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City Council dives into foreign policy again

By Scott Tibbs, July 31, 2008

Several years ago, the Bloomington City Council passed a resolution against U.S. foreign policy toward Cuba, urging the government to open trade with the Communist dictatorship. Later, during the build-up to the war in Iraq, the councilors passed a resolution against using force in Iraq. The resolution drew a huge crowd and significant media attention. Now, as relations with Iran continue to sour, the City Council is planning to vote on a resolution opposing a military strike against Iran.

While this resolution will be compared to the resolution against the Iraq war, it is important to note that we are in a different situation now than we were in 2003. While the "surge" is working and has significantly improved the situation on the ground in Iraq, we are still fighting Islamist terrorists in Afghanistan. Engaging Iran militarily would likely overextend the military. Despite the saber rattling from Washington, the Bush Administration almost certainly understands this.

The political situation is also very unfavorable to open hostilities with Iran. With the Iraq war's low popularity and the President's historically low approval ratings, it is highly unlikely that Congress would grant an authorization to use force against Iran - especially in an election year when Democrats are counting on the energy of anti-war activists. The invasion of Iraq had broad popular and bipartisan support, with many prominent Democrats voting for the war. That does not exist now and barring a major provocation that is not likely to change.

I agree with the basic point of the resolution: that we should use diplomatic means rather than force to deal with Iran's ambitions to acquire nuclear weapons. While military force is sometimes necessary and unavoidable, war should always be seen as the last resort. But the more basic issue is whether or not local government should be passing resolutions on state or national policy at all.

This phenomenon is not unique to city government. The Monroe County Council passed a resolution in September of 2002 recognizing terrorist attacks of a year earlier and supporting the efforts of President Bush to "defend the country and bring the perpetrators to justice." That resolution passed 4-3, with three Republicans and a Democrat supporting it and the other three Democrats voting against it.

Yes, there are other problems the city should be solving, but a resolution against using force in Iran does not prevent the City Council from addressing issues of planning and zoning, infrastructure and police and fire protection. The practical effect of the resolution will probably be to pressure Baron Hill to more openly oppose using military force against Iran, especially given how important Leftists in Bloomington are to Hill's hopes of retaining his seat against another challenge from Mike Sodrel. Beyond that, the effect will be negligible.

Indiana law allows units of government to express their opinion on such matters as a corporate body. The City Council has a long history of this, from the aforementioned resolutions on trade with Cuba and the Iraq war to a resolution against Interstate 69 and a resolution against the "Patriot Act". I lobbied for the last one, so I clearly do not have a problem with the City Council passing these resolutions. The cost to taxpayers is negligible or nonexistent, and it allows the community to have an open discussion about the issue. There is no harm done.

"It is well that war is so terrible, or we should get too fond of it." - Robert E. Lee