Robert Naiman writes: For all it has done to promote confrontation between the United States and Iran, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee has worked to avoid the public perception that AIPAC is openly promoting war. In AIPAC’s public documents, the emphasis has always been on tougher sanctions. (If you make sanctions “tough” enough – an effective embargo – that is an act of war, but it is still at one remove from saying that the US should start bombing.)
But a new Senate effort to move the goalposts of US policy to declare it “unacceptable” for Iran to develop a nuclear weapons capability – not a nuclear weapon, but the technical capacity to create one – gives AIPAC the opportunity to make a choice which all can observe. If the Lieberman resolution becomes an ask for AIPAC lobbyists at the March AIPAC policy conference, then the world will know: AIPAC is lobbying Congress for war with Iran.
Sponsors of the Lieberman resolution deny that it is an “authorisation for military force”, and in a legal, technical sense, they are absolutely correct: it is not a legal authorisation for military force. But it is an attempt to enact a political authorisation for military force. It is an attempt to pressure the administration politically to move forward the tripwire for war, to a place indistinguishable from the status quo that exists today. If successful, this political move would make it impossible for the administration to pursue meaningful diplomatic engagement with Iran, shutting down the most plausible alternative to war.
The first “resolved” paragraph of the Lieberman resolution affirms that it is a “vital national interest” of the United States to prevent Iran from acquiring a “nuclear weapons capability“.
The phrase “vital national interest” is a “term of art”. It means something that the US should be willing to go to war for. Recall the debate over whether the US military intervention in Libya was a “vital national interest” of the United States (which Defence Secretary Robert Gates said it wasn’t.) It was a debate over whether the bar was met to justify the United States going to war.
The resolution seeks to establish it as US policy that a nuclear weapons capability – not acquisition of a nuclear weapon, but the technical capacity to create one – is a “red line” for the United States. If the US were to announce to Iran that achieving “nuclear weapons capability” is a red line for the US, the US would be saying that it is ready to attack Iran with military force in order to try to prevent Iran from crossing this “line” to achieve “nuclear weapons capability”.