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bipartisan bloc

The horseshoe theory of politics: Isolationist and anti-war lawmakers urge restraint against Iran

Bipartisan coalition emerging against the foreign policy mainstream

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U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks on energy as (L-R) Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm and Special Presidential Coordinator Amos Hochstein listen during an event in the Roosevelt Room of the White House October 19, 2022 in Washington, DC.

As the Biden administration mulls plans to retaliate for the Iranian proxy strike that killed three U.S. service members in Jordan on Sunday, a coalition of right-wing isolationists and anti-war progressives is emerging to oppose sweeping U.S. retaliation.

It’s a reminder that on foreign policy, the typical ideological divisions aren’t neatly split along partisan lines. President Joe Biden’s stalwart pro-Israel backing is creating defections among his party’s left wing, while the GOP’s traditional support for a muscular foreign policy is facing attacks from a growing cadre of neo-isolationists, who favor a restrained American role in the world.

While more hawkish Senate Republicans have been calling for a U.S. strike on Iran, Republicans on the isolationist right are emerging as vocal opponents of an aggressive response.

“Do we really trust the Biden administration to possibly launch a war with Iran at the same time where we have no idea how many terrorists are on United States soil?” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) told reporters on Monday. “I think that cool heads need to prevail and wise decisions need to be made.”

She separately called the supporters of strikes on Iran “absolutely psychotic.”

Greene and others also argue that a strike on Iran would be illegal without congressional authorization.

“If we’re going to war, Congress must declare it,” Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) said in response to his colleagues calling for a strike on Iran.

Across the aisle, progressives are joining the calls for restraint.

“We can’t allow the deaths of U.S. service members to go unanswered – but we also can’t give in to the war hawks who look for any reason to go to war with Iran,” Rep. Sara Jacobs (D-CA) said in a statement. “Direct confrontation with Iran will certainly lead to the deaths of more U.S. service members and could easily expand into a regional conflict.”

She said the administration should “proceed thoughtfully and carefully with a strategic, proportional response that avoids unnecessary escalation.” And she urged the administration to seek a permanent cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, which would “end the war that’s emboldening Iran.”

Other progressives similarly argue that a cease-fire in Gaza would halt the Iranian proxy strikes throughout the region. It’s not clear that’s the case, given that Iran’s proxies attacked U.S. forces dozens of times prior to Oct. 7.

A similar “horseshoe” dynamic has emerged around the Biden administration’s strikes on the Houthis in Yemen.

Progressive Reps. Ro Khanna (R-CA), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) and Val Hoyle (D-OR) joined with conservative Republican Reps. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) and Warren Davidson (R-OH) last week to lead a letter arguing that the administration lacks the authority to carry out its ongoing strikes against the Houthis in Yemen without explicit congressional authorization.

Meanwhile, many more hawkish lawmakers in the House — both Democrats and Republicans — have urged a forceful response to the attack, but most have stopped short of openly calling on the U.S. to strike Iran.

Rep. Greg Landsman (D-OH), who said Monday that “the world must put an end to Iran’s chaos & terror” did not say if striking Iran is the path to doing so, focusing on the need for a united front with international partners.

“Iran responds to strength. And the president knows that. The international community knows that, Arab League nations know that,” Landsman told Jewish Insider. “That’s what everyone is going to have to do in the coming days and weeks is to show that kind of strength, so this chaos and terrorism that they have pursued and funded.”

Landsman added that he believes “the administration is taking this seriously.”

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) told JI that he doesn’t have all the information necessary to make a firm determination on how the U.S. should respond, but said his “gut reaction is that we should take action against Iran.” He added that there are both lethal and non-lethal actions for doing so, including intercepting Iran’s international shipping operations.

Such a move would “let Iran know that its use of international commerce is put at risk by their arming of the Houthis and that, furthermore, we are taking this seriously because they’ve killed three of our servicemen,” Sherman said.

“Obviously this is an Iranian influenced, financed, supported organization,” Sherman added, “so I would need to get the classified briefing before I could make a determination” on striking Iran and Iran’s direct involvement in the attack in Jordan.

Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL) said that the U.S. needs to “send a clear and strong message, at the time of our choosing, in the place of our choosing.” 

“We’ve got to be thoughtful and strategic about it, but Iran has to understand that they cannot attack the U.S. or U.S. interests, and we are going to defend them,” Schneider said. He said he’d “leave it up to the military planners” to decide where those strikes should take place.

Other Republicans in the House have also sounded reticent to join their Senate counterparts in calling for strikes on Iran.

House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) said on Sunday that the U.S. “must send a crystal clear message across the globe that attacks on our troops will not be tolerated,” without specifically endorsing a strike on Iran, a view that other Republicans echoed on Monday evening.

Rep. Byron Donalds (R-FL) told reporters there “has to be a very strong and definitive response from the United States government” that will make it “incredibly uncomfortable for the Iranians to conduct operations through their proxy fighter groups.”

But he declined to say if the U.S. should strike Iran, explaining that he hadn’t seen the intelligence necessary to make such a determination.

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