It can often to seem to rank-and-file Democrats as if the Republicans are still in charge of Congress: Nearly a year after their party picked up 31 House and six Senate seats, the war in Iraq still rages, with tens of thousands of more troops deployed now than then. This failure to force even a beginning to the end of the war accounts for the painfully poor poll standing of the Democratic-led Congress, with the party faithful even more restless and frustrated than independent voters.
But an appearance by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday hinted at one way Democratic leaders might find redemption with their base: By stopping the next war before it starts.
Asked by host George Stephanopoulos whether she agrees with a recent Senate decree that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, a branch of the Iranian military, is a terrorist organization, Mrs. Pelosi replied that, “Whatever Iran’s impact is on our troops in Iraq should be dealt with in Iraq.”
Asked by Mr. Stephanopoulos to elaborate, she said: “It means deal with them militarily in the country that you’re engaged in. There’s never been a declaration by a Congress before in our history, before the Senate acted, that declared a piece of a country’s army to be a terrorist organization.”
Her answer was significant because many of the same forces that drummed up support for the invasion of Iraq in 2003 have now turned their attention to Iran. They swear their endgame is not another war, but they speak of the Iranian “threat” in the same tone in which they once warned about Iraq.
If the U.S. doesn’t soon confront Iran, Joe Lieberman said recently, “they’ll take that as a sign of weakness on our part and we will pay for it in Iraq and throughout the region and ultimately right here at home.”
Mr. Lieberman is one of the co-authors of the Senate amendment Mrs. Pelosi was asked about. The Kyl-Lieberman amendment, a non-binding statement of “the sense of the Senate,” urges President Bush to designate the IRG a terrorist organization. It passed on a 76-22 vote, with support from numerous Democrats including Hillary Clinton.
Even though it is non-binding, the measure’s opponents have voiced concern that it will be used by Iran hawks either to gin up fear of Iran among the general public or, worse, by the Bush administration to justify a unilateral attack on Iran without further Congressional approval. On “This Week,” Mrs. Pelosi vowed not to pursue in the House any legislation similar to similar to Kyl-Lieberman.
“It could be brought up (by someone else), but I’m not bringing it up,” she said. “It’s a Sense of the House. What is the point? This has never happened before, that a Congress should determine that one piece of somebody’s military is that. And if it is a threat to our troops in Iraq, and [Iran is] in Iraq, we should deal with them in Iraq.”
Asked about comments by Barack Obama—who was absent from the Senate when Kyl-Lieberman was voted on but who is now taking Mrs. Clinton to task for her vote—that the measure was “reckless” and opens the door to military action, Mrs. Pelosi stressed that Congress will be heard before any new wars are launched.
The amendment itself gives Mr. Bush no authority, she said, “because it’s a non-binding, in-one-house resolution. Creating an atmosphere of suspicion against Iran? Perhaps it could contribute to that. But of itself, it has no authority.”
“We don’t believe that any authorities that the President has would give him the ability to go in without an act of Congress,” she said. “Any President, if our country is attacked has very strong powers to go after that country. But short of that, he must go to the Congress.”
Mrs. Pelosi and her House Democrats have not been willing to try to cut off funds to end the war, and virtually all their attempts to affect the situation in Iraq by other methods has been thwarted by the White House and by its loyal Republican supporters in the House and Senate. But as maddening as this has been to anti-war Democratic voters, they’d be wise to consider how the Iran debate might now be playing out if the Republicans still led the House.