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Stefanik wants sharp response to Iran

(Stefanik photo by Watertown Daily Times, Gillibrand photo by the Enterprise)

On Tuesday, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo briefed the House and Senate, but first told reporters that the situation between the U.S. and Iran was easing after several weeks of increasing and decreasing threats.

“Our prudent response, I think, has given the Iranians time to recalculate,” Shanahan said, according to the New York Times. “I think our response was a measure of our will and our resolve that we will protect our people and our interests in the region.”

Tensions with Iran have grown this month, with the U.S. ending exemptions to its sanctions in Iran and Iran, pulling back from some of its commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action — the controversial nuclear deal the U.S. left under President Donald Trump. Other factors, including a U.S. aircraft carrier and missile interceptors being moved to the region, the rumored arming and then disarming of some Iranian ships, and Trump’s ongoing Twitter commentary have contributed to an uncertain climate.

Last week, the Watertown Daily Times requested an interview with U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, who serves both on the House Select Committee on Intelligence and the House Armed Services Committee, on growing tensions with Iran, possible troop deployments and the way forward. Stefanik’s spokeswoman, Madison Anderson, said Stefanik would not have time to talk this week and included a statement. Asked if she would have time to talk next week, Anderson said the office would defer to the statement.

“Making sure Iran, and any other foreign adversary, knows they cannot attack the United States with impunity is critical to the safety and security of our nation,” read Stefanik’s statement. “I have great confidence in the Department of Defense and our nation’s defense leaders. Americans can all sleep better at night knowing they are recommending plans of action in the event that any foreign nation takes adversarial action against the United States.”

Stefanik has listed Iran as one of the top threats to the United States. During an interview with the Times last fall, she called Iran “the world’s greatest sponsor of terrorism,” reiterated that she opposed JCOPA and said that, long-term, the U.S. should work with dissidents and allies toward eventual regime change in Iran.

Stefanik was endorsed in 2017 by Trump’s hawkish National Security Advisor John Bolton and received $10,000 from his PAC. Bolton has a reputation as a hardliner on Iran, and in 2015 he penned a New York Times op-ed titled “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran.”

Other lawmakers from New York seem to have been alarmed by the activities over Iran. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., said the U.S. should avoid overly aggressive posturing.

“I oppose reckless military action — or signals that could be misinterpreted and get us into another war,” Gillibrand said in statement provided to the Times. “There is plenty of concern about Iran’s malign activities, and we address those threats best when we unite with our friends and allies. What we must do is actually withdraw from the wars President Trump has said he was ending, stop using decades-old AUMFs (Authorizations for Use of Military Force) to conduct new military actions, and ensure that the President does not act without appropriate oversight from Congress.”

One potential issue in any military action against Iran would be congressional approval for an Authorization for Use of Military Force necessary for any long-term action. Currently, the United States is using the 2001 AUMF passed in the wake of 9/11 to target al-Qaeda and has since been used in countries as widely spread as Afghanistan, the Philippines, Georgia and Somalia, and a 2002 AUMF against Iraq. Gillibrand has also co-sponsored S.1039, the “Prevention of Unconstitutional War with Iran Act of 2019,” which prevents any money being spent on kinetic military actions against Iran without explicit congressional approval, absent an imminent threat.

Unlike Stefanik and Gillibrand’s fellow New York Democratic senator Charles Schumer, Gillibrand supported JCOPA and called for a joint strategy with allies to confront Iran’s activities.

“Now Iran is threatening to restart some aspects of its nuclear program,” Gillibrand’s statement continued. “This would be a mistake for them and the world. President Trump’s unilateral pullout of the Iran Deal certainly didn’t increase our leverage, but rather has created grave risks.”

Schumer’s office provided comments the senator made last week calling for a public briefing of Congress by Shanahan after reports that the U.S. was considering moving 120,000 troops to the Middle East if tensions continued to escalate.

“The American people deserve to know what’s going on,” Schumer said on the Senate floor. “If the president and Republicans in Congress are planning to take the United States to a conflict, even a war, in the Middle East, the American people deserve to know that, and they deserve to know why.”

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