And Here It Is: An Iran AUMF

By Cody M. Poplin
Friday, August 28, 2015, 7:00 AM

Right after posting Tuesday's piece, arguing against tacking a conditional authorization for the use of military force against Iran to Congress's approval of the Iran deal, I was alerted to this development:

There's already an Iran deal AUMF, pending in the House.

Introduced by Representative John Larson (D-CT) on July 29th, the legislation would authorize the president to use force, should Iran commit a "serious violation" of the recently concluded nuclear deal. After commending the president for his "unwavering commitment to ensure Iran never has acquires a nuclear weapon" by reaching the JCPOA, the bill authorizes him to "use the Armed Forces of the United States against Iran to dismantle Iran's nuclear infrastructure," upon fulfillment of three conditions:

  1. the IAEA determines that Iran has failed to comply the JCPOA and the president determines that such non-compliance is a threat to national security;
  2. the president certifies to Congress that the United States has forced snap-back sanctions to be "re-imposed under the terms" of the JCPOA;
  3. and, the president "provides Congress a scope and strategy" for the use of force against Iran.

The draft has some sound features, including a 60 day reporting requirement and a one year sunset. It authorizes the president to "dismantle Iran's nuclear infrastructure," a formulation seemingly much more limited than, say, one that authorized the president to "remove the Iranian nuclear threat." But there's still (in my view) lots of bad to go with the good, including the delegation of excessive latitude to the executive. The president would be able to determine on his or her own what constitutes a "serious violation," without consulting Congress. It likewise seems any "scope and strategy" the president devises would be sufficient to green light an attack—whatever the "scope and strategy's" merits or demerits.

Maybe all this boils down to politics: That is, some Democratic members (Republicans in Congress are, I think, rather unlikely to come out in favor of the JCPOA) wish to seek political cover for their support of the Iran deal, by introducing a force resolution that they never intend to push, much less enact. And if all we're seeing is political theater, meant to prove pro-Israel and anti-Iran nuke bonafides, then fine, I suppose. But that might not be the case.

And if it is not, rather than touting a thoroughly inadvisable, conditional AUMF, concerned Senators and Representatives could instead focus on boosting IAEA inspection capabilities and providing intelligence agencies with more resources needed to monitor Iranian compliance. Subject to U.S. strategic interests and regional stability, the government might also provide greater military support to Israel and Gulf allies. Or it could apply bilateral pressure to prevent arms sales and interdict missile technology proliferation. President Obama or his successor likewise could make it clear that should Iran dash for the bomb, retribution will be swift and severe.

But that retribution, if it must take the form of military action, should be debated and authorized only on the basis of a complete factual record of Iran's serious JCPOA violations—and their meaning for U.S. national security. Now is no time to authorize hypothetical, maybe even unnecessary war.

You can read the AUMF below: