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Mitch McConnell: Man with a plan

At the AIPAC policy conference last week, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell gave a serious, substantive, unflashy, stalwart speech on Iran that directly addressed the pathetic weakness radiated by the Obama administration. In every significant respect, Senator McConnell is the unObama. My attention was drawn to Senator McConnell’s speech by Judith Levy, who aptly summarized it in her terrific review of the AIPAC proceedings:

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) projected a powerful combination of the charmingly avuncular Southern gentleman and the butt-kicking, name-taking quiet man whom you cross at your peril. He dismissed Obama’s Iran policy as flawed because of its refusal to delineate clear military consequences to Iranian provocation, and stated that if sufficient intelligence were gleaned indicating that Iran was pursuing the bomb, he would personally introduce authorization to Congress for the use of “overwhelming” military force to prevent Iran from enriching uranium to weapons-grade level. The crowd ate it up, and I confess that I’m an avid new fan.

The text of Senator McConnell’s speech is here. The video is below.

Here is the part of the speech that caught Levy’s attention:

In my judgment, there is broad bipartisan support for the administration’s stated goal with respect to Iran, and a strong declaratory policy like this can be expected to have the support of strong majorities of both parties in Congress, and thus the solid support of the American people.

All that’s been lacking until now is a clear, declaratory policy. And if the administration is reluctant for some reason to articulate it, then Congress will attempt to do it for him.

[T]onight I make the following commitment in support of the policy I have proposed: if at any time the intelligence community presents the Congress with an assessment that Iran has begun to enrich uranium to weapons grade levels, or has taken a decision to develop a nuclear weapon — consistent with protecting classified sources and methods — I will consult with the President and joint congressional leadership and introduce before the Senate an authorization for the use of military force.

This authorization, if enacted, will ensure the nation and the world that our leaders are united in confronting Iran, and will undermine the perception that the U.S. is wounded or retreating from global responsibilities.

The authority will be focused to ensure the people of Iran and the international community that our disagreement is not with the population of Iran or the Muslim world. This authorization will not prevent the administration from pursuing diplomatic measures, continued negotiations and consultation with our allies. On the contrary, it will strengthen these efforts.

This authorization will make clear that any effort by Iran or its proxy forces to retaliate against the interests of the United States whether our personnel, our bases or freedom of the seas will be met by overwhelming force.

For the U.S., this debate and ultimate passage of an authorization for the use of military force ensures that we have a coherent, unified policy toward Iran and that we not take on another military action without bipartisan support. A decision to take military action against Iran should not be taken lightly. It should have the bipartisan support of Congress.

It’s a good commitment, but potential problems with it occur to me. The tortured role played by the American intelligence community in respect of Iran does not need to be revisited here — see, e.g., Michael Anton’s 2010 Weekly Standard post — but it should be kept in mind. One wonders if the intelligence community can play the role envisioned by Senator McConnell in good faith. One also wonders about its capacity to play this role.

I reached out to a spokesman for Senator McConnell to ask: “Can you tell me if Senator McConnell is confident we would know when Iran is enriching to weapons grade? He implies the intelligence would be there, but is that true?”

Senator McConnell’s spokesman responded: “I can say that Leader McConnell stands by the commitment he made in his speech, but we can’t discuss matters related to intelligence any further than that, I’m afraid.”

Whatever the problems, the commitment merits serious discussion. This is one area in which the Senate has been leading the Obama administration from the front.

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