Jim Webb Bill Would Bar Military Action Against Iran

My junior Senator, Jim Webb, has introduced legislation to the effect that, “no funds … may be obligated or expended for military operations or activities within or above the territory of Iran, or within the territorial waters of Iran, except pursuant to a specific authorization of Congress.”

The bill has a number of exceptions, however. The proposal would allow military action under the following scenarios without prior congressional authorization:

— When the action is aimed at repelling an attack launched or about to be launched from inside Iran;

— When military forces are in “hot pursuit” of enemy forces fleeing into Iran; and

— When the military is supporting intelligence gathering.

The bill would require the president to submit a report to Congress within 24 hours justifying any spending that would support any of the exceptions.

Webb told FOX News last week that his concern came about when he compared the 2002 authorization to go to war in Iraq with the presidential signing statement accompanying it clarifying prerogatives the administration deemed permissible under the authorization.

He said the ambiguity in the signing statement leaves room for the president to interpret the authorization as authorizing war with Iran. And, Webb said, according to the signing statement, the president retains the right to take military action “to respond to threats against American military interests.”

Webb appears to have support from Democratic lawmakers. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said last week that he had not read the amendment, that would be attached to a supplemental war spending bill, but is “very, very confident … in real generality … that I can support” Webb.

Webb said he believed his amendment would have a good chance of passing if it is added to the spending bill because it would be tied to the must-pass appropriations measure. Its future, however, will depend a lot on work to be done later this month by the Appropriations Committee.

The bill basically says the president must abide by the 1973 War Powers Act, making it something of a redundancy. Of course, the exceptions are large enough to drive a division of tanks through, making them rather academic as well. And, of course, Bush would likely veto such a bill, anyway, and it would be virtually impossible to get the necessary 2/3 in both Houses to override.

Still, it’s an interesting move by Congress to re-insert itself into the decision-making process for war. Theoretically, Congress is supposed to initiate war, with the president in charge of the execution. In recent decades, however, the existence of a large, standing force deployed globally has given presidents the initiative, with the legislature generally deferring. It strikes me as highly unlikely that this trend will be reversed.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. ken says:

    Jim Webb knows Bush. Jim Webb doesn’t trust Bush.

    Webb’s legislation is a counterbalance to the irrational belligerence of the wacko conservative establishment. Bush is insane enough that, if not stopped, he is likely to start a war with Iran. Webb’s legislation gives legal support to those, particularly in the military, who might prevent Bush from doing this.

  2. Anderson says:

    And, of course, Bush would likely veto such a bill, anyway, and it would be virtually impossible to get the necessary 2/3 in both Houses to override.

    That is likely the point — let Bush veto it, let Republican senators vote against it, and then craft your TV spots accordingly.

  3. >The bill basically says the president must
    >abide by the 1973 War Powers Act, making it
    >something of a redundancy.

    It should be redundant, but given the current administration’s belief that laws passed before 9/11 don’t apply to it anymore, it probably isn’t redundant.