Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Iran Under Fire

The Bush administration has been busy these last two or three weeks trying to drum up support for more punitive actions against Iran. One week it’s Iran’s nuclear energy program that draws the most fire. When the White House gets tired of beating up Tehran’s mullahs but still wants the nuclear focus, it falls back on the December 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on Iran – the one that undercut earlier administration hype and, as a result, the intelligence community is out of favor. And should neither of these work, there is always the Qud Force of the Revolutionary Guards.

Some analysts detect a pattern in the rhetoric on Iran that is eerily similar to the tone and accusatory bombast used by the White House in the run-up to the March 2003 invasion. While there are similarities, I have not seen two important pats of the overall picture: the UN beyond sanctions, and a tipping point in carriers “on station.”

Bush will cite any number of authorities under which he can launch a preventive attack on Iran’s conventional /Revolutionary Guard forces—but will declare he has the “inherent power” as commander in chief.

I would not include in these “justifications” the UN Charter. Although I do not have the Congressional Record on the Senate debate during ratification, I suggest that the leeway built into Article 51 is such that only a country that HAS BEEN attacked retains an implicit right to RESPOND MORE THAN ONCE on the basis that it is preventing further attacks or to repel incursions. Thus on October 7, 2001, the U.S. Ambassador to the UN, John Negroponte, submitted a letter from the Secretary of State to the President of the UN Security Council (UNSC) declaring that in accordance with Article 51 of the UN Charter, the U.S. reserved the right to strike al-Qaeda and the Taliban rulers of Afghanistan.

This “preemptive” right is not unlimited, however. The Charter itself limits the right to a time between the attack by (or detection of preparations for an imminent attack from) a hostile state and the time the UNSC, having been formally notified of the original aggression when (or before) the “victim” country mounts a preemptive strike, takes necessary action to restore international peace.

Moreover, I suggest that trying to justify attacking Iran as an exercise of Article 51 when the attack in question (Khobar Towers) came 10 years ago, is ludicrous. The entire tenor of Article 51 bespeaks rapid (for diplomats) action over a short time frame. To claim that the UN SC took no action and therefore left the matter open to action by the U.S. at any time a future administration chooses, is disingenuous. And I would contend that a country like Iran, under threat of military attack by the U.S., arguable has the right tot undertake preemptive military action against U.S. units in Iraq – not to mention those reportedly operating already inside Iran.

There is no record that I have found that the Clinton administration ever formally notified the UNSC of the attack IAW Article 51 although tighter sanctions .were imposed on Iraq.

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