We need to deescalate tensions with Iran

Dear Friend,

I commended President Trump for bucking his advisors last week and aborting a military strike against Iran that would have resulted in large numbers of casualties. At that juncture, the President made the right call. However, I remain deeply concerned that President Trump and his administration will continue taking us down a path that recklessly raised the risks of full blown war with Iran--a potential conflict that would threaten far more destruction than anything we have faced in the last decades in either Iraq or Afghanistan.

President Trump's hawkish Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton--who both have long histories of agitating for war with Iran--are continuing to spin a series of events in the region in an attempt to build political support for going around Congress to conduct military strikes on Iran. While attacks on oil tankers and interference with the freedom of navigation in the Strait of Hormuz cannot be tolerated, this administration is doing nothing to tamp down rising tensions.

Despite the fact that the Iran nuclear deal was negotiated by the international community and verifiably working, President Trump decided last year to unilaterally withdraw the United States from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)--against the advice of his own national security team and military leaders. That monumental strategic blunder not only isolated the United States, but it also escalated tensions and left us without a plan B regarding Iran's nuclear program.

Since pulling out of the JCPOA, the Trump administration has continued to ratchet up an incoherent and provocative "maximum pressure" campaign on Iran. The administration has drastically increased economic sanctions, designated Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization, targeted oil exports--the Iranian economy's main source of revenue--and enlarged the presence of American forces in the Persian Gulf. With no clearly communicated strategy or endgame, all of these actions have only served to amplify existing tensions and empower extreme hardliner factions in Tehran.

Perhaps most concerning, the Trump administration is suspiciously arguing that the 9/11 Authorization of Military Force, which was passed by Congress in 2001 to fight those responsible for the September 11th attacks, provides the White House broad legal authority to conduct further military operations including engaging with Iran. But there is bipartisan agreement that the 9/11 AUMF would not apply to Iran. Without the passage of a new congressional war resolution, an attack against Iran would be illegal under both the War Powers Act and Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution, which grants Congress the sole power to declare war.

It is not too late for cooler heads to prevail. That should start with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reasserting Congress's constitutional authority and requiring the White House to receive the approval of Congress before it takes any potential military action against Iran. I am proud that Senator Tom Udall is leading the effort in the Senate this week to pass an amendment to the defense bill that would legally require the White House to seek congressional approval before taking any military action against Iran.

If President Trump and his advisors believe a military conflict with Iran is necessary, they had better take their case to Congress and the American people. Whenever we consider sending our men and women in uniform into military conflicts, it is absolutely imperative that we have a clear strategy and justification that garners constitutionally mandatory congressional authorization. Our nation has been at war in the Middle East for nearly 20 years, spent over a trillion dollars, and lost thousands of lives. Americans are rightly wary of any further overzealous military interventions in the name of regime change.

There is no doubt that Iran continues to play a hostile role in the region that warrants our constant vigilance. However, while the United States must always be ready to defend our national security, our allies, and our interests, we should always do everything possible to avoid unnecessary military conflict.



United States Senator