Pelosi's Disastrous Misstep on Iran
by John Nichols
The Nation
http://www.thenation.com/blogs/thebeat?pid=174804
March 13, 2007

When House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her allies in the chamber's Democratic
leadership initially accepted that spending legislation designed to outline
an Iraq exit strategy should also include a provision barring the president
from attacking Iran without congressional approval, they opened up a
monumental discussion about presidential war powers.

As such, the decision by Pelosi and her allies to rewrite their Iraq
legislation to exclude the statement regarding the need for congressional
approval of any military assault on the neighboring country of Iran sends
the worst possible signal to the White House. It is not too much to suggest
that Pelosi disastrous misstep could haunt her and the Congress for years to
come.

Here's how the Speaker messed up:

The Democratic proposal for a timeline to withdraw troops from Iraq included
a provision that would have required President Bush to seek congressional
approval before using military force in Iran. It was an entirely 
appropriate piece of the Iraq proposal, as the past experiences of U.S.
involvement in southeast Asia and Latin America has well illustrated that
when wars bleed across borders it becomes significantly more difficult to
end them. Thus, fears about the prospect that Bush might attack Iran are
legitimately related to the debate about how and when to end the occupation
of Iraq.

Unfortunately, Pelosi is so desperate to advance her flawed spending
legislation that she is willing to bargain with any Democrat about any part
of the proposal.

Under pressure from some conservative members of her caucus, and from
lobbyists associated with neoconservative groupings that want war with Iran
and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee's (AIPAC), Pelosi agreed on
Monday to strip the Iran provision from the spending bill that has become
the House leadership's primary vehicle for challenging the administration's
policies in the region.

One of the chief advocates for eliminating the Iran provision, Nevada
Democrat Shelley Berkley, said she wanted it out of the legislation because
she wants to maintain tnhe threat of U.S. military action as a tool in
seeking to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. "It would take away
perhaps the most important negotiating tool that the U.S. has when it comes
to Iran," explained Berkley.

The problem with Berkley's "reasoning" - if it can be called that - is this:
Nothing in the provision that had been included in the spending bill would
have prevented Bush from threatening Iran. Nothing in the provision would
have prevented war with Iran. It merely reminded the president that, before
launching such an attack, he would need to obey the Constitutional
requirement that he seek a declaration of war.

By first including the provision and then removing it, Pelosi and her aides
have given Bush more of an opening to claim that he does not require
Congressional approval.

Again and again, the Bush administration has seized any and every opening to
claim powers that were never accorded the executive branch by the
Constitution or the Congress. Remember that this administration has sought
to justify a massive, unregulated domestic spying program by claiming
authority under narrow legislation that was passed permitting the president
to respond to the September 11, 2OO1, attacks on the World Trade Center and
the Pentagon. Never mind that no mention of such spying was included in the
2OO1 legislation; the fact that it was not explicitly barred gave the
administration all the room it required to claim the power to disregard the
Constitution and the rule of law.

By stripping the Iran provision from the legislation that is now under
consideration by Congress, Pelosi has handed Bush and Vice President Dick
Cheney - no believer he is the separation of powers - exactly what they
want. They can and will say that, when the question of whether Congress
should require the administration to seek Congressional approval for an
attack on Iran, Pelosi chose not to pursue the matter.

Anyone who thinks that Bush and Cheney will fail to exploit this profound
misstep by Pelosi has not been paying attention for the past six years. The
speaker has erred, dramatically and dangerously.

Pelosi should reverse her decision and restore the Iran provision to the
legislation. It is the only way to check and balance an administration that
stands ready to exploit every opening it is given by a naive and inept
Congress.