This post is from AIDemocracy’s Senior Political Analyst Eugene Kogan:

Rising international tensions around Iran’s nuclear plans are greeted with a deafening silence from Capitol Hill.  Except in an op-ed in The Los Angeles Times, Zbig Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter’s National Security Adviser, warns that a preventive U.S. attack on Iran “undertaken without a formal congressional declaration of war…would be unconstitutional and merit the impeachment of the president.”  Brzezinski’s is a second high-profile wake-up call to Congress in recent days.  Historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. wrote in The Washington Post that “There is no more dangerous thing for a democracy than a foreign policy based on presidential preventive war.”  One hopes that Members of Congress are hearing the tocsins being rung.  Congress’s virtually complete abandonment of oversight in the run-up to the preventive war against Iraq was a serious blow to the system of checks and balances.

Regrettably, the media continues to confuse preemption with prevention.  The former is an action taken against an imminent threat, while the latter is one taken against a yet-unformed threat to preclude it from becoming imminent at some time in the future.  The invasion of Iraq clearly was preventive.  So would be a strike against Iran.

Since the Bush Administration claims that “all options are on the table” to stop the Iranian nuclear program, the American people must demand that Congress tell them what it knows about the threat from Iran.  Americans must know what the Administration is telling their elected representatives because if America strikes Iran, this will be done in the name of all Americans.  (Just like when the U.S. invaded Iraq, it did so in the name of all Americans.)  Then, it will be too late to say “not in our name”.  Now is the time to ask the hard questions—by people of the Administration and of Congress, and by Congress of the Administration.  This is what might be called “double accountability”: if people hold Congress accountable, it is much more likely that Congress will hold the Administration accountable.  Americans must understand that asking hard questions is a critical responsibility that they, as citizens of a democracy, must exercise.  A coming war is as strong a test of democracy as the war itself.

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