Michael Spies

This week, two fights are going on, one in Washington and the other in New York, the outcomes for which might largely affect the likelihood for armed conflict with Iran. In Washington, backsliding below the zero point to a new low from their campaign promises to end the current war, the House democratic leadership has decided to pull language from their Supplemental Appropriations bill (funding the Bush administration’s escalation in Iraq), which would have required the President to seek explicit congressional approval prior to any military operations in Iran.

The Friends Committee on National Legislation has set up a phone number that can connect constituents to their congress people in order to tell them to reinsert the Iran provision: see FCNL.org for more information. The National Iranian-American Council has also set up an online page where you can send a similar (customizable) electronic message to your congress person.

Meanwhile in New York, Russia and China are sparring with the Western members of the Security Council over the severity of sanctions on Iran that would be imposed over its failure to suspend its uranium enrichment program as required by resolution 1737. There is a tendency to see the actions of the Security Council as legitimizing the actions of the United States, but as I detail in this piece here on Iran and the evolving role of the Security Council, the Council’s actions on crucial matters affecting the peace have increasingly represented little more than the raw exercise of the power, not the triumph of the rule of law. The United States has increasingly used the Council as an instrument to create hegemonic international law whenever it suits its own interests as its most powerful member.

It is said that law is a tool of the powerful, but it can also be its master. Most of those who work toward strengthening international law tend to emphasize how the UN and law constrains the United States. But, since the end of the cold war arrow has been moving almost entirely in the opposite direction. In this period the Council has drastically extended both its activities and its authority. Exemplified by the progression of the crisis over Iran’s nuclear program, the Council continues to innovatively adapt the rules to assert the will of the United States in the name of the international community, even when these acts require rewriting, reinterpreting, or violating existing law.