Thursday, May 15, 2008

HASC Passes Iran Amendment to Defense Authorization Bill

In the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) markup on May 14, 2008 of the Fiscal Year 2009 Defense Authorization Act, HASC Ranking member, Representative Duncan Hunter (R-CA), and Representative Trent Franks (R-AZ) introduced an amendment that would have required the Department of Defense to develop and maintain a military option against Iran and require the Department of Defense to report on Iran’s achievements in uranium enrichment efforts.

In his statement introducing the amendment, Rep. Franks called Iran a “regime gone rogue” and said that despite the release of the National Intelligence Estimate, Iran is not one less day shorter of gaining a nuclear weapons capability. He also said, “I truly believe in doing everything diplomatically, economically, in terms of sanctions, informational options, that we can possibly do, to prevent Iran from successfully gaining nuclear weapons. But my amendment also expresses the sense of Congress that the Department of Defense should develop and maintain a military option against Iran alongside of these measures. The amendment also establishes a reporting requirement for the Department of Defense as Iran achieves key milestones in its uranium enrichment efforts. Mr. Chairman, our best chance to avoid war with Iran is to make sure that Mr. Khomeini [sic] and Mr. Ahmadinejad know that all options, including the military option, Mr. Chairman, are on the table, should they continue to defy those standards of behavior that all responsible members of the international community must respect in order to coexist…” Mr. Franks also said during the debate that Iran was “hell-bent” on acquiring nuclear weapons and that some day our children could be faced with “nuclear jihad.”

Behind the scenes, there was an agreement negotiated with Representatives Hunter and Franks to combine their amendment with one offered by Representative Silvestre Reyes (D-TX). In describing the compromise, Rep. Reyes clarified for the committee that Mr. Frank’s amendment actually started off as two amendments from the Minority side. Representative Hunter had introduced the first amendment that contained language requiring an annual report on Iranian nuclear capabilities. Representative Franks introduced a Sense of Congress provision “calling on the Department of Defense to develop and maintain viable nuclear options to prevent the Islamic Republic of Iran from successfully developing or deploying a nuclear weapons capability.” Representatives Franks and Hunter submitted a revised amendment combining the two amendments.

In introducing his substitute amendment to the combined minority amendment, Representative Reyes added said the minority amendment “ignores the state of readiness of the armed forces and its possible inability to execute a national military strategy. Additionally, the administration has been less than forthcoming on its planning for a preemptive strike on Iranian nuclear facilities.” Rep. Reyes explained his revised amendment as follows: “The second order amendment now being offered expresses concern over the readiness of the armed forces to carry out the full range of contingencies to include those in the Middle East. It also maintains the requirement for the Defense Department to report on matters pertaining to the preparation of contingencies for the Middle East in general and regarding Iran and its nuclear facilities in particular, and to also include a comprehensive description of information used in their preparation.”

Following Mr. Reyes’ introduction of his substitute language, Representative Hunter introduced a second degree change to the amendment adding a few more details to the Department of Defense reporting requirement on Iran’s nuclear program, including information on the number of centrifuges and the number of weapons that could be built, etc. to be delivered in March of every year. The language was worked out with Rep. Reyes.

Representative Neil Abercrombie (D-HI) opposed the perfected amendment calling it more egregious than the first one. He said “Take a look at what is being proposed here. Why don’t you just go ahead and declare war on Iran? I mean that is what this is all about. You want to talk about targeting destruction? The language in [Rep. Franks’] amendment and the language in Mr. Hunter’s amendment in effect is a declaration of war on Iran. We seem to have forgotten in the process that we overthrew the government of Iran. If you want to talk about terrorism, if you want to talk about attacking other nations, if you want to talk about interfering with the governments of other nations, this goes back more than half a century where this country has systematically interfered with various governments in Iran. Whether you think that’s a good idea or a bad idea, the fact of the matter is that our relationship with Iran for the past half century has been one of constant opposition and interference in the government…”

He said if the issue is terrorism, then we have to bring India, China and Pakistan into it because they’ve signed contracts for oil with Iran. He also noted that the building of nuclear power plants is taking place all over the Middle East. “So if the idea is about centrifuges, if the idea about enriched uranium, for plutonium and so on is going to be an issue, then you’re going to have to add a lot more countries in the Middle East to this than Iran. This [amendment] is something where we’re going off on a tangent that has very serious, very deep implications for extending the United States into a position where it will be seen as literally threatening Iran with destruction.” He noted that there is an entirely new social context in Iran. He said we need to be reaching out to Iranians and creating a new reality for them, not threatening them.

Representative Joe Sestak (D-PA) said as someone who actually did planning at the Defense Department that the reporting requirement on Iran’s nuclear program as stipulated in the amendment, “We don’t do those things in the Pentagon. You just tell us to drop the bomb and we do that. Doesn’t this have to go through the Intelligence Committee? This is Intelligence work.” Rep. Franks interjected, “Under the [International Atomic Energy Agency] IAEA, we already have inspections that take place all the time in these facilities” and called Iran’s progress on a new generation of centrifuges “astonishing.” Despite Mr. Sestak argument that the amendment was articulating intelligence work, not Pentagon work, the amendment was cleared by Parliamentarians because it required the reporting from the Pentagon and not from the Intelligence Community.

Rep. Ellen Tausher (D-CA) spoke against Rep. Hunter’s perfecting amendment, which she said essentially called for a National Intelligence Estimate on Iran. She reiterated Rep. Sestak’s concerns that it was something for the Intelligence community and argued the amendment went beyond the purview of HAS

Rep. Geoff Davis (R-KY) said the question at the end of the day is whether we are going to be provocative and have a policy that focuses on the needs of this country in the long run. He called the amendment “questionable” in terms of what it would add to U.S. national defense.

After debate concluded, the Hunter perfecting amendment to the Reyes amendment passed by a voice vote, followed by the Reyes amendment, as amended by the Hunter amendment. The Franks amendment, as substituted by Mr. Reyes and amended by Mr. Hunter, then also passed by a voice vote. There were no roll call votes.

The full debate over the Franks amendment and the subsequent perfecting amendments can be viewed online at the HASC website (Part VII, 2:59:16-3:32:45).

Special thanks to Lara Friedman for sending the timing of the debate (HASC mark-up lasted for more than 17 hours).

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