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A spokesman for Barack Obama said that Hillary Clinton gave President Bush a "blank check" by voting for the Kyl-Lieberman Amendment declaring the Iranian Revolutionary Guard to be a terrorist organization.
Obama and other Democrats have tried to use Clinton's vote to portray her as careless on Iran and remind voters she backed President Bush's request to go to war with Iraq. Obama advisers say the Kyl-Lieberman amendment provides a new rationale for keeping U.S. troops in Iraq and could be used to justify an attack on Iran.
"Without a doubt," Obama adviser Greg Craig said in a memo, "President Bush can cite that language as authorizing him to maintain and use U.S. troops in Iraq for the purpose of containing Iran, curtailing Iran's influence in Iraq, and, if need be, to expand our troops' activities beyond Iraq's borders to pursue and attack Iranian forces."
Sen. Joe Biden made that argument forcefully in a statement after the vote, arguing that the Bush administration has interpreted laws in ways Congress did not intend. "I don't trust this administration not to twist its words into a justification for war," Biden said. "I don't trust this administration to follow the plain meaning of the law."
But Clinton emphasized that the amendment was "non-binding" and that it "in no way authorizes or sanctions military action against Iran."
So which side is right?
Some foreign policy analysts — and a senator who supports Obama — say it's an exaggeration to call the amendment a "blank check."
"It's non-binding, so it has no policy implications, let alone legal implications," said Michael A. Ledeen, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. "It's posturing."
Sen. Richard Durbin, an Illinois Democrat supporting Obama, told Bloomberg Television that the resolution does not give authority "to invade Iran or any other country ... I have the same concerns that Barack Obama does about this administration and what they might do with the power that they have. But I don't think this resolution gives them a green light to do anything."
But other analysts say that while the legislation may not appear to be a blank check, the Bush administration may try to use it that way.
"I think it's sort of a stretch, but this administration has been known to make that stretch previously," said Max Bergmann, deputy director of the National Security Network, a left-leaning group that studies national security. "It's getting into an area where Congress and our country have been burned before."
Given the differing interpretations, we rate the "blank check" claim to be Half True.
AFP, Iran sanctions rattle 2008 White House hopefuls, Oct. 26, 2007.
Barack Obama, Remarks of Senator Barack Obama: Lessons from Iraq, Oct. 12, 2007.
Congressional Record, the Kyl-Lieberman Amendment, Sept. 26, 2007. Paragraphs b(3) and b(4) were deleted before the final vote.
Roll call vote on the Kyl-Lieberman Amendment, Sept. 26, 2007.
A bill to impose sanctions on Iran and on other countries for assisting Iran in developing a nuclear program, and for other purposes, co-sponsored by Barack Obama on April 24, 2007, and by Hillary Clinton on April 26, 3007.
Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002. Joe Biden campaign, "Biden calls for unified opposition to Bush Iran policy," Oct. 26, 2007.
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