'War with Iran would be a colossal mistake.' Lawmakers push to block military strike

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President Donald Trump heads to the G-20 summit in Japan this week, weighed down by escalating tensions with Iran, stalled negotiations over North Korea’s nuclear capabilities and a stalemated trade dispute with China. (June 26) AP, AP

WASHINGTON – The Senate began voting Friday on a war-authorization measure that would block President Donald Trump from launching a military strike against Iran unless he gets explicit congressional approval.

Trump threatened Iran with “obliteration” on Tuesday, warning that the U.S. would use “overwhelming force” against the country if it attacks “anything American.”

Democrats and some Republicans have grown alarmed by the Trump administration’s rhetoric and actions on Iran. Last week, Trump initially authorized a missile strike on the country – in retaliation for Tehran’s downing of a U.S. drone – but the president nixed the military action at the last minute. He said then that he was concerned about Iranian casualties.

This week, Trump has taken a harder line and boasted that any war with Iran would be devastating. “I don’t need exit strategies,” he told reporters.

But some lawmakers say a war with Iran would be a prolonged and disastrous conflict – precisely the kind of “endless war” that Trump campaigned against in 2016.

“A war with Iran would be a colossal mistake,” Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., said during Thursday’s debate on the measure. Kaine is a chief sponsor of the Senate proposal, along with Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Tom Udall, D-N.M.

“After 18 years of two wars in the Middle East, both of which where we still have troops deployed, we should not be fomenting, encouraging, blundering toward, rushing into a third war in the Middle East,” said Kaine, who sits on the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees.

“It is an America-first idea that we would not want to go and engage in these endless, unfocused, unconstitutional wars,” Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican, told Fox News earlier this week. He is co-sponsoring a similar measure in the House with California Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna.

But other Republicans warn that restricting Trump’s military options is a dangerous step that would embolden the Islamic Republican at a time when it’s already threatening the U.S. Top Trump administration officials said last month that “credible intelligence” suggested Iran was preparing to attack American military assets in the region. 

“At the very moment that Iran has been stepping up its aggression throughout the Middle East, these senators are proposing radical new restrictions on the administration’s ability to defend U.S. interests and our partners,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Thursday on the Senate floor.

He argued, for example, that the measure would bar Trump from retaliating against Iran if it attacked Israel. “The president’s hands would be tied,” McConnell said.

The Kaine-Udall proposal would bar the Trump administration from using any Pentagon funding to “conduct hostilities” against the government of Iran, its armed forces or its territory. It would not prevent the U.S. from responding to an attack on the U.S.

The Senate vote started early Friday morning and will be held open for several hours. If approved, the amendment would be added to a broader defense policy bill that lawmakers see as must-pass legislation. But supporters need 60 votes for passage, a tough bar in the GOP-controlled Senate.  

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Following Iran’s shootdown of an American drone, tensions are high. But this is nothing new for the U.S. and Iran. We have the FAQs. Just the FAQs, USA TODAY

As lawmakers debate possible military action against Iran, European and Iranian diplomats are set to meet in Vienna to discuss the fate of the 2015 multilateral nuclear agreement.

Iranian officials said earlier this week they would speed up uranium enrichment and pull back from the nuclear agreement, signed by the U.S. and other world powers to curb Iran’s nuclear program. The Trump administration unilaterally withdrew from that deal more than a year ago – Trump said it wasn’t strong enough.

Iran’s U.N. ambassador said Thursday that its decision to increase uranium enrichment could be reversed if Europe finds a way to side-step crushing economic sanctions the Trump administration has imposed on Iran’s oil industry.

He said he hopes that at Friday’s meeting in Vienna of the five parties remaining in the nuclear deal “tangible results can be achieved so that we can reverse our decision.”

Brian Hook, the State Department’s special envoy on Iran, is also in Europe, pressing officials to abandon the deal and join the U.S. in imposing stringent sanctions on Iran.

Contributing: Kim Hjelmgaard and the Associated Press

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