Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Last night's carefully managed leak from the White House that Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps is being designated as a global terrorist group is a story that -- while in a sense you could see it coming for months -- seemed to also catch a lot of the major news media off guard. On CNN this morning, Kiran Chetry kept referring to it as a "bold move," "bold" meaning CNN knew it was important but it really wasn't sure why.
Here's what it means on the surface, that U.S. -- which increasingly blames Iran for terrorist meddling in Iraq and Afghanistan -- can try to go after those who do business with the Iranian military unit. Still, it's clearly not a normal move -- the first time that a government military has received this terrorist designation -- something that's usually reserved for non-state actors like al-Qaeda. And so no one seems sure what this morning what the concrete impact of this unexpected move will be.
Nowhere yet have I seen what it seems clear Bush's Iran move is really all about.
The White House hawks in Dick Cheney's office and elsewhere who want to stage an attack on Iran are clearly winning the internal power stuggle. And an often overlooked sub-plot on the long road toward war with Tehran is this: How could Bush stage an attack on Iran without the authorization of a skeptical, Democratic Congress?
Today, the White House has solved that pesky problem in one fell swoop. By explicitly linking the Iranian elite guard into the post 9/11 "global war on terror" in Iraq and Afghanistan, Bush's lawyers would certainly now argue that any military strike on Iran is now covered by the October 2002 authorization to use military force in Iraq, as part of their overly sweeping response to the 2001 attacks.
This has clearly been the thinking for some time, particularly with talk -- unfulfilled, of course -- by some Democrats on Capitol Hill of either revoking the 2002 authorization or placing explicit curbs on attacking Iran.
In fact, concern that Bush would seek to tie a new war in Iran to the 2002 authorization is exactly what was on the mind of Va. Sen. Jim Webb when he sought legislation in March to bar any funding for a strike on the Tehran regime:
Webb told FOX News last week that his concern came about when he compared the 2002 authorization to go to war in Iraq with the presidential signing statement accompanying it clarifying prerogatives the administration deemed permissible under the authorization.
He said the ambiguity in the signing statement leaves room for the president to interpret the authorization as authorizing war with Iran. And, Webb said, according to the signing statement, the president retains the right to take military action "to respond to threats against American military interests."
This Mother Jones article, also published this spring, lays out the whole scenario:
Both of the Authorizations to Use Military Force (aumfs) passed by Congress—in September 2001 for Afghanistan, and October 2002 for Iraq—contain language that might conceivably be used to justify an attack on Iran. The 2001 aumf authorized the president to use force not just against the perpetrators of 9/11 but also against anyone who "harbored such organizations or persons." After the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, Iran arrested several senior members of Al Qaeda. Though they are apparently being held as bargaining chips with the United States, someone could argue that Iran is in fact "harboring" them.
Attacking Iran under the 2002 AUMF, which gave the president power to defend against "the continuing threat posed by Iraq," is even more of a reach. But squaring that kind of circle is what executive branch lawyers are for. As a former Bush administration official told me, "If I had to make the case for war with Iran, I would definitely look to the 2002 authorization. So that's one loophole Congress would want to nail shut." Congress would be prudent to rewrite both AUMFs to explicitly exclude action against Iran.
Of course, Congress has not done that. And now it may be too late -- yet again, the Democrats (and the mainstream media) have been outfoxed by a strategy that was clearly telegraphed months ago. So over the course of today, you may here a lot of blather about "economic sanctions" and what not -- pay it no heed.
This is about one thing, and one thing only:
A prelude to a new war.
A couple of footnotes. If this worst-case scenario does indeed come to pass, how will it play out on the Democratic campaign trail when we're embroiled in a war with Iran that, in essence, was voted for by Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, and Joe Biden?
Also, for all the mystery surrounding Karl Rove right up to his departure, most observers saw him as at odds with the ultra-hawkish Cheney faction, and "Bush's Brain" was also probably bright enough to realize that a new war isn't great politics for the GOP.So do you think this has anything to do with his sudden resignation?