Jonathan Weisman – New York Times Blog March 6, 2012
President Obama may be decrying the drumbeat of war and the politicization of the Iranian conflict, but his entreaties against loose war talk did little to dampen the pounding on Capitol Hill.
Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, went to the microphones after his party’s policy lunch on Tuesday – and just after the president’s press conference – to call on Congress to debate and vote on whether to authorize the use of force against Iran.
“Sanctions, while a good thing to do, will not achieve the desired result,” Mr. McConnell said. He called for “a more forceful approach,” even as he stressed that an authorization of force would not compel the president to go to war.
As for the politics, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, took to the Senate floor Tuesday afternoon to deliver a scathing speech against the man he called the likely Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney.
He accused Mr. Romney, the former governor of his state, of “sloganeering” on Iran and creating “false differences with the president just to score political points.” He singled out as “the greatest single, willful avoidance of facts” Mr. Romney’s contention that the Obama administration had been lax with sanctions against Iran, citing a litany of multilateral and unilateral efforts to squeeze Tehran and quoting Iranian government officials on the crippling results.
“Mr. Romney needs to know what’s going on if he wants to run for president,” Mr. Kerry said in an unusual speech addressed overtly to a political opponent of his party.
Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Senate majority leader, pushed back on Mr. McConnell, his Republican counterpart, and indicated no such debate on the use of force would be coming soon.
“I’m not going to be part of rushing forward with a declaration of war,” Mr. Reid said, citing a litany of hot spots around the globe, from North Korea to Syria. “So let’s stop throwing the word ‘war’ around so casually.”
Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, the chamber’s second-ranking Republican, said his party was not bent on war with Iran, but merely demanding that the Obama administration fully implement the sanctions available to it.
But the Republicans’ stance has put them in an awkward position, pressing for stronger actions against Iran even as they castigate the Obama administration for allowing gasoline prices to rise. Mr. Kyl said he did not think tensions over Iran were behind the rise in gasoline prices. But if Mr. Obama were to make a grand gesture by opening federal lands to oil exploration and approving the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada, Mr. Kyl said, it would immediately burst a speculative bubble in the short run, while ensuring lower gas prices in the long term.
But while Mr. Kyl did allow that a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities would lead to higher prices at the pump, he added, “I don’t think Americans would hold it against Israel if their gas prices rise a little.”