House Voting to Shift U.S. Redline for War with Iran

Today the House is planning to take up H.Res.568 -- a resolution that shifts the U.S. redline for war with Iran -- on a suspension vote. There has not been a single hearing on this measure and no debate about its very serious implications.

If passed, the House will be voting to contradict the unequivocal redline established by the President just one week before the U.S. enters crucial negotiations with Iran. The President reiterated his redline most recently at this year's AIPAC conference in Washington, where he stated:

"Iran's leaders should understand that I do not have a policy of containment; I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon."

Some cosponsors of this resolution have been mistakenly convinced that it merely restates the President's position ruling out containment of a nuclear-armed Iran. This is completely false. In reality, this resolution endorses a lower threshold for military action by stating that the United States cannot contain a nuclear weapons capable Iran.

The President and the Administration have deliberately never used the "capable" phrasing when articulating its redlines because, as it stands, this term has no definition. In theory, it would apply to any country with a civilian nuclear program, including Japan, Brazil, and the Netherlands. It is dangerous and irresponsible to stake the question of war on such uncertain footing.

Had there been a hearing on this resolution, the House could have established what is the definition of "nuclear weapons capability." But instead of committing due diligence to ensure the U.S. is speaking in unified voice and conveying clear redlines to Tehran, the House is moving to play spoiler.

This measure comes at an incredibly inopportune and sensitive time considering U.S. diplomatic efforts. The U.S. and Iran are scheduled to hold negotiations on May 23, along with the rest of the P5+1 (Permanent 5 Security Council members plus Germany). These talks hold the potential to achieve real progress in achieving near-term curbs on Iran's nuclear program--with Iran's Supreme Leader for the first time publicly endorsing negotiations and signaling that Iran is prepared to make key concessions to cap its enrichment in accordance with U.S. national security interests.

This resolution could poison those talks by signaling to Iran that the President is weak, domestically isolated, and unable to deliver at the negotiating table because a hawkish Congress will overrule him. Perhaps this is good politics for some, but it is disastrous policy for U.S. national security interests. It gives Iran little incentive to finally make hard fought concessions. It also fuels Tehran's paranoia that the U.S. is committed to war and regime change regardless of whether Iran's nuclear program is for military or civilian purposes.

Finally, there are legitimate concerns that this resolution could be construed as an authorization for the use of force. Given H.Res.568's unambiguous statement ruling out containing a nuclear weapons-capable Iran, the measure should, at the absolute minimum, clarify that it is not an authorization for force. This was the subject of intense debate before the companion resolution was first introduced in the Senate, and ultimately the measure's supporters refused to include clarifying language that it is not an authorization for war. Step by step, Congress appears to be backing the U.S. into a war of choice.