Middle East (it is impossible to know what this means, unless the point is that the U.S. and Israel would no longer be completely dominant).
c. Iran could share its nuclear weapons capability with terrorists (So could Pakistan and India, and they already have proven weapons. Iran does not have a proven weapons program, and the capacity to develop such weapons is years away).
d. Iran having a nuclear weapon would undermine the nuclear nonproliferation regime. (This goes without saying, but Iran does not have a proven weapons program. The United States failure to reduce its nuclear arsenal in direct violation of the NPT is far more dangerous.)
e. Arab states would follow suit if Iran had a weapon. (Actually, Arab states are far more likely to get weapons technology from Pakistan, especially now that Musharraf has resigned).
f. If Iran had weapons, nuclear proliferation would increase (assumes that Iran has a weapons program).
g. The government of Iran has advocated that the United States withdraw from the Middle East (as has every other state in the region except Israel).
h. Iran has used its banking system including the Central Bank of Iran to support its proliferation efforts (what proliferation efforts? Iran operates entirely legally under the NPT. The Iranian Central Bank is going to have something to do with all economic activity in Iran, since it regulates Iran’s currency)
i. The Treasury Department has designated 4 banks as proliferators. (Without proof or justification. This was a mere assertion of Treasury. The Treasury regularly violates its own laws regarding Iran, including illegal restrictions on artistic and scholarly exchange).
3. Legal Iranian Actions
a. Iran continues to expand the number of centrifuges (It is legal for them to do so—they would need 50,000 to have enough uranium to run a Light Water Reactor, which they don’t have. They have 6,000 at present, and those don’t work well).
b. Iran has 6,000 centrifuges (see above)
4. True statements
a. Iran is signatory to the NPT
b. Iran is bound to declare its nuclear activity to the IAEA (which it so far has done to the IAEA’s satisfaction)
c. The Security Council passed three binding resolutions calling for Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment. (True, but the suspension of uranium enrichment was designated as a “confidence building” measure designed to assure that Iran was not building nuclear weapons in violation of Section IV of the NPT. The NIE in the United States declared that Iran has no weapons program, rendering the suspension of the legal enrichment of uranium unnecessary.
d. P5+1 nations have offered to negotiate with Iran (and Iran has agreed providing there are no preconditions)
e. Iran imports 40% of its refined petroleum products
1. Preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability is a matter of high importance to U.S. security and must be dealt with urgently (this has been stated already by the executive branch. Getting Congress to agree to this is redundant, but it can be used by the executive to justify an attack at a later date).
2. Urges the president to impose sanctions (all these sanctions have already been enacted, or can be enacted without Congressional urging)
3. Urges the president to increase pressure on Iran (this is already being done with the exception of banning refined petroleum products imports to Iran—an absolutely impractical and inoperative measure).
4. Asserts that nothing in this resolution authorizes force against Iran (however, all of the false and misleading preambular clauses are a set up for later approaches to Congress for the use of force—a classic slippery slope).
-William O. Beeman