Just when President Obama was starting to believe that it was safe to go back into the water, the lobby has come out with a new Iran sanctions bill designed to torpedo negotiations with Iran. And, once that is accomplished, it provides for automatic U.S military backing for Israel if Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu decides to bomb.

This may be the lobby’s most brazen attempt yet at subverting negotiations and, in Andrew Sullivan’s words, “handing over American foreign policy on a matter as grave as war and peace to a foreign government….”

The resolution, introduced by Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Mark Kirk(R-IL), seemingly responds positively to President Obama’s request that Congress hold off on new sanctions during the negotiations. It does that by giving Obama the authority to waive its proposed new sanctions until the two sides successfully reach an agreement. It is only at that point, with the agreement in hand, that the new sanctions would go into effect, effectively killing the deal.

The bill is almost like an exploding Christmas present. It looks pretty under the tree, all wrapped up nicely, but then in six months it blows down the house.

Here is how it would work, according to an exclusive report in Foreign Policy by Ali Gharib, who obtained a copy of the AIPAC bill. The legislation would expand current sanctions to include all aspects of its petroleum trade and its shipping and mining sectors. However, these new sanctions would not take effect so long as Obama certifies that Iran is negotiating in good faith and that imposing them would not be in the U.S. national interest.

That is all well and good. Other than threatening to further damage Iran’s economy while in the midst of negotiations, the new sanctions remain theoretical so long as the president can waive them. Although damaging (there is no telling how the Iranian government will react to such an insulting action by Congress while it is in the midst of negotiating with the administration) the resolution is par for the course. If it’s not one donor-backed lobby dictating policy, it’s another.

But then the bill goes off in a truly unprecedented direction. It states that if negotiations fail (it defines failure as leaving Iran with the capacity for any nuclear enrichment at all (a goal President Obama calls unrealistic) and Prime Minister Netanyahu decides to dispatch his bombers, the United States is automatically at war too. Here is the language of the resolution:

If the government of Israel is compelled to take military action in legitimate self-defense against Iran’s nuclear weapon program, the United States Government should stand with Israel and provide in accordance with the laws of the United States and the constitutional responsibility of Congress to authorize the use of military force, diplomatic, and economic support to the Government of Israel in the defense of its territory, people and existence.

It is difficult to know where the deconstruction should start. First, is the resolution’s assumption that the existence of an Iranian weapons program makes Israel “compelled” to take “military action of legitimate self-defense” against Iran. That is absurd. The mere possession of a “weapons program” by any state does not give any other country a “legitimate” right to respond militarily.

If it did, the United States would have had the right to bomb the Soviet Union when it ended our atomic bomb monopoly in 1949. In fact, given that there are today nine states with nuclear arsenals (including Israel), recognition of such a right would have meant that the last 60 years would have seen one war after another as various nations felt “compelled” to attack when they suspected that an unfriendly state was on the verge of a nuclear breakthrough. Accepting the logic of the Menendez bill, Iran has the right to attack Israel right now, given that Israel not only has nuclear weapons but is clearly hostile to Iran.

And then, of course, is the resolution’s acceptance of Binyamin Netanyahu’s view that any Iranian capacity to enrich uranium is tantamount to nuclear weapons development. This is not the view of any nation on earth but Israel’s and yet the resolution would have us “stand with Israel” in combined “military action” should Netanyahu decide that Iranian enrichment at 5% or 10% or whatever means a nuclear bomb is being developed.

But worst of all is the fact that this resolution would enable Israel to make the decision to go to war for us. Israel would decide it feels threatened and we would have to back an attack on Iran with “military force,” not to mention all the other forms of support the resolution spells out.

Never in American history have we permitted another government to decide such matters of life and death for us. Israel is a friend but the United Kingdom was our foremost ally in 1940 when it was under constant bombing by Nazi Germany (50,000 British civilians were killed in the Blitz). Nonetheless, President Roosevelt could not join the war alongside Britain until Nazi Germany declared war on the United States. Not even Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor automatically brought us into the war against its German ally. No, it took Germany declaring war on us before Roosevelt was able to go to Congress and ask for a declaration of war.

This resolution would dispense with all that in the case of Israel, giving Netanyahu a power that not even FDR had, or any other president, for that matter.

Andrew Sullivan has it exactly right:

For the US Senate to proactively bless future aggressive military action by a foreign government when it is not justified by self-defense is an appalling new low in the Israeli government’s grip on the US Congress.

But to proactively commit the United States as well to whatever the Netanyahu government might want to do in a war of choice against Iran is more staggering. Yes, this is non-binding language. But it’s basically endorsing the principle of handing over American foreign policy on a matter as grave as war and peace to a foreign government, acting against international law, thousands of miles away. George Washington would be turning at a rather high velocity in his grave.

But, of course, George Washington never imagined the awesome clout of campaign donors.


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