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Opinion: Congress is about to pour lighter fluid on Iran

  • Article by: WILLIAM O. BEEMAN
  • September 5, 2008 - 5:15 AM

The U.S. Congress may inadvertently lay the foundations for war against Iran when it reconvenes in Washington this month.

Two essentially identical nonbinding resolutions 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 cosponsors, including Minnesota Reps. Michele Bachmann, John Kline and Jim Ramstad. The Senate resolution has more than 30 cosponsors, including both Minnesota senators, Norm Coleman and Amy 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 cosponsorships. Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Fla., 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."

According to the Jewish Daily Forward, Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., offered an apology to a representative from the antiwar group Peace Action, saying, "I regret the fact that I did not read this resolution more carefully." He further told the Valley Advocate of Northampton, Mass., that he's "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 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, 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 it had more than 7,000 people on Capitol Hill to lobby. Its top legislative priority was for cosponsorship 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 cosponsors, 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 a 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 Association. 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."

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