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    Jim Webb: Prohibit Funds for U.S. Attack on Iran

Jim Webb (D-VA) 

Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) Senator Jim Webb is a former Marine, Secretary of the Navy, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs in the Reagan administration, novelist and decorated Vietnam war veteran with a son fighting in Iraq. Senator Webb cites the 1988 U.S. terrorist attack on an Iranian passenger plane to demonstrate the perils of America's "overly aggressive" policy toward Iran. 

March 5, 2007 - United States Senate

Senator Jim Webb Introduces Bill Prohibiting Use of Funds for Military Operations in Iran

Mr. President, I rise today to introduce legislation that will prohibit the use of funds for military operations in Iran without congressional authorization. The purpose of this legislation is to restore a proper balance between the executive and legislative branches when it comes to the commencement of military activities.

I have taken great care in the preparation of this bill to ensure that it will not in any way prevent our military forces from carrying out their tactical responsibilities in places such as Iraq and in the international waters off Iran's coast. The legislation allows American forces to directly respond to attacks or possible attacks that might be initiated from Iran, as well as those that might be begun elsewhere and then carry over into Iranian territory. I have also excluded operations related to intelligence gathering.

The major function of this legislation is to prevent this Administration from commencing unprovoked military activities against Iran without the approval of the Congress. The legislation accomplishes this goal through the proper constitutional process of prohibiting all funding for such an endeavor. Unlike the current situation in Iraq, where cutting off funds might impede or interrupt ongoing operations, this legislation denies funding that would be necessary to begin such operations against Iran in the first place.

Mr. President, in the past two weeks we have seen a fresh willingness on the part of this Administration to pursue new approaches for a regional settlement that will eventually allow the United States to withdraw our forces from Iraq, and also increase stability in the Middle East. I would like to commend Secretary of State Rice and Secretary of Defense Gates for their efforts in bringing about what seems to be the beginning of a clear, and much-needed, course correction. It is particularly significant that Iran and Syria have been invited to participate, and that the United States will join, in the upcoming regional meetings regarding Iraq.

These upcoming meetings will offer many different countries the opportunity to address legitimate concerns and to emphasize mutual interests. I am hopeful that it will open up the door for a different kind of dialogue with Iran. Despite its new-found level of influence in Iraq, it is not in Iran's best interest to see Iraq disintegrate into anarchy. Iran also has its challenges with its own sectarian groups, not the least of which are the Kurds. Al Qaeda represents a threat to Iran as well, and it is not in Iran's interest to see this terrorist movement gain even more power. Free and open access to the Strait of Hormuz also is vital to Iran's economy given its overwhelming reliance on oil exports.

As this regional conference approaches, the rhetoric with respect to possible Iranian activities inside Iraq continues, and the increases to our naval and missile-defense presence in the Gulf, remain. The Administration's past failure to engage with Iran diplomatically in a meaningful way, coupled with what Iran could perceive as preparations for a military strike, create a potent brew that easily could lead to miscalculation on both sides.

The 1988 incident with the USS Vincennes comes to mind, when an overly aggressive commanding officer, operating inside Iranian territorial waters according to a subsequent admission by Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral William Crowe, shot down commercial passenger aircraft Iran Air Flight 655.

These circumstances - the stated desire of many connected to this Administration to invade Iran, the saber-rattling rhetoric, the strategic miscalculations in Iraq - call for this Congress to formalize an historical mandate that in recent years has been lost to the public's understanding. Quite simply, it is the constitutional obligation of the Administration to obtain congressional approval in order to commence military action against another country, except under very limited circumstances. This is the very process that our founding fathers envisioned.

In fact, the records from the Constitutional Convention in August, 1787 make this abundantly clear. There was much debate during this Convention regarding how much authority should be in the hands of the president with respect to actually initiating military action. The Convention's participants carefully decided that the president should not be given the power to decide with whom this nation should go to war, or to undertake aggressive actions without the consent of the Congress. The president's powers to initiate military action were to be for the purpose of repelling sudden attacks - which is the language I have included in this legislation.

As Constitutional Convention delegate James Wilson explained to the Pennsylvania ratifying convention: "This system will not hurry us into war; it is calculated to guard against it. It will not be in the power of a single man, or a single body of men, to involve us in such distress..."

To state the obvious, Mr. President, Iran is not Iraq. And the President has no authority to begin unilateral military operations against Iran. In this regard, I would strongly urge my colleagues to consider that the issue before us is not the politics of Iran, but the proper procedures with respect to how we, as a government, lead the United States.

As such, it is far less a matter of possible differences between Republicans and Democrats than it is our mutual concern for protecting the rightful place of the legislative branch in determining the interests of the country and the possible consequences of further military action. In this regard, I would like to point out that the principal sponsor of similar legislation in the other body is Congressman Walter Jones, a Republican from North Carolina.

On the one hand, the Administration assures us that it has no intention of launching military operations against Iran. On the other, the Administration tells us that all options remain on the table, at a time when our military buildup in the region continues to grow rapidly. And while we see encouraging new diplomatic initiatives with respect to Iraq, it is important that we clarify, formally, the perimeter of our immediate military interests in the Middle East.

It is time, Mr. President, that we move forward to end our military involvement in Iraq, and the path to doing so is not to widen the war into Iran. Proper, robust diplomacy will enable us to bring greater stability to the region, to remove the American military from Iraq, to increase our ability to defeat the forces of international terrorism, and, finally, to focus on the true strategic challenges that face us around the world.

I believe the American people will welcome this legislation. This Administration has used force recklessly, choosing the military option again and again while never matching the quality of our military's performance with robust, creative diplomacy. Furthermore, the President's "signing statement" accompanying the 2002 congressional resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq indicates that this Administration believes it possesses the broadest imaginable authority to commence military action without the consent of the Congress.

In signing the 2002 Iraq resolution, the President denied that the Congress has the power to affect his decisions when it comes to the use of our military. He shrugged off this resolution, stating that on the question of the threat posed by Iraq, his views and those of the Congress merely happened to be the same. He characterized the resolution as simply a gesture of additional support, rather than as having any legitimate authority. He stated, "my signing this resolution does not constitute any change in ... the President's constitutional authority to use force to deter, prevent, or respond to aggression or other threats to U.S. interests..."

This is a sweeping assertion of powers that leaves out virtually nothing. It is a far different matter than repelling an immediate attack, or conducting a war that has been authorized by the Congress. Let's just match up a couple of these words. The President is saying, for instance, that he possesses the authority to use force to "deter ... threats to U.S. interests." How do you use force to "deter" a threat, rather than preventing or responding to it? And what kind of "U.S. interest" is worthy of the use of force? And, most importantly, how do these vague terms fit into the historically accepted notions of a Commander in Chief's power to repel attacks, or to conduct military operations once they have been approved by the Congress?

Mr. President, during our recent hearings on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I asked both the Secretary of State and the Deputy Secretary of State for clarification of this paragraph in the President's signing statement. My question was whether this Administration believes it has the authority to conduct unilateral military operations against Iran in the absence of a direct attack or a compelling, immediate threat without the consent of the Congress. Both wrote me lengthy letters in reply, but neither could give me a clear responses. The situation that we now face is that the Administration repeatedly states that it seeks no war with Iran, at the same time it claims the authority to begin one, and at the same time it continues a military buildup in the region.

The legislation I introduce today is intended to clarify this ambiguity. In so doing, the Congress will be properly restating its constitutional relationship with the executive branch. The Congress will be reinstituting its historical role as it relates to the conduct of foreign policy. And the Congress will be reassuring the American people that there will be no more shooting from the hip when it comes to the gravely serious question of when we send our military people into harm's way.

Mr. President I would like to emphasize that this bill will not take any military options off of the table. Nor will it tie the hands of the Administration if our military forces are actually attacked from Iranian soil or territorial waters, or by forces that retreat into Iranian territory. Nor does this legislation let Iran off the hook in terms of our insistence that Iran become a more responsible nation, including our positions regarding Iran's nuclear program and Iran's recognition of Israel's right to exist.

I was one of the early voices warning that in terms of national security, Iran was a far greater threat than Iraq. This was one of the reasons I opposed the invasion of Iraq in the first place. Again, all of the options regarding Iran remain on the table. The question is in what context these options should be debated, alongside other options designed to eventually open up Iran and bring it responsibly into the world community. In my view, and in terms of the constitutional process, absent a direct attack or a clearly imminent threat, the place for that debate is here in the open forum of the Congress, not in some closed-door meeting at the White House.

Mr. President, it is my hope that we can take up this necessary legislation either in the format in which I have introduced it today, or as an amendment to the fiscal year 2007 Supplemental Appropriations bill, which we will consider in the next few weeks. I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle and welcome their support.

Thank you. I yield back the balance of my time.

related links:

Congressman Jim McDermott's Speeches on Iran, 2006-2007

Ron Paul: Iran: The Next Neocon Target (4/6/06)

Dennis Kucinich: False Iran Report (9/15/06)

Congressman Jim Moran on AIPAC's Push For War With Iran

Walter B. Jones: No War Without Congress Approval (1/18/07)


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