Franks legislation authorizes military force against Iran

Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) introduced legislation on October 15 that, among other things, would authorize the president of the United States to use military force against Iran.  During the past several weeks, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has mentioned his plans to introduce a similar bill in the U.S. Senate.

While Franks' legislation is called the "United States-Iran Nuclear Negotiations Act," its most important purpose is not to promote diplomacy but to authorize the use of force against Iran.  Although it doesn’t explicitly define itself as an authorization bill, its language effectively makes it one.  The headline of Franks’ own press release indicating his intention to introduce the bill read: “Franks Calls for Authorization of Military Force in Iran.”

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In the section entitled "Support for United States Diplomatic Efforts," the act specifies a number of preconditions on any agreement with Iran concerning its nuclear program.They include not only a virtual end to all Iranian nuclear activity, but also an insistence that Iran stop its support of terrorist groups, demonstrate a peaceful foreign policy, and recognize Israel’s sovereignty.  Such preconditions, while praiseworthy objectives, are so stringent within the context of the current negotiations that they could severely diminish the chances of reaching a satisfactory diplomatic settlement with Iran on the nuclear issue.  

Polling data suggest that the United States-Iran Nuclear Negotiations Act is not in line with the beliefs of Iranian Americans concerning how the U.S. should approach Iran’s nuclear program.  A 2013 National Public Opinion Survey of Iranian Americans by the Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans shows that while Iranian Americans want Iran to change, nearly two-thirds oppose a military strike against Iran’s nuclear sites or other facilities, overwhelmingly because of civilian casualties, but also because they believe that the strikes would be ineffective, and would actually encourage Iran to develop nuclear weapons. Polling data also indicates that a solid majority supports President Obama’s handling of Iran’s nuclear program, suggesting support for the administration’s dual track strategy of using sanctions coupled with diplomacy to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

At a time when the U.S. is seeking a direct dialogue with the Iranian people, aiming to hear their views and support their democratic aspirations, legislation authorizing the use of military force against Iran would only alienate the Iranian people and serve the interests of hardliners in Tehran, potentially complicating our public diplomacy efforts. As Karim Sadjadpour, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Middle East Program, has often noted, Iran is one of the few countries in the Middle East where America’s strategic interests and its commitment to democratic values align. U.S. lawmakers would be wise to keep this in mind when crafting policy towards the country.  

While we, as a nation, never want to take the military option off the table, an authorization for the use of force against Iran at this time, without the support of the president, would be unprecedented and potentially damaging to U.S. interests.  U.S. and international economic pressures have had an impact on Iran’s leadership, pushing them toward the negotiating table. Now is the time to put diplomacy to a test and not potentially poison the atmosphere with unwarranted and ill-timed legislation.  

Ghorban is director of Government Affairs and Policy for the Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans (PAAIA). Hodges is PAAIA’s Research and Analysis Specialist.