By Ira Glunts – Madison, NY
Ordinarily, the American Israel Policy Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has an influence on U.S. foreign policy which goes unchallenged. In the case of the current House resolution, H. Con. Res. 362, despite the intense pressure exerted by AIPAC, some members of the United States House of Representatives who initially were about to rubber stamp this reckless non-binding resolution promoted by the powerful pro-Israel lobbying group, are having a change of heart. After receiving many thousands of messages which pointed out that the resolution could be interpreted as Congressional authorization for military action against Iran, some legislators began expressing their own reservations.
On May 19, 2008, a 12-member House delegation led by House Speaker Pelosi met with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. At that lunch meeting, Olmert proposed that a naval blockade be imposed on Iran in order to stop its uranium enrichment program. Present at this meeting were: Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman, and AIPAC loyalists Reps. Nita Lowey and Gary Ackerman. Three days after this meeting, Mr. Ackerman introduced the resolution H. Con. Res. 362 in the House.
The legislation calls for “prohibiting the export to Iran of all refined petroleum products; and imposing stringent inspection requirements on all persons, vehicles, ships, planes, trains, and cargo entering or departing Iran.” This certainly sounds as if the resolution is seeking the blockade which Prime Minister Olmert had requested. A military blockade is an act of war. The passage of this resolution would add the voice of the United States House of Representatives to the growing calls for armed intervention against Iran.
AIPAC, the highly influential advocate for the Israeli government on Capitol Hill, is the author and tireless promoter of H. Con. Res. 362. Israel has openly declared that it seeks armed intervention in order to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapons capability. There are many in the Bush administration who are known to favor bombing either Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons sites or their military bases, among them, Vice President Dick Cheney. It was reported in Israel and has since been corroborated by Time, that during the President’s May visit to Israel, the U.S. delegation convinced the Israelis that America would attack Iran before the Bush term expired. Time claims that the administration has reversed its policy and now favors negotiations, although the U.S. government’s true intentions are not actually known.
Over 5000 AIPAC activists went to The Hill at the beginning of June, where in 500 separate meetings, they lectured our representatives and Senators about the great importance American supporters of Israel attribute to the swift passage of their Iran legislation. Initially, the results were predictable based on past performance. Congressman rushed to offer their support. As of today, 259 members of Congress have co-sponsored the legislation in a truly extraordinary show of loyalty to the pro-Israel lobby. An unnamed AIPAC official predicted the legislation would quickly and easily become law with no amendments, “like a hot knife through butter.” But strangely that did not happen.
The legislation is presently stalled. Mark Weisbrot reported that the Chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, Rep. Howard Berman, has promised that H. Con. Res. 362 will not be reported out of the committee until the “blockade” clause is removed. Ghandi Peace Brigade activist Leslie Angeline wrote, after lobbying on the Hill, that Berman indicated he had "no intention of moving the bill through his committee unless the language is first altered to ensure that there is no possible way it could be construed as authorizing any type of military action against Iran." My requests to the House Foreign Relations Committee for information about the immediate future of the resolution and to verify statements attributed to Berman did not receive a response.
Many people, already alarmed by U.S. and Israeli saber-rattling, were startled at the aggressive tone of the AIPAC resolution. They reacted especially adversely to the clause prohibiting imports of refined petroleum which appeared to demand a blockade. Even if a blockade did not materialize, passage of the resolution could be understood by the Bush administration as a Congressional authorization for the use of force against Iran. At the very least, passage of H. Con. Res. 362 would indicate a lack of Congressional resolve to prevent the U.S. from expanding America’s Middle East war to Iran. This is especially worrisome in light of the fact that, as Seymour Hersh has written in The New Yorker, a Congressional delegation led by Nancy Pelosi has already authorized 400 million dollars for covert operations in Iran aimed at arming dissident groups and subverting Iranian nuclear sites.
Galvanized by the extreme language of the AIPAC resolution and the growing evidence that both the U.S. and Israel are considering an attack on Iran before the end of Bush’s presidency, activist groups started asking their members to send emails and make phone calls to their legislators in order to express concerns about H. Con. Res. 362. Among the groups that had formal actions were Peace Action, United for Peace and Justice, the National Iranian-American Council, the Friends Committee on National Legislation, Code Pink, Just Foreign Policy, the Madison Institute for Peace and Progressivism, Jstreet, Voters for Peace, AfterDowningStreet, and the Campaign Against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran. According to reports, members of the House of Representatives received tens of thousands of messages asking lawmakers to oppose the legislation, many specifically citing the “blockade” clause.
The non-binding resolution is built on a series of assumptions which selectively and inaccurately reflect the conclusions of American and UN intelligence sources. The legislation ignores the key conclusion of the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) which state that there is no hard evidence that Iran has an active nuclear program. The NIE report, which was published in November 2007, states that evidence indicates that Iran abandoned its nuclear weapons program in 2003.
Rep. Gary Ackerman has written two separate letters to the members of the House which explain the importance of his resolution. He described as “nonsense” the claim that the legislation calls for a blockade of Iran. Ackerman stated that the qualifying clause which expressly says that the resolution should not be taken to assert that military force should be used against Iran, makes it clear that no use of such force could be implied by the resolution. The problem is that if the resolution is quoted by those seeking to use military force, as an indication of Congressional support, it would be very easy for them to selectively quote the “blockade clause” and omit the denial of authorization of force clause. Ackerman also stated that the prohibition of refined petroleum clause is meant to be enforced voluntarily in the exporting countries and not in the Persian Gulf. The phrase “entering or departing Iran” in the resolution tends to contradict that claim.
Reps. Robert Wexler and Barney Frank have publicly said that they will attempt to alter the legislation in order to eliminate all ambiguity about its demanding the use of military force. Neither has withdrawn his co-sponsorship, however. Three Congressman have withdrawn their co-sponsorships and others have expressed concern about the legislation in general and about the “blockade clause” in particular. Rep. Ron Paul went further in a speech on the House floor in which he warned that the resolution is indeed a call to war.
Senator Barack Obama met with House Democrats on July 29. At that meeting, Rep. Howard Berman, who is so far refusing to report H. Con. Res. 362 to the House for a vote, asked about the candidate’s opinion of the current state of negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. The Democratic candidate, reflecting a reluctance many share about appearing “soft” on Iran said, according to Rep. Shelly Berkley, "if the Iranians don’t accept a deal now because they think they’re going to get a better deal from the next president, they’re mistaken." If Berman thought he was going to get a statement from Obama supporting negotiations and/or opposition to military threats, he was mistaken. Obama has been making a major effort to court the Jewish vote, so is not about to criticize the Bush administration’s or anyone else’s use of a military threat against Iran.
Non-binding legislation initiated and supported by AIPAC usually passes in the House quickly with only 15 to 20 dissenting votes. The unexpected delay in committee and the growing opposition to the legislation may reflect the increasing and understandable concern about the role of AIPAC in creating American foreign policy in the Middle East and the alarm that Iran will be the next target of America’s expanding war in that region.
What will be the fate of H. Con. Res. 362? Even if it is held up indefinitely in the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the fact that it has 259 co-sponsors means that it expresses “the sense of the House” regarding the alleged threat posed by Iran and a willingness of a majority of members of the House to support AIPAC’s Iran foreign policy.
It is clear that the antiwar movement has emerged as a voice in the ongoing debate concerning Iran. However, if military confrontation with Iran is to be avoided, the peace movement must convince our politicians not only to oppose legislation like H. Con. Res. 362, but, more importantly, to renounce the world view of AIPAC and the neo-cons which has been the foundation of the Bush administration’s Middle East policies. This means the work has just begun.
-Ira Glunts lives in Madison, NY where he owns and operates a used book business with his wife. Mr. Glunts has written numerous articles on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.