APN Legislative Round-Up: Weeks ending Sept 6 and 13, 2013

1. Bills, Resolutions & Letters
2. Syria Debate on the Hill - Broader Implications?
3. Members on the Record (on things other than Syria)
4. Hearings/Briefings
5. News of the Weird

Briefly noted:

APN on the Ongoing Calamity in Syria (August 30)
Seidemann/Friedman at the Daily Beast 8/28: Netanyahu Must Rein in Extremists in Coalition, or Risk Derailing Peace Talks
APN 8/12: New Peace Talks, New Settlement Provocations -- A Timeline
APN 8/14: Netanyahu's Prisoners vs. Settlements Game
GAO Report July 2013: US Programs Involving the Palestine Investment Fund

1. Bills, Resolutions & Letters

(MORE US-ISRAEL ENERGY COOPERATION) S. 1491: Introduced 9/10 by Landrieu (D-LA), Murkowski (R-AK), and Wyden (D-OR), "to amend the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 to improve United States-Israel energy cooperation, and for other purposes. Referred to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Statements on the introduction of the bill are available here.

(SYRIA AUMF) S. J. Res. 21: Introduced 9/6 by Menendez (D-NJ), "Authorization for the Use of Military Force Against the Government of Syria to Respond to Use of Chemical Weapons." Considered in the Senate 9/9-9/11, with further action delayed as of 9/11 to see what will happen with the Russian proposal regarding Syria's chemical weapons. Floor consideration: 9/9, 9/10, 9/10, 9/10. Reid statement 9/11 putting the measure on hold, here. Also, see S. Amdt. 1849 to S. J. Res. 21, offered 9/9 by Sen. Paul (R-KY), stating that "Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the authority to use force resides in Congress, and the President does not have authority to carry out the military action set forth in this resolution absent passage of the resolution." In addition, on 9/9 Sen. Inhofe (R-OK) said in a floor statement that he intended to introduce an amendment to S. J. Res. 21: "My amendment is very simple. If the President takes military action against Syria, sequestration of our Armed Forces would be delayed for 1 year. We are talking about the fiscal year where we would take another $52 billion out of our military." Inhofe also made clear that even if the amendment was adopted, he would still oppose the S. J. Res. 21.

(SYRIA CW/US POLICY) S. J .Res. 22: Introduced 9/10 by Manchin (D-WV) and Heitkamp (D-ND), "A joint resolution to promote a diplomatic solution in Syria, and for other purposes." Referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations. Manchin and Heitkamp statements on introduction of the bill are available here. The key clause of the resolution states, "...if the Government of Syria does not sign and comply with the Chemical Weapons Convention within 45 days after the date of the enactment of this resolution, all elements of national power will be considered by the United States Government."

(SYRIA CW/AUMF) H. J. Res. 61: Introduced 9/11 by Pascrell (D-NJ) and no cosponsors, "To prevent further use of chemical weapons in Syria." Referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs. The key operative section of the resolution states: "The President is authorized to use the United States Armed Forces with respect to Syria only if the President makes available to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President pro tempore of the Senate the President's determination, not later than the date that is 14 days after the date of the enactment of a joint resolution specifically authorizing such use of the United States Armed Forces, that-- (1) the Assad regime has not agreed to surrender its chemical weapons stockpiles to the international community to be dismantled as part of a verifiable, enforceable agreement; and (2) the Assad regime has not agreed to become a signatory to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction, done at Paris January 13, 1993."

(SYRIA - NO TO MILITARY ACTION) H. J. Res. 58: Introduced 9/9 by Poe (R-TX) and no cosponsors, "Prohibiting the use of funds available to any United States Government department or agency for the use of force in, or directed at, Syria by the United States Armed Forces." Referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Committee on Armed Services.

(SYRIA - NEGOTIATED SOLUTION) H. Con. Res. 53: Introduced 9/12 by Lee (D-CA) and 5 cosponsors, "Urging all parties to the conflict in Syria to work through the United Nations and with the international community to hold the Assad regime accountable and resolve the crisis in Syria through a negotiated political settlement." Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

(SYRIA - WAR CRIMES TRIBUNAL) H. Con. Res. 51: Introduced 9/9 by Smith (R-NJ) and 11 cosponsors, the "Immediate Establishment of Syrian War Crimes Tribunal Resolution." Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

(ASSAD - WAR CRIMES) S.RES.219: Introduced 9/9 by Sen. Cardin (D-MD) and no cosponsors,"A resolution calling for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and others to be tried before the International Criminal Court for committing war crimes and crimes against humanity." Referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations. This is a slightly updated version of H. Res. 229, introduced 5/21 by Rep. Israel (D-NY) and having 5 cosponsors.

(SYRIA - REPEAL WAR POWERS RESOLUTION) HR 3065: Introduced 9/9 by Garrett (R-NJ) and no cosponsors, "To repeal the War Powers Resolution." The bill doesn't specifically mention Syria, but given the timing of its introduction, the intent is clear. Referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Committee on Rules.

(SYRIA - AMEND WAR POWERS RESOLUTION H. J. Res. 60: Introduced 9/11 by DeFazio (D-OR) and Jones (R-NC), "To amend the War Powers Resolution." The resolution doesn't specifically mention Syria, but given the timing of its introduction, the intent is clear. Referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Committee on Rules.

(LIBYA) HR 3082: Introduced 9/11 by Poe (R-TX) and no cosponsors, "To require a report on the designation of the Libyan faction of Ansar al-Sharia as a foreign terrorist organization, and for other purposes." Referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary.

(IRAN) S. 559: Introduced 3/13 by Isakson (R-GA) and having 7 cosponsors, the "Justice for Former American Hostages in Iran Act of 2013." On 9/12 the bill was reported out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with Senate Report 113-104 and placed on the Senate Legislative Calendar.

2. Syria Debate on the Hill - Broader Implications?

Members of both the House and Senate have been vocal in recent weeks about Syria, some weighing in strongly in favor of military action, others less strongly in favor, and many more articulating their fervent opposition to such use of force by the US. (It is beyond the capacity of the Round-Up to gather every single one of these statements - made both in the Congressional Record and the media. An online search of almost any member's name and the word "Syria" is sufficient to see what that member has said).

In the course of this raucous debate, two interesting and related dynamics emerged.

AIPAC Out on a Limb?

As has been widely noted in the media (for example, here, here, here, and here), AIPAC went all-in, in terms of supporting the use of military force in Syria. AIPAC's decision to forthrightly support and lobby for military action was in stark contrast to its decision to (at least publicly) not lobby in favor of the Iraq war. AIPAC's 9/3 statement supporting military action against Syria is available here. In addition, AIPAC pushed out an Action Alert - promoted on Twitter - asking supporters to urge their members of Congress to support an AUMF against Syria (that Action Alert appears to have been suspended for the time being, but the summary still exists at the original link: "Take Action Now! President Obama has requested authorization from Congress to protect America's national security interests and deter Damascus from further chemical weapons use. It is in America's national interest - and that of the entire world - to prevent the use of these barbaric weapons."

In launching this campaign, AIPAC took an enormous tactical risk. Polling shows that Americans are unsupportive (and increasingly so) of new U.S. military engagement in the Middle East. As President Obama began making his case for such engagement, it quickly became clear that there was tremendous resistance in Congress to approving use of force, from both sides of the aisle and including from members that are generally viewed as close to AIPAC. Indeed, if the AUMF resolution had moved forward, over the past week it has appeared increasingly likely that the resolution would have been defeated in the House and faced serious opposition in the Senate - representing a major defeat not only for President Obama but also for AIPAC.

In this context, the Russian initiative, which allowed the AUMF to be put on hold for the time being (and, if it falls apart, will leave a context that may be more favorable for international, rather than exclusively U.S., intervention), has allowed both President Obama and AIPAC - to some degree - to save face. Nonetheless, the in recent days the media has been replete with reports to the effect that this Syria lobbying campaign is a serious set-back for AIPAC (for example, here, here, here, and here).

In addition, some have suggested that AIPAC made a serious strategic mistake in taking on this issue. Haaretz's Chemi Shalev noted: "...now that the American Jewish establishment has come off the fence to loudly endorse the president's policy, the fallout from an Administration failure to convince Congress could claim two additional victims: Israel and the influential lobby that supports it. If AIPAC goes 'all out' ...but the House of Representatives nonetheless votes against the President, then the lobby's image of invincibility, to which it owes much of its influence, will inevitably be jeopardized. And if Congress nixes the plan to punish Syria for its August 21 chemical attack, despite the Administration's argument that doing so would endanger Israel's security, then it is Israel's power of deterrence, which includes a perception of absolute Congressional support, that would be diminished..."

Writing in Al-Monitor, veteran Israeli journalist Ben Caspit reported on criticism from Israeli intelligence and military officials of AIPAC's decision to lobby in favor of Syria military action. He quoted one official who told him, "Israel's image has already been tarnished and harmed by AIPAC's [alleged] deep involvement in convincing the American administration to invade Iraq, a pointless invasion that caused strategic damage to the entire world. AIPAC must be kept for consensus issues only. As it is, Israel is the object of much criticism, also among liberal American Jews. Nothing would happen if, in this case, we would sit for a moment on the sidelines and allow the Americans to argue privately about the fate of their soldiers. This would only give AIPAC more power the next time that it really has to go to battle. The 'next time' -- I'm referring to a possible assault on nuclear facilities in Iran -- will be really important, fateful and decisive. It is inappropriate that every time the Americans have doubts about adopting a military course of action or not, Israel should come running and goad them on. This causes greater damage than the possibility that America would occasionally agree not to take action."

Finally, writing Sept. 9th in Arutz Sheva (the settlers' media outlet), the Chairman of the far right-wing Americans for a Safe Israel, Mark Langfan (a harsh critic of Obama), implored AIPAC to back off, stating, "...AIPAC is courting disaster in actively lobbying for the Congressional resolution for a US Syria attack. What's worse, I believe AIPAC is writing Israel's death warrant..."

Implications for Iran AUMF?

AIPAC's failure to rally Congressional support for an AUMF against Syria - notwithstanding the employment of powerful arguments that linked Iran, Israel, and U.S. national security - raises the question: what about an AUMF with respect to Iran? For some time, there have been rumbling on the Hill about whether/when such legislation would be introduced - and on 9/11 the Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin went so far as to publish her own recommended draft of a model Iran AUMF. Now, in the wake of the Syria AUMF debate - and particularly with the generally accepted wisdom that the Russian initiative would never have happened without the credible threat of military action presented by the AUMF resolution in Congress - the question of whether some member of Congress will push an Iran AUMF, on his/her own, or in coordination with AIPAC or other outside groups, seems all the more timely.

In this respect, the Syria debate is especially interesting. Clearly, Iran is not Syria. It remains to be seen whether the White House (and/or AIPAC) could make a more compelling case to members of Congress and the American people that U.S. national security is at risk with respect to Iran, and that military action would be effective and genuinely limited. In a Washington Post op-ed 9/9, Sen. Cruz (R-TX) laid out his arguments against a Syria AUMF, but also stated that, "Should we in the future have intelligence that al-Qaeda or Hezbollah is on the verge of acquiring chemical weapons or that Iran is nearing a nuclear breakout, I would support aggressive military action to prevent them from acquiring those weapons because the alternative is unacceptable: allowing Islamic extremists to acquire chemical or nuclear weapons that could be used to slaughter millions in New York or Los Angeles or London or Tel Aviv."

Nonetheless, as things look today, many of the arguments made by members of Congress against a Syria AUMF would appear to apply equally, if not even more powerfully, to an Iran AUMF - potentially making an Iran AUMF that much more difficult for AIPAC (or anyone else) to get Congress on board. Some examples include:

Collins (R-ME) 9/11: "... A military strike may well enforce the international norm with respect to chemical weapons, but at the same time it would weaken the international norm of limiting military action to instances of self-defense or those cases where we have the support of the international community or at least our allies in NATO or the Arab League..."

Portman (R-OH), 9/10: "...We need a comprehensive long-term strategy first, not a strike and then the promise of a strategy, which is what the administration has proposed. 'Strike first, strategy later' is a recipe for disaster."

Cornyn (R-TX), 9/11: "Many of us are concerned about upholding America's credibility, particularly when it comes to matters such as this, and I share their concern. But it would help if before we launch a halfhearted, ineffectual attack which gives our enemies a major propaganda victory that we come up with a more coherent plan and strategy for accomplishing our public policy goals. Murphy's law says what can go wrong will go wrong. Well, there is a Murphy's law of war too--perhaps many of them but one of them is no plan to go to war survives the first contact intact. In other words, we can plan to shoot the first bullet, but we can't control what happens after that. ... [President Obama]has failed to make the case that a short, limited military campaign would promote our vital interests and our national security. He has failed to lay out clear and realistic objectives that could be obtained through the use of military force. And he has failed to offer a compelling description of how his proposed intervention would advance America's broader foreign policy strategy; indeed, how it would advance his own policy of regime change. Therefore, if we were asked to vote on an authorization under these circumstances, I would vote no."

Inhofe (R-OK), 9/9: "...I suggest there is no such thing as limited war. Once we decide to strike, we can't predict where it will end or how the situation might escalate..."

Hahn (D-CA), 9/11: "...our limited strike risks igniting a dangerously unlimited conflict."

McClintock (R-CA), 9/10: "...once you have attacked another country, you are at war with that country and its allies, whatever you wish to call it, and whatever you later decide to do. And wars have a very nasty way of taking turns that no one can predict or control. World War I began with a series of obscure incidents that quickly escalated into world war. And the Middle East today is a veritable powder keg compared to the antebellum Europe of a century ago. ...we're told American credibility is on the line. Well, chemical weapons are barbaric, but this isn't the first time they've been used in modern times. They were used previously in Syria, in the Yemeni civil war, by Iraq against Iran, by the Vietnamese against the Cambodians, by Libya against Chad. The only unique thing about this incident is that it is the first time an American President has declared their use to be a 'red line.' Our credibility was harmed by a foolish and reckless statement by the President. Let us not further damage it with a foolish and reckless act by Congress. ...If you're going to start a war, you'd better be prepared to put the entire resources of the country behind it, to endure every setback along the way, to utterly annihilate every vestige of the enemy, and to install, by force, a government of our design and choosing, and to maintain that government until all opposition is ceased. If you are not willing to do that, then you have no business firing the first shot. More than a decade of irresolute and aimless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan should have taught us this lesson: that victory, and not stalemate, must be the objective of any war. Yet, this would be a war whose avowed objective is stalemate. That is self-defeating. It is immoral."

Dent (R-PA), 9/10: "...we have a very war-weary population which is not going to support a half-hearted, poorly thought out military strike which will only expose the United States and its friends to greater risks, including the possibility of a broader regional conflagration. This could include more chemical weapons attacks against the Syrian people and possibly Israel, potential cyber attacks on American critical infrastructure in both the financial services and energy sectors, an unleashed Hezbollah, and other unforeseen, asymmetrical responses."

Marchant (R-TX), 9/10: "...The President has not convinced me that we have vital national security interests at stake in Syria or a clear military objective. There are far too many unanswered questions and unclear objectives..."

Higgins (D-NY), 9/10: "In the international community, 194 countries have said--but for Turkey and France--yes, the United States, go get them; just don't ask us to participate. So the American people will find themselves, once again, for the third time in a decade, in a region of the Middle East in South Asia in another civil war, essentially alone again. The American people want nation-building. But they want it right here at home, in America."

Holding (R-NC), 9/9: "...the test of a successful foreign policy is that our friends trust us and our enemies fear us. President Obama has failed in this regard, and a military strike will fail to benefit the United States' broader strategy or international interests."

Brooks (R-AL), 9/11: "...President Obama erred when he made Syria's chemical weapons a red line. But a President's verbal gaffes don't justify war."

Gosar (R-AZ), 9/10: "...without an imminent threat to national security, without a plan, without a goal, without unified international support from our allies, we must stay out of Syria."

3. Members on the Record (on things other than Syria)

King (R-IA), et al 9/10: Making the case, among other things, that the U.S. is better off with undemocratic "friends" in power in Muslim-majority countries (like the Shah and Mubarak)

Forbes (R-VA) 9/9: Special order floor speech regarding the concerns of the Congressional Prayer Caucus, including (among other things) the assault on traditional marriage, the assault against employers "because they dare to operate their business according to the dictates of their conscience," and the fate of Pastor Abedini, held Iran because his Christian faith.

4. Hearings/Briefings

9/19: The House Foreign Affairs Committee's Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa will hold a hearing entitled "Examining the Syrian Refugee Crisis." Announced witnesses (so far) are: Anne Richard, Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration; and Nancy Lindborg, Assistant USAID Administrator, Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance

9/18: The Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED) and the Atlantic Council's Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East will hold a Hill briefing entitled, "The Future of U.S. Aid to Egypt." The discussion will feature Larry Diamond (Hoover Institution), Stephen McInerney (POMED), Dennis Ross (WINEP), and Michele Dunne (Atlantic Council - moderator).

9/4: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee convened a hearing entitled "The Authorization of Use of Force in Syria." Video of the hearing is available here. Witnesses were Secretary of State Kerry (statement), Secretary of Defense Hagel (statement), Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Dempsey (no statement submitted).

9/2: The House Foreign Affairs Committee convened a hearing entitled "Syria: Weighing the Obama Administration's Response." Video of the hearing is available here. Witnesses were Secretary of State Kerry (statement), Secretary of Defense Hagel (statement), Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Dempsey (no statement submitted).

5. News of the Weird

On 9/7, a surreal video surfaced on YouTube (posted on a far right-wing YouTube account whose current avatar is a sign reading "Our Forefathers Would Be Shooting By Now" superimposed over a "Don't Tread On Me" flag). The video features a formal address to the Egyptian people, delivered by Reps. Bachmann (R-MN), Gohmert (R-TX), and King (R-IA). The three members of Congress express their support for and solidarity with the Egyptian people in the fight against radical Islam and the Muslim Brotherhood (which Bachmann appears to say was responsible for the 9/11 attacks in the US), and their support of the current military government that is in power in Egypt.

The New York Times reported the story as straight news, but noted:

"Amplifying on the new government's portrayal of its crackdown as a battle against terrorism, Mrs. Bachmann wrongly implied a link between the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group whose political party dominated elections after the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak and now leads the opposition to the takeover." In addition, NYT points out that "Representative Louie Gohmert of Texas...compared the leader of the military takeover, Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, to George Washington. Mr. Gohmert overlooked the new government's mass shootings of hundreds of mostly unarmed protesters, its sweeping roundup of thousands of political opponents and its suspension of all legal protection against arbitrary arrest or other police abuse; instead, he commended General Sisi and the appointed civilian leaders for creating a government where the rule of law was 'king.'"

Bachmann noted that she and her colleagues speak for their constituents, but it is worth noting that immediately after the video came out, the Minneapolis Star Tribune published an editorial entitled, "Michele Bachmann takes reckless act to Egypt." The piece notes, among other things, that "the witless ramblings from Bachmann and two Republican U.S. House colleagues reads like something out of the best of the Onion."

Politico covered the video under the headline, "Bachmann, Gohmert, King's bizarre Egypt statement." GlobalPost got into the act with an extremely entertaining article entitled, "11 amazing things Michele Bachmann has said about the Middle East and North Africa." RawStory reported the video under the headline, "Bachmann, Gohmert and King's surreal Egyptian presser blames Muslim Brotherhood for 9/11."