By Alan Dershowitz
Congressional approval for a punitive-deterrent strike against Syria’s use of chemical weapons should not be misunderstood by Iran, Israel, or anyone else.
The decision, which involved many moving parts, was not intended to show any weakened resolve to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Nor was it intended to represent any American trend toward increasing isolationism either in relation to the world in general or the Middle East in particular.
The president’s decision to take his case to Congress was the result of a complex of reasons, both constitutional and political.
It was made by a president who had campaigned on the principle that congressional approval for non-emergency military actions is generally desirable and sometimes legally required. But it was also made by a president who had committed our nation to a red line, which if crossed, would demand a response.
Hence the conflict: a president cannot commit his nation to a red line if he is also committed to securing congressional approval before responding to the crossing of that red line.
What if Congress denies approval?
Must the president still keep his red line commitment? If he does not, what does this say about other red line commitments, such as that made regarding Iran’s efforts to secure nuclear weapons?
How will Iranian mullahs interpret the president’s decision to go to Congress? And how will the Israeli government respond to it? Will misunderstandings increase the likelihood of a military confrontation with Iran?
These questions and the uncertainty of the answers reflect the dilemma posed by the president’s decision to go to Congress after drawing a red line that Syria has crossed.
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