Congress must use upcoming defense bills to guard against a confrontation with Iran
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpO'Rourke: Trump driving global, U.S. economy into recession Manchin: Trump has 'golden opportunity' on gun reforms Objections to Trump's new immigration rule wildly exaggerated MORE and his team’s Iran policy is pushing the United States into a box, with few openings, increasing the risk of war. While Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoLatest pro-democracy rally draws tens of thousands in Hong Kong 63 killed in blast at Afghan wedding as Taliban, US negotiate troop withdrawal Trump meets with national security team on Afghanistan peace plan MORE’s recent offer to negotiate with Iran without preconditions seems like a step in the right direction, President Trump’s mercurial departure from the nuclear agreement and recent threats against Iran might make it too little, far too late.

The Trump administration’s maximum pressure campaign continues with increasing hostility that risks devastating consequences. It began by ratcheting up sanctions on Iran and further threatening to sanction European allies if they don’t cease all trade with Iran. While it was designed to force our longtime European partners to abandon the deal, the campaign has only dealt yet another blow to already strained Trans-Atlantic relations.

More recently, the administration made a quick succession of steps that are clearly escalatory: pulling numbers of U.S. State Department personnel from Iraq; deploying an aircraft carrier task force and B-52 bombers to the Gulf; and planning to send 120,000 U.S. troops to the region. Their designation of the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organization creates a more complex and dangerous operating environment for U.S. soldiers in places like Iraq and Syria.

President Trump campaigned on withdrawing from wars in the Middle East, but every move he and his administration take makes it far more likely to get us into another one. No sooner had President Trump assured us he did not want war with Iran, then national security advisor, John BoltonJohn Robert BoltonTrump meets with national security team on Afghanistan peace plan Live-action 'Mulan' star spurs calls for boycott with support of Hong Kong police A US-UK free trade agreement can hold the Kremlin to account MORE, providing no evidence, announced Iranian sabotage of two Saudi tankers and two other vessels near the Strait of Hormuz. The administration then called for the deployment of 1,500 additional U.S. troops to the region. Such military tit-for-tat build-ups almost always end badly.

President Trump and Bolton, each in their own way, are taking us down the path of another disastrous war in the Middle East. An unchecked dynamic of escalation, action, counteraction – without the fail-safe of a communications channel to defuse a combustible situation – could swiftly produce by accident or miscalculation serious, unintended consequences leading to an all-out regional war. 

Such a conflict would be catastrophic – potentially costing trillions of dollars, putting countless innocent lives at grave risk and placing hundreds of thousands of American men and women back into combat. Iran is four-times the size of Iraq, with triple the population, and a war with Iran would pull into its vortex almost every country in the region and activate countless terrorist groups of various ideological stripes. It could well be more costly, deadly, and even longer lasting than Iraq or Afghanistan – certainly longer than key players in the administration want to admit. Moreover, the impact on the American economy – with the potential closure of the Strait of Hormuz handling half the world’s oil leading to skyrocketing oil prices would throw the U.S. and the globe into a deep recession beyond that of 2008.

As we move forward, America’s leaders must be conscious we are not creating a “bluff trap,” pushing us into a box from which there is no easy exit. Threatening military force, with no diplomatic contact to shape a solution, leaves only two alternatives – one side backs down or the other goes to war.

It is time to end the continued use of this non-strategy and over-reliance on the threat of military force. The Trump administration must not think it can use previous and wholly-unrelated Congressional Authorizations of a Use of Military Force from 2001 to strike Iran. When it comes to preventing yet another war in the Middle East, Congress must play its critical role. 

Congress, not the president, has the sole power under the Constitution to declare war. It has the obligation to invoke a War Powers Resolution, as it did for Yemen earlier this year. Further, Congress can and should limit the administration’s funding ability to wage such a new war. As Congress marks up two major defense bills in the coming weeks, it has multiple opportunities to block or condition funding for any new war in the Middle East. When the administration is at great risk of provoking a conflict or miscalculating, it is critical that Congress do everything in its power to guard against another catastrophic confrontation, this time with Iran. We cannot afford to provoke or stumble into another war. 

It is not too late to reverse course, but Congress must act swiftly. Without it, this administration will push or tumble the U.S. deep into a box that leads us into another costly and tragic strategic blunder in the Middle East.

Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaKing incites furor with abortion, rape and incest remarks San Jose mayor proposes mandatory liability insurance for gun owners Democrats give cold shoulder to Warren wealth tax MORE represents California’s 17th District and Thomas R. Pickering served as former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs from 1997-2000 and Ambassador to the United Nations, Russia, Israel, India and Jordan.