- By John HudsonJohn Hudson is a senior reporter at Foreign Policy, where he covers diplomacy and national security issues in Washington. He has reported from several geopolitical hotspots, including Ukraine, Pakistan, Malaysia, China, and Georgia. Prior to joining FP, John covered politics and global affairs for the Atlantic magazine’s news blog, the Atlantic Wire. In 2008, he covered the August war between Russia and Georgia from Tbilisi and the breakaway region of Abkhazia. He has appeared on CNN, MSNBC, BBC, C-SPAN, Fox News radio, Al Jazeera, and other broadcast outlets. He has been with the magazine since 2013.
A new bill authorizing a U.S. military strike against Iran is set to drop in Congress on Thursday — just days after leaders in Washington and Tehran began talking openly after three decades of silence.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), is currently being shopped around to various House offices this week in search of a co-sponsor, The Cable has learned. Besides providing President Obama with "all options" to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapons capability, the bill ticks off a list of grievances with the Islamic state dating back 30 years on everything from verbal threats to nuclear enrichment violations.
"Since at least the late 1980s, Iran has engaged in a sustained and well-documented pattern of illicit and deceptive activities to acquire a nuclear weapons capability and has provided weapons, training, funding, and direction to terrorist groups," reads the bill.
The hawkish legislation, which essentially hands the president the full-force of the U.S. military if negotiations fail, comes just one week before Tehran sits down with six major powers in Geneva to discuss its nuclear program. For some foreign policy observers on the Hill, it threatens to spoil the already-delicate negotiations.
"It’s hard to imagine a more counterproductive effort to slow the development of Iran’s nuclear program – especially when sanctions have succeeded in bringing the Iranians back to the negotiating table," a Congressional aide tells The Cable. "This attempt to legislate the use of force in Iran is so far out of the mainstream that it makes Netanyahu look like a bleeding heart peacenik in comparison."
Rebuffing critics, Franks insists now is the perfect time to hand Obama the keys to the military. "There’s never been a more important time to make sure that any negotiations are backed up by a credible military capability," he told The Cable. "Iran has watched the United States allow redline after redline pass and has played rope-a-dope with the United States to the extent that they’re on the cusp of being able to become a nuclear armed nation in potentially months."
Ahead of next week’s talks, Iran’s newly-elected President Hassan Rouhani has made a series of friendly overtures with the West, including everything from pledging to never develop nuclear weapons to writing Obama letters to mentioning Israel by name — all of which culminated in a historic phone call with President Obama last month. But no one thinks coming to an agreement on Iran’s nuclear program is going to be easy.
To begin the talks, the U.S. would like Iran to respond to a previous proposal by world powers for Iran to halt its enrichment of uranium to 20 percent, remove stockpiles and close down an enrichment facility. But on Sunday, Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarid told Iranian state television the big states — known as the "P5+1" in diplo-speak — need to come up with a new offer. "The previous P5+1 plan given to Iran belongs to history and they must enter talks with a new point of view," he said.
Franks argues that hanging an axe over the head of the Iranian regime would boost the president’s negotiating hand. The congressman isn’t alone. Although his bill will be the first to hit Congress, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told reporters last month that he’s also preparing legislation that would give Obama a green light to attack Iran if negotiations fail.
Unlike Graham, Franks did not support the president’s request for a limited military strike in Syria this summer — a fact that has some wondering why he’s open to an intervention in Iran, which could be much more complex.
"It’s true that chemical weapons in Syria could potentially pose some national security threat to the United States," he said. "But a nuclear-armed Iran could pose a profound threat to U.S. national security."
Of course, although Congress is the most hawkish branch of government when it comes to Iran, the chances of such a resolution passing are slim — something Franks seems to acknowledge. "Even if the bill simply refocuses America’s attention on the real danger in the Middle East, Iran, it will have accomplished a profound purpose," he said.
Others see it less favorably. "Asides from a few knuckle dragging tea party types, there’s simply no appetite in Congress for giving the President authority to launch strikes in Iran," said the congressional aide, "particularly after most of congressional Republicans rebuffed his attempts for similar authority in Syria."
You can read Franks’s resolution and his appeal to colleagues below: