Last month the US House of Representatives voted unanimously for an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2019 (H.R. 5515) that says no statute authorizes the use of military force against Iran.
A bipartisan majority of the House adopted the National Defense Authorization Act on May 24, by 351-66 votes. The bill will now move to the Senate.
The amendment, a little noticed but potentially huge step, was introduced by Rep. Keith Ellison, a Democrat.
“It is the sense of Congress that the use of the Armed Forces against Iran is not authorized by this Act or any other Act,” the amendment stated.
If the Senate clears the Ellison amendment, Congress would send a loud message to President Donald Trump that an attack on Iran is off the table.
It would leave Trump without statutory authority to move militarily on Iran after his May 8 withdrawal from the international nuclear deal, The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Trump’s withdrawal was followed by a long list of difficult demands issued by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, setting the stage for a US attack on Iran.
“The unanimous passage of this bipartisan amendment is a strong and timely counter to the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Iran deal and its increasingly hostile rhetoric,” Ellison said in a press release. “This amendment sends a powerful message that the American people and Members of Congress do not want a war with Iran. Today, Congress acted to reclaim its authority over the use of military force.”
Other signatories added that the US The War Powers Act and Constitution implies that military action must first always be authorized by Congress. “A war with Iran would be unconstitutional and costly,” one said.
Another added that “Congress is sending a clear message that President Trump does not have the authority to go to war with Iran. With President Trump’s reckless violation of the Iran Deal and failure to get Congressional approval for military strikes on Syria, there’s never been a more important time for Congress to reassert its authority. It’s long past time to end the White House’s blank check and the passage of this amendment is a strong start.”.
The US Constitution only grants Congress the power to declare war, while the War Powers Resolution allows the president to introduce US Armed Forces into hostilities or imminent hostilities only after Congress has declared war, or in case of “a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces”. Iran has not attacked the US.
Even if the Ellison amendment survives the Senate and becomes part of the National Defense Authorization Act, Trump may still likely violate it using new US targeted killing rules.
The weak part of the Ellison amendment is that it neither prohibits the expenditure of money to attack Iran nor limit sanctions against the Shi’ite state. In fact, other amendments adopted by the House actually mandate the imposition of sanctions against Iran.
An amendment introduced by Republicans state that “the ballistic missile program of Iran represents a serious threat to allies of the United States in the Middle East and Europe, members of the Armed Forces deployed in those regions, and ultimately the United States”.
US sanctions could remove over one million barrels of Iranian oil from the global market.
The unilateral imposition of sanctions by the United States, without United Nations Security Council approval, violates the UN Charter however. Article 41 empowers the Council, and only the Council, to impose and approve the use of sanctions.
In the letter, sent on Monday to the US Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, European leaders requested that their companies be granted an exemption from United States sanctions.
Signed by the finance and foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany, the letter said that without sanctions relief, Iran has threatened to pull out of the deal and that there appeared to be “no credible alternatives at this time” to ensure stability and security in the region, The Wall Street Journal reported.
On the French stop of his tour of Europe, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the media: “I think it [the JCPOA nuclear deal with Iran] is basically going to be dissolved by the weight of economic forces.”