Senate Republicans Sharpening Rhetoric on Iran

Posted March 6, 2012 at 7:00pm

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) today doubled down on an earlier recommendation that Congress consider a resolution authorizing force in Iran if the country continues making progress toward nuclear capability.

McConnell’s remarks, both after his caucus meeting and in a speech Monday night to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, are the most recent in a serious uptick of Republican rhetoric on the ongoing nuclear threat Iran might pose.

“What the Iranians clearly don’t believe is that we are serious about deterring them. Whatever we’ve done so far has not helped them get to that point,” McConnell told reporters after the weekly Senate luncheons.

“I think it is time to consider a resolution authorizing the use of force,” the Minority Leader continued. “A resolution authorizing the use of force is not a mandate to use force, but it clearly would indicate to the Iranians that we’re willing to go beyond sanctions, that many of us are skeptical are likely to get the final result.”

McConnell denied that Republicans have political motives to take a stronger stand against Iran and for Israel as the 2012 elections continue to heat up. It would be rare, if not unprecedented, for a Congress to authorize force in another country without being requested to do so by the president.

Democrats have bristled at the tone embraced by Republicans on Iran, with President Barack Obama repeatedly charging that the GOP should not be “casual” with using the word “war.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who met in the morning with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu along with McConnell, used similar language to combat the GOP’s charge to use force. He also said that Congress should not try to pre-empt or pressure the president into a decision to militarily engage in any country.

“I think we have to be very, very, very cautious and with trepidation look at declaring war,” Reid said. “There’s only one person in the country that’s the commander in chief, and that’s whether we have a Democratic president or a Republican president: It’s the president of the United States. And I’m not going to be part of rushing forward on a declaration of war. These are things that have to be done very, very cautiously.”

In addition to staking out a more hawkish position on Iran, Republicans also have taken a harder line on Syria. Senate Armed Services ranking member John McCain (Ariz.) on Monday called for airstrikes in Syria to assist rebels in toppling the Assad regime.

“The United States should lead an international effort to protect key population centers in Syria,” McCain said in a floor speech that was highly critical of Obama. “To be clear: This will require the United States to suppress enemy air defenses in at least part of the country.”