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If the next president wants to attack Iran to stop it from building a nuclear weapon, Congress seems unlikely to stand in the way.
Overwhelming majorities in both chambers are on record in support of a policy that rules out containment of a nuclear-armed Iran as an option. And lawmakers, including Sen. Lindsey Graham, are eyeing new resolutions that would back Israel if it attacks and, potentially next year, authorize the use of U.S. military force.
“The Congress is ready to do what is necessary to support military intervention if sanctions don’t work,” the South Carolina Republican predicted in an interview last week.
Graham said there is broad agreement in the Senate that Iran must be stopped from developing a nuclear weapon. “The 30,000-foot view of Iran is very bipartisan: This regime is crazy, they’re up to no good, they are a cancer spreading in the Mideast. ... Almost all of the Democrats and Republicans buy into the idea that we can’t give them a nuclear capability,” he said.
Both President Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney have rattled sabers about possible military action if Iran continues to move toward nuclear capability. Obama warned members of the United Nations last month that the window of time available to negotiate a solution and avoid military action was shrinking.
And both Obama and Romney have forcefully ruled out containment, or adapting U.S. policy to the inevitability of a nuclear-armed Iran.
The House adopted an anti-containment resolution on a 401-11 vote in May. The Senate passed a similar resolution sponsored by Graham, 90-1, last month in an after-midnight vote Senators cast before heading home for the elections. Graham’s measure had 83 co-sponsors.
The lead sponsors of the Congressional resolutions have made clear they prefer tough sanctions to a military solution, and some Senators have issued statements filled with caveats. But Graham said the logical outcome if sanctions fail would be a pre-emptive strike.
While his resolution explicitly stated it was not an authorization of military force, Graham said it could lead to one next year. “If a president came to us and said that sanctions are not working and they are on the verge of a breakout ... I think there would be an overwhelming vote to authorize force,” he said.
Graham suggested that the next president give the Iranians a firm timeline to reach a deal or face the prospect of an attack.