How a Republican Congress could Entangle the US further in the Middle East

By Juan Cole

The midterm elections in a president’s second term have historically been a time when the president’s party lost seats in both houses of Congress. Only a little over a third of the electorate typically votes in these elections, and they are disproportionately white, wealthy and elderly. In short, a different country voted in 2014 than had voted in 2012, a deep red country. It is not surprising, then, that the GOP gained control of the Senate.

How could the change affect foreign policy? The president has wide latitude in making foreign policy and even in making war. Nevertheless, Congress is not helpless in that realm. It controls the purse strings via the budget and can forbid the president to spend money on some enterprise (that is how the GOP House blocked the closure of the Guantanamo facility). The Republican majority now does not have to negotiate with Democratic senators in crafting bills, and it can easily attach riders to key pieces of legislation, making it difficult for the president to veto them. That was how Congress made the Obama administration implement the financial blockade of Iran’s petroleum sales, by attaching it to the Defense Bill.

A Republican Congress can also put pressure on the president by allying with powerful lobbies in Washington. Bill Clinton’s 1998 attack on Iraq (Operation Desert Fox) was provoked in part by the Project for a New American Century (mostly made up of out-of-government Neoconservatives and former Reagan-Bush aides) and its Republican allies in Congress. The latter produced the “Iraq Liberation Act”. Clinton may have thought that the 1998 attack was a small bit of propitiation. But the president made the UN weapons inspectors leave Iraq so that he could bomb it, and they never went back in.

Once the West was thus blinded, the Neoconservatives could use their journalists such as Judith Miller to begin planting a narrative of renewed Iraqi unconventional weapons research and development programs. These programs did not exist, but the UN inspectors weren’t on the ground any more to contradict the ridiculous Neocon fairy tales about an imminent Iraqi nuclear bomb or biological weapons labs on Winnebagos on Iraq’s pot-holed streets. In short, by provoking Clinton to even a limited bombing run, the Neoconservatives severed this country from key intelligence that could contradict their war propaganda and so they paved the way to the 2003 war.

Barack Obama was convinced or bamboozled by the Pentagon to do the Afghanistan troop escalation in 2009, and he has conducted drone wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen and some other countries.

The GOP may see him as not ultimately committed to keeping US troops out of Iraq and Syria, and will almost certainly attempt to force him to put more boots on the ground (John McCain will be chairman of the Armed Services Committee).

If the GOP Senate objected to the withdrawal from Afghanistan, it could refuse to fund it (getting out will be expensive).

And, if Obama manages a breakthrough in negotiations with Iran that requires a reduction in US economic sanctions, the Republican House might be able to find ways to block that reduction, so as to go back on a war footing with Iran (war is good for the arms industry, which funds a lot of congressional campaigns).


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13 Responses

  1. This about sums it up. Ravid reports for Haaretz

    Barak Ravid @BarakRavid 2h2 hours ago
    Pretty good morning for Bibi Netanyahu, Ron Dermer (@AmbDermer) and Sheldon Adelson

    I suppose it is time to pick your children for sacrifice in the next great conflagration.

  2. God help us! Here comes the “We don’t have money for health care” pseudo patriots while doling out billions of dollars a month to purchase weapons for the Syrian rebels that end up in the hands of ISIS.

    All we need now is Lindsey Graham as president and I think we can call it a day.

  3. “But the president [Clinton, from the context] made the UN weapons inspectors leave Iraq so that he could bomb it, and they never went back in.”

    Not really.

    “Prior to the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1441 in November 2002 giving Iraq a “final opportunity” to comply with its disarmament requirements under previous Security Council resolutions. At issue was Iraq’s failure to provide an adequate accounting of its prohibited weapons programs or to convince UN inspectors that its weapons of mass destruction had been destroyed as Baghdad claimed.

    UN weapons inspectors worked in Iraq from November 27, 2002 until March 18, 2003. During that time, inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the United Nations Monitoring, Verification, and Inspections Commission (UNMOVIC) conducted more than 900 inspections at more than 500 sites. The inspectors did not find that Iraq possessed chemical or biological weapons or that it had reconstituted its nuclear weapons program.

    Although Iraq was cooperative on what inspectors called “process”—allowing inspectors access to suspected weapons sites, for example—it was only marginally cooperative in answering the questions surrounding its weapons programs. Unable to resolve its differences with Security Council members who favored strengthening and continuing weapons inspections, the United States abandoned the inspections process and initiated the invasion of Iraq on March 19.”

    link to

    • ADMartin, is correct, but let me add some additional facts. I was a lead inspector for UNMOVIC, which acted on all of the “best” intelligence. We went to sites that the US was sure WMD existed. Each time, the inspection found no physical, or even anecdotal evidence to spot US claims. We found chicken farms where the US insisted a biological weapons was working to produce toxic agents. I could go on but will spare you. These empty or innocent sites were inspected weeks before Colin Powell”s infamous UN speech. USG officials were briefed in detail, but never provided the public, or Congress with dated judgments. Blix and IAEA both publicly expressed the findings in the weeks before the invasion, yet no one in Congress, the media, nor the Bush admin raised a hand to ask why the inspectors might be right, primarily because Cheney and Bush did everything they could to discredit the UN inspectors. This is the real crime, the US did not have bad intelligence in March, before the conflict began. Rather they showed bad judgment and ignored available evidence,,fresh form the field from real experts.

  4. John Hagee is jumping for joy. And I am terrified. Yes, they will push for war. What was essentially oil driven — the courting and shaping of fundamentalism on all side — is now become their Frankenstein monster. Cruz believes he is the anointed one. All sides, religion ruled by self-fulfilling prophecy. I’ve been following this story for years — link to

  5. Perhaps the Democratic party will see that its betrayal of constituents caused in the loss, and field a genuine progressive for 2016, but it seems likely that they will just go for more of the same sham progressivism, either to get campaign money from its enemies, or because they are its enemies. It would be wonderful to see direct action against the mass media and oligarchy at this point, but that would require more idealism and intelligence than I see in the population.

  6. The Senate will hold hearings…but unless Congress passes a resolution ordering the deployment of ground troops into Syria, I don’t see it happening (and they’d prefer to sit on the sidelines and complain then actually try to direct action)

  7. Clinton was provoked, Obama was convinced or bamboozled into . . . taking action against their true positions? Well if our Presidents are so weak willed, they should not be in office. By this line of reasoning, Obama will be “talked” into making a deal with Iran. I say all this because Mr. Cole knows the true positions of our Presidents, as opposed to what the do.

  8. Scott Ritter said Bill Clinton knew Saddam Hussein had already destroyed his WMD before he attacked Iraq in 1998. Hillary had to know Saddam’s WMD were gone when she voted for the neoconservative war in Iraq five years later.

    Ritter was proven correct about Saddam’s lack of WMDs.

    Barack Obama tried to bamboozle the American public into believing his bs about the”war of necessity” in Afghanistan. He’s too intelligent to have been convinced of the necessity himself. The David’s COIN strategy was really aimed at turning Afghanistan into an American colony.

  9. I think it’s hard to tell what the Republicans might do. After being the “Party of No” for six years, it might have trouble advocating any self conceived action that doesn’t focus on attacking Obama, or increasing wealth inequality.

    On the other hand I do think that philosophically they will be even more “America first” at the expense of any international cooperation. And the Military Industrial Complex may urge them to wean off the Middle East wars and concentrate on developing more severe anti China and anti Russia .antagonisms. Those antagonisms will bring in the big bucks for the MIC – more, bigger, and better of everything.

    On the other hand, by just acting a bit more rational, intelligent, and, yes, progressive, the right can succeed in completing the vaporization of the liberal/progressive political force that Obama started six years ago..

    • All this, the background of changing to non-carbon based renewable energy — questions of the forms it will take, who will control it, how do we bridge our way there. Questions of mass protocol. We need science and cooperation — wisdom — to guide us, but have instead people (both human and corporate) with unimaginable wealth and a proven myopathy shaping direction and policy. I fear the Republicans will continue to be unable to control their own party, their Tea Party monster armed to the teeth and disinformed, the C St. patriarchs and Ted Cruz, hell-bent to bring jesus ™ back to rule. There’s no rational dealing with people who see you as their devil. I don’t want to see them that way, but camps of bitter opposition seems to be the atmosphere created to rule the masses. Democracy requires individuals, and we don’t seem to be able to get to the polls. A time of chaos. But when was it ever easy?

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