My colleague Nick Ottens already touched upon this story yesterday, but because of the issue’s tremendous importance to the United States and the Middle East at large, I thought it would be appropriate to toss a few things into the debate.
In case you happened to miss Nick’s report, a substantial portion of the Republican Party (mostly Tea Party members) in the House decided to introduce a resolution supporting a preemptive Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Close to one third of House Republicans have already signed onto the resolution (PDF), which is a substantial number considering that the US Congress has never in its history adopted a stamp of approval for preemptive force (and no, authorization for the invasion of Iraq doesn’t count).
All of this comes at a time when the Iranian leadership continues to thwart its international obligations under both the UN and the IAEA. It comes only a few weeks after the United States, the UN Security Council, and the European Union passed through the strongest economic sanctions on Iran to date. And coincidently, this comes at a time when President Barack Obama is trying to get his “nuclear zero” policy off the ground.
Yet despite the “impending doom” of an Iranian weapon, the resolution says more about the American political season than it does about a genuine support of Israel, or a real worry about Iran’s nuclear capability. In short, by creating this resolution (code named HR 1553), Republicans and the White House’s other political opponents are attempting to capitalize on the president’s stalemated Iran policy.
The November congressional elections are fast approaching. Opponents of the president are trying to find any foreign issue — any at all — that could draw the support of American voters who are either ambivalent about foreign policy or who are weary of where the US is going. And Iran could be the big ticket issue.
Granted, there are other foreign policy priorities that Republicans can try to exploit. They could boast about Obama’s July 2011 timeline for Afghanistan, but those concerns already resonate with some in the president’s own party. Republicans could talk about Obama’s failure to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, but this would most likely spark a harsh retaliation from Democrats who would be quick to point out Bush’s own failure to solve the conflict. Bringing China into the mix is also a possibility, but a farfetched one at that; most Americans really aren’t concerned about China surpassing the United States anytime soon.
For Republican challengers — and Tea Party members running for Congress — Iran is the one issue that they can hammer the White House on. They can argue that the United States has alienated many of their allies (Turkey, Brazil, Israel, Russia) for a sanctions resolution whose effectiveness is in doubt. Some will probably argue that Tehran is actually in a stronger position than a year ago, thanks to Brazil’s and Turkey’s willingness to pick a fight with Washington over the pressure track. And as all politicians have done, Republicans can highlight Obama’s indecisiveness over his approval and then rejection of a nuclear fuel swap deal.
Some of this is justified. Some of this isn’t. But you can be sure that all of it will be brought up during the campaign. The House maneuver is the official start of the midterm elections.