(This article is published in AlterNet.)
President Donald Trump’s far-right administration is plowing over the government’s system of checks and balances, pushing through a blitzkrieg of executive orders in order to implement its extreme agenda. At the top of the to-do list for the hawkish members of Trump’s cabinet is a decades-old warmongers’ dream: war with Iran. The U.S. is once again ramping up tension with the major Middle Eastern country, hurtling toward military conflict — with staunch bipartisan support.
Mere days before Trump officially entered office, a Democratic congressman quietly proposed legislation that would expand Trump’s already wide-reaching powers and give him more authority to wage war on America’s favorite bogeyman.
Authorization of Use of Force Against Iran Resolution, H.J. Res. 10, was introduced by Representative Alcee Hastings on January 3, just over two weeks before Trump’s inauguration. The open-ended bill would permit Trump “to use the Armed Forces of the United States as the President determines necessary and appropriate in order to achieve the goal of preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.”
“The United States must do all that is necessary to ensure that all of Iran’s pathways to obtaining a nuclear weapon are blocked,” the legislation stresses. It would provide only a minor restriction on Trump’s authority: Every 60 days after waging war, the president would be required to submit a report to Congress. This provision is redundant, however, and simply reflects what was already required under the 1973 War Powers Resolution.
Hastings is an influential Democrat from Florida. A senior party whip and member of the House Rules Committee, his website describes him as “a leading voice in the Democratic Caucus.” In his House biography, Hastings boasts of his progressive bona fides. Yet he takes a hard line on foreign policy issues, boasting more than 10 years of experience in the intelligence community, leadership roles in congressional committees on terrorism and counterintelligence and a commitment “to ensuring our national security.”
According to his House profile, Hastings is “known throughout the world as an expert in foreign policy” and as one of “Congress’ most respected voices in international affairs.” Yet, while Hastings proposed a bill to expand Trump’s authority to unilaterally declare war, he simultaneously claims “to advocate for diplomacy before military action to settle disputes with established and emerging nations.”
Hastings’ legislation got virtually no attention at the time it was introduced, and appears to have been first reported by the news website Digital Journal.
Hurtling Toward War, with Bipartisan Support
In just two weeks in office, President Trump has already escalated U.S. hostility to Iran. The increasingly aggressive anti-Iran policies of his virulently anti-Muslim administration have been applauded by lawmakers from both sides of the aisle.
On February 1, National Security Adviser Michael Flynn warned that the U.S. was “officially putting Iran on notice.” The next day, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer falsely claimed Iran attacked a U.S. Navy vessel (it was actually Yemeni Houthi rebels targeting a Saudi warship), which would have amounted to an act of war.
The Trump administration continued to ramp up the tension on February 3, when it announced new sanctions against Iran. These joined a wide array of sanctions that had already been imposed under previous administrations. Secretary of Defense James Mattis on the same day accused Iran of being the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism. Mattis, known by the moniker “Mad Dog,” is notorious for his anti-Iran animus.
President Trump has continued to malign Iran as “the number one terrorist,” despite the fact that in internal documents, the U.S. government has acknowledged that its close ally Saudi Arabia is the largest supporter of extremist Salafi-jihadist groups like al-Qaeda and even ISIS.
Democratic lawmakers joined Republicans in praising the Trump administration’s bellicose measures. The announcement of new sanctions made it “clear that it is a new day in U.S.-Iran relations and that we will no longer tolerate Iran’s destabilizing behavior,” declared Republican Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He added that a “coordinated, multi-faceted effort to pushback against a range of illicit Iranian behavior is long overdue.”
Likewise, Democrat Eliot Engel announced support for the sanctions. Engel, a lawmaker representing New York and ranking members of the House Foreign Relations Committee, said Iran’s ballistic missile test “certainly deserves today’s response.” He added that “the United States and our allies need to push back against Iran’s destabilizing behavior around the world.”
Even Republican Senator John McCain, a notoriously militant neoconservative from Arizona and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee who has previously been critical of Trump, praised the administration’s hard-line approach.
Extreme Anti-Muslim Hawks in the Cabinet
The Trump administration justified its escalation by pointing to a ballistic missile test Iran conducted on January 29. The missile test was not a violation of the Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Reflecting on the hoopla, Greg Thielmann, a former top U.S. State Department intelligence officer observed that “much of the commentary in the United States about Iran’s activity is both belligerent and inaccurate.”
Republicans and many Democrats criticized the administration of President Barack Obama for, in their view, not taking a belligerent enough stance against Iran. Yet the nuclear deal only lifted nuclear-related sanctions against the country, leaving other punitive economic measures in place. Obama’s Treasury Department imposed new sanctions on Iran in January 2016, which were similar to those imposed more recently under Trump.
The New York Times noted that “President Trump, after promising a radical break with the foreign policy of Barack Obama, is embracing some key pillars of the former administration’s strategy.” It pointed out the similarity between the Iran sanctions imposed by both administrations.
The Times added that hard-line right-wing Israeli Prime Minister “Netanyahu will cheer Mr. Trump’s tough tone with Iran.” The theocratic absolute monarchy in Saudi Arabia has also cheered Trump’s anti-Iranian escalation, and is already aligned with Israel on the issue.
Some of President Trump’s top foreign policy officials harbor severe anti-Muslim prejudices and are prone to conspiracy theories. They have ludicrously claimed that the Sunni extremist group ISIS, which sees Muslims from the minority Shia sect as non-Muslim polytheists, is secretly in league with Iran, a Shia-majority country that has aggressively taken the fight to ISIS directly and through militia proxies in Iraq. In turn, they portray Iran—the mortal enemy of ISIS—as the U.S.’s ultimate adversary, even though Iran and its allies (namely, Iraq, Syria and Hezbollah) are the most powerful and effective forces fighting ISIS.
Defense Secretary Mattis has repeatedly insisted that the three greatest threats to the U.S. are “Iran, Iran, and Iran.” National Security Advisor Flynn, an anti-Muslim bigot who has compared Islam to a cancer, has declared that the U.S. is leading “a world war against a messianic mass movement of evil people,” and “Iran is the linchpin of the alliance, its centerpiece.”
Bipartisan support has long existed for war with Iran. Even under a far-right demagogue like Trump, who has more than demonstrated a proclivity for authoritarianism, Democrats continue to express staunch support for military escalation with Iran— and may even help Trump declare war.