Wednesday, July 09, 2008

HConRes362: A Potential New War

If you have not already done so, walk – do not run (so you won’t trip, fall, and knock yourself out) – to your computer.

Open your Internet access and type in (or hyperlink to) the Library of Congress website http://thomas.loc.gov/.

This will bring up the THOMAS home page, in the middle of which is a dialogue box, “Legislation in Current Congress.” In the Search box, type HConRes 362, flip the source from Word/Phrase to Bill Number, hit return, and you should have the text of the inelegantly named – and extremely dangerous – proposed law: “Expressing the sense of Congress regarding the threat posed to international peace, stability in the Middle East, and the vital national security interests of the United States by Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons and regional hegemony, and for other purposes.”

Introduced May 22, HConRes 362 purportedly would tighten U.S. economic sanctions on Iran and increase Iran’s financial and diplomatic isolation for its refusal to end work on developing a uranium enrichment cascade. But the congressional legislation, were it to pass both Houses of Congress and be signed by the president, would be tantamount to a statutory declaration of war on Iran.

Under the last paragraph – the “resolved” section – section three reads:” [Congress demands] that the President initiate an international effort to immediately and dramatically increase the economic, political, and diplomatic pressure on Iran to verifiably suspend its nuclear enrichment activities by, inter alia, prohibiting the export to Iran of all refined petroleum products; imposing stringent inspection requirements on all persons, vehicles, ships, planes, trains, and cargo entering or departing Iran; and prohibiting the international movement of all Iranian officials not involved in negotiating the suspension of Iran's nuclear program.”

Now I do not normally troll through resolutions pending before the Congress, but I do not recall ever reading in other bills that Congress “demands” the president do something. I have frequently decried the theory of the unitary executive propounded by the current occupant of the White House. A “unitary Congress” (an oxymoron on its surface) that "demands" a co-equal branch of government something would be 435 times worse.

That is not the real danger this proposed legislation poses. The real danger is that implementing this section is tantamount to imposing a blockade – although the term is not used – which is an act of war. (This omission reminds me of the Cuban missile crisis when President Kennedy substituted “quarantine” for "blockade.")

HConRes 362's formulation seems to be following the administration’s 2003 effort, the “Proliferation Security Initiative” (PSI), to do an end-run around the Law of the Sea Convention. Under the 1982 Convention, a ship used exclusively by a government for non-commercial purposes that is flagged by the same government generally cannot be stopped and boarded by a warship of another country. The exceptions are if the ship is "reasonably" believed to be carrying contraband, is engaged in piracy or the slave trade, or is engaged in unauthorized broadcasting.

The weakness of the PSI was that North Korea – not a member of the Missile Technology Control Regime – was not breaking any treaty or international law in transporting missiles and missile parts to Middle East countries because these items were not contraband.

PSI, although never challenged in an international court, was “enforced” by a U.S. –led “coalition of the willing.” After a few errors and embarrassing "mistakes” by countries whose navies stopped, boarded, and searched North Korea’s ships on the high seas, PSI fell moribund. And a second end run the U.S. tried -- "helping" countries ajacent to naval "choke points" police these areas -- was soundly rejected by the coastal countries involved.

Whether this is all old news or not, please go to FCNL’s website (http://www.fcnl.org/) to read more. Contact your representative, find out whether she or he has even read the bill, and point out what this proposed legislation does should it become law.

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