By showering Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with affection on his trip to Capitol Hill Tuesday, members of Congress partially obscured a larger disagreement over just what tools the US should employ to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.
Mr. Netanyahu, who had private meetings with groups of House and Senate leaders on both sides of the aisle, was giving love as good as he was getting.
“I don’t think there is a place anywhere else on earth where we can match the clarity, courage, and wisdom that I find here in the halls of this institution," he said.
But the definition of “clarity” was up for debate as Democrats took issue with a bold plan floated by Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky, which would preemptively give President Obama the green light to take military action against Iran.
“I think it is time to consider a resolution authorizing the use of force” against Iran, Senator McConnell said at an afternoon press briefing with reporters. “A resolution authorizing the use of force does not mandate the use of force. It would clearly indicate to the Iranians that we were willing to go beyond sanctions, that many of us are skeptical are likely to get the final result.”
Speaking to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual meeting the night prior, McConnell laid out his thoughts on Iran in more specific – and strident – terms.
“In my view, the only way – the only way – the Iranian regime can be expected to negotiate to preserve its own survival rather than to simply delay as a means of pursuing nuclear weapons is if the administration imposes the strictest sanctions while at the same time enforcing a firm declaratory policy that reflects a commitment to the use of force,” McConnell said, receiving a standing ovation from a group widely regarded as one of the nation’s most powerful lobbying groups.
He said he would consult with Mr. Obama and congressional leaders to introduce such a resolution “if at any time the intelligence community presents the Congress with an assessment that Iran has begun to enrich uranium to weapons-grade levels, or has taken a decision to develop a nuclear weapon.”
Many Senate Republicans have been critical of the administration's willingness to give sanctions time to have an effect.
“I’m willing to talk, I hope sanctions will work, I’m willing to apply more, but time is not going to last forever. The Israelis have a different clock than we do,” said Sen. Lindsay Graham (R) of South Carolina.
Democrats, on the other hand, took issue not only with McConnell’s suggestion but an op-ed by GOP presidential front runner Mitt Romney addressing America's conflict with Iran.
“I’m not going to be part of rushing forward to a declaration of war. These are things that have to be done very, very cautiously,” Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D) of Nevada said at an afternoon news conference.
Obama likewise sounded a cautionary note during his first press conference since November.
“This is not a game. There’s nothing casual about it,” he said.
Senator Kerry even took to the Senate floor to criticize Mr. Romney, the former governor of his home state, for what he called “idle talk of war.”
“Talk has consequences, and idle talk of war only helps Iran by spooking the tight oil market and increasing the price of the Iranian crude that pays for its nuclear program,” Kerry said. “And to create false differences with the president just to score political points does nothing to move Iran off a dangerous nuclear course.”