The Politics Of Lieberman-Kyl, Part 1

A reduced but active presence will also send a clear message to hostile countries like Iran and Syria that we intend to remain a key player in this region…Make no mistake, if the Iranians and Syrians think they can use Iraq as another Afghanistan or a staging area from which to attack Israel or other countries, they are badly mistaken. It is in our national interest to prevent this from happening

So said Barack Obama in a November, 2006 speech to the Council on World Affairs in Chicago.

Today, Obama's campaign is testing an online advertisement that subtly, without using Hillary Clinton's name, implies that Obama alone is fighting efforts by the Bush Administration to start a war with Iran. And in a New Hampshire Union Leader op-ed, Obama points out that Clinton was the "only Democratic presidential candidate" to support the Lieberman-Kyl amendment to the defense authorization bill, an amendment that, in Obama's words, "directly links the ongoing war in Iraq -- including our troop presence -- to checking the threat from Iran."

Sen. Clinton says she was merely voting for more diplomacy, not war with Iran. If this has a familiar ring, it should. Five years after the original vote for war in Iraq, Sen. Clinton has argued that her vote was not for war -- it was for diplomacy, or inspections

There are at least four questions to unpack.

(a) Does Lieberman-Kyl provide a pathway for war with Iran?
(b) Is it, indeed, analogous to the AUMF resolution in 2002?
(c) Has Obama been leading the charge against saber-rattling?
(d) Would Obama actually do anything different than what Clinton would do?

Here's an attempt to answer these questions.

(A) -- arguably, an unamended version of Lieberman-Kyl contained aggressive language. See here.

(3) that it should be the policy of the United States to combat, contain, and roll back the violent activities and destabilizing influence inside Iraq of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, its foreign facilitators such as Lebanese Hezbollah, and its indigenous Iraqi proxies;

(4) to support the prudent and calibrated use of all instruments of United States national power in Iraq, including diplomatic, economic, intelligence, and military instruments, in support of the policy described in paragraph (3) with respect to the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran and its proxies;

But this language was deleted from the amendment that Clinton voted for.

So here is what Obama objects to:

It's the first paragraph under the "Sense of Senate" heading.

(1) that the manner in which the United States transitions and structures its military presence in Iraq will have critical, long-term consequences for the future of the Persian Gulf adn the Middle east, in particular with regard to the Government of ... Iran to pose a threat to the security of the region, the prospects for democracy for the people of the region, and the health of the global economy.

It is not immediately apparent how this portion of the amendment conflicts with Obama's 2006 sentiment: he argued that a "reduced but active" presence of U.S. troops would do just what Lieberman-Kyl finds necessary: to "send a clear message to hostile countries..."

(B) -- Is Lieberman-Kyl analogous, in context or content, to the Use of Force Resolution from 2002?

To argue this is to interpret history; to Obama, the answer is yes. To some proponents of Lieberman-Kyl who want to strike at Iran, the answer is yes. Of course the Bush Administration believes that the resolution is tantamount to Congressional authorization to strike at the Revolutionary Guards because they're now officially a terrorist group. Why? Because they cannot be trusted, not even one little bit. And Clinton -- remember, this is Obama's argument -- has made exactly the same mistake again.

For Obama, the text of the resolution itself doesn't matter so much as the intentions of the authors and the intentions of the Bush Administration.

To Clinton, and based on a plain reading of the texts of both resolutions, the answer is no. The resolution doesn't give the administration the authority to pick its nose. Obama himself believes that the Revolutionary Guards should be designated a terrorist organization. And he has acknowledged that the presence of troops in the Middle East should at least in part be structured so as to consider our national security interests vis-a-vis Iran.

For example, the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force against Iraq resolution includes this explicit paragraph:


(a) IN GENERAL- That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.

Among those Dems who voted AGAINST the Iraq War resolution but voted FOR Lieberman-Kyl: Sens. Durbin, Levin, Akaka, Conrad, Mikulski, Murray, Reed and Stabenow. That's Sen. Dick Durbin, a chief Obama adviser and close friend.

Tomorrow: I'll try to answer questions 3 and 4.