The House Democratic leadership last night acceded to pressure from conservative Democrats and Members of Congress close to the Israel lobby and agreed to drop a provision from the supplemental appropriation that would have barred a U.S. attack on Iran without Congressional authorization. Here's the AP story.
This is, of course, very disappointing. It's a simple proposition: under the Constitution, Congress has the sole and exclusive power to declare war. By passing this amendment, Congress would simply have re-asserted this authority with respect to the Administration's threats to attack Iran. Bush Administration officials have seemed to suggest that they believe they have the authority to attack Iran. It seems that some Members of Congress agree with the Administration. This, of course, illustrates the crux of the war powers problem - the President - any President - encroaches on the war powers of Congress - any Congress - because Congress allows the President to do so.
Some will say, what did you expect? The powerful Israel lobby wanted the provision removed, so it was gone. Congress is "Israeli-occupied territory."
This overstates the power of the Lobby. I don't want to understate it either: I look forward to the day when the peace movement(s) in this country have the resources and organization of AIPAC. We should study them closely, figure out what they are doing right, and emulate it. If we need to raise more money, that's what we should do. If we need to figure out how to get people with our values to be as disciplined about contacting Congress as AIPAC's people are, that's what we should do. If we need to run candidates against their candidates, that's what we should do. If we need to pony up more money to make those candidates viable, that's what we should do. If we need to strengthen the Jewish peace organizations that, unlike AIPAC, actually represent the opinions of the majority of American Jews on questions of peace in the Middle East, that's what we should do.
But before blowing the power of AIPAC out of proportion, let's remember the context in which this defeat took place. The House leadership is scrambling desperately for votes to pass a supplemental with a firm deadline for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq. In this context, even a handful of Democrats who support the Administration's policies with respect to Iran have tremendous leverage. The decision of the leadership to concede on the Iran provision in order to save the Iraq withdrawal provision, while extremely disappointing, is understandable. It doesn't prove that Speaker Pelosi and Representative Murtha are owned by the Israel Lobby. They are not.
If they were, we wouldn't have gotten this far. We wouldn't have gotten to the point where the prospect of Congress passing binding legislation barring an unauthorized attack on Iran was a matter of serious discussion.
UPDATE:: We DO have a chance to reverse this in committee, but we urgently need to make phone calls TODAY.
The Supplemental Appropriations bill is scheduled to be marked up in full committee Thursday at 9 am.
Click here for a list of Members of the full Appropriations committee. If your Congressional representative is not on the committee, urge your Representative to tell Committee members to reinsert language back in the Supplemental Appropriations bill.
The Congressional switchboard is 202-225-3121. Call now!