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Why Do Senators Boxer and Wyden Want to Bomb Iran?

Lobbyists are swarming the US Senate seeking support for a bill that would make war with Iran more likely.

Remember when we pilloried John McCain for singing about bombing Iran?

Wouldn’t it be a scandal if it turned out that California Senator Barbara Boxer and Oregon Senator Ron Wyden were pushing the same agenda?

I have bad news, I’m afraid. They are.

Sen. Boxer and Sen. Wyden, both Democrats, are original cosponsors of a bill – the “Back Door to Iran War” bill – being promoted by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) – that would endorse an Israeli attack on Iran. The bill, sponsored by Senator Lindsey Graham (shocked!) says that if Israel attacks Iran, then the United States should support Israel militarily and diplomatically. In other words, if Israel attacks Iran, then the United States should join the attack. That would be the opposite of current Obama administration policy, which is to try to distance the United States from any Israeli attack. The effect of the policy being advocated by Boxer and Wyden would be to allow the Israeli prime minister – as things stand, Mitt Romney’s BFF Benjamin Netanyahu – to decide by himself when to involve the United States in a war with Iran.

As Iran policy expert and former White House official Gary Sick says:

“Initiating a war is the gravest step any nation can take. This legislation would effectively entrust that decision to a regional state. Such a decision is an American sovereign responsibility. It cannot be outsourced.”

As if that weren’t bad enough, the AIPAC/Graham bill would “reiterate” [sic] that United States policy is “to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon capability and to take such action as may be necessary to implement this policy.”

But that’s not the Obama administration’s policy, and thus the word “reiterate” is a lie. The Obama administration’s policy is to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Not the same thing at all. Preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon “capability” – whatever that means – is the policy that Netanyahu and AIPAC have long wanted the United States to have, not the policy that the United States does have. If the policy were to prevent Iran from having a nuclear weapon “capability,” then war could be justified at any time, because at any time it could be claimed that Iran is on the “verge” of acquiring a nuclear weapon “capability,” since some would say that Iran has a nuclear weapon “capability” already. And that’s a key reason that the Obama administration has correctly resisted Netanyahu’s and AIPAC’s demands to make nuclear weapon “capability” a “red line,” rather than making the acquisition of a nuclear weapon a “red line.”

AIPAC and Graham have jumped the shark, and they’re trying to bring Senate Democrats with them. This is not the cautious, bipartisan AIPAC that some people think existed in the past. This is an AIPAC that is promoting a neocon Republican agenda, openly lobbying for war.

What’s particularly disturbing about Boxer’s and Wyden’s support for this bill is that in 2002, they both voted against the Iraq war. At the time, many people who opposed the war saw them as heroes for standing against an unjust war.

But of course, their votes didn’t stop the war, because Democratic senators like Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden and John Kerry voted yes for war. At the time, these senators who voted for war said things like, “I’m not voting for war; I’m voting to give the Bush administration diplomatic leverage to avoid war.” We learned later that at the time, the George W. Bush administration had been privately committed to war for months, although it was publicly pretending otherwise.

And if you would ask Boxer and Wyden today why they are cosponsoring pro-war legislation, I don’t doubt that they would say things like: “Oh, don’t worry your pretty little heads about it, this is just a nonbinding resolution, it’s not a binding commitment to go to war.”

And, in a narrow sense, they would be technically correct. It is a nonbinding resolution. It’s not a binding commitment to go to war. It’s a commitment to a policy that, if adopted, would make war much more likely in the future.

Why would Boxer and Wyden advocate for a policy that would make war more likely? Just to please their AIPAC contributors? Is that responsible behavior for a senator? Most senators have good relations with AIPAC. They’re not all original cosponsors of the “backdoor to war” resolution.

In fact, of the nine senators who voted no on the Iraq war who are still in the Senate, the other seven are not original cosponsors of the “backdoor to war” resolution. The other seven senators who voted against the Iraq war and are not Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Jack Reed (D-RI), and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.). So it was perfectly possible to say no when AIPAC and Sen. Graham came calling looking for original cosponsors, because these seven senators said no.

After the Iraq war started in March 2003, some people said to me: Look, we had huge protests in February, and they went to war anyway. Protesting didn’t do any good. I said to them: I’m very glad you protested in February, but your February protests were too late. The war train had already left the station. We needed your voice six months earlier, before the House and the Senate voted for war. And it would have been even more helpful to have your voice during the Clinton administration, when the House and the Senate committed themselves to a policy of regime change in Iraq.

On Tuesday, AIPAC lobbyists will be swarming the Hill, pressing senators to sign the “backdoor to war” bill. They won’t be telling senators and their staffs what they’re really being asked to sign on to. After all, the text of the AIPAC/Graham bill itself tells a lie, by claiming that the United States policy is to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon “capability,” when that is not US policy today.

If you don’t want your senators to sign the AIPAC/Graham “backdoor to war” bill, you should tell them so now, before they’re surrounded by AIPAC lobbyists. Once senators sign on to something, it’s very hard to get them to admit that they were wrong to do so. You can write to your senators here, and sign a petition here.

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