It is not surprising that America's allies feel imposed upon in being required -- without prior consulation -- to reinforce a White House crackdown on Iran about which they have grave misgivings. However, ifit's any comfort to our foreign friends, they are not alone in being ignored by the president in the formulation of a policy that could well lead to military involvement. Congress has not been consulted either.
There is no law, of course, obliging the president to get a green light in advance from the allies, but there is one -- the 1973 War Powers resolution -- that requires prior consultation with Congress on military initiatives, except in an "emergency" when there is no time to consult.
For the last two weeks or so, Carter and his spokesmen have been threatening to take drastic steps that "might very well involve military means" if the economic sanctions already imposed fail to free the hostages. The time for decision, says Zbigniew Brzezinski, the national security adviser, is "a matter of weeks at the most."
Nobody in the administration is counting on the present sanctions (largely symbolic), or the severing of diplomatic relations with Iran, to win the release of the hostages. Hence, the United States is on the brink of what Carter says "would be very strong and forceful" action. Both a naval blockade and the aerial mining of Iranian oil ports have been intimated.
The president's tough new posture has been described by his press secretary as a public relations triumph, which it may be for the moment. But in adopting it, Carter has paid scant heed to the War Powers Act that was enacted in the wake of Vietnam to inhibit chief executives from initiating military moves entirely on their own.
It may be that Carter intends to consult Congress before using the armed forces. If so, the time to do it is now -- not at the last minute, or after the fact. It also may be that he has privately confided in some of his friends on the Hill, but there is no record of it.
In any case, that's not the kind of broad conferring called for in Section 3 of the 1973 resolution. It provides that "the president in every possible instance shall consult with Congress before introducing U.S. armed forces into hostilities or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances."
The resolution further says that the president's powers in such situations "are exercised only pursuant to (1) a declaration of war, (2) specific statutory authorization, or (3) a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces."
Pat Holt was chief of staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when the resolution was debated and adopted. This is the way he interprets it:
"Since both a declaration of war and specific statutory authorization require an act of Congress, this means that the president can act on his own authority in the case of hostilities or of an imminent threat of hostilities only when there is a national emergency caused by an attack on U.S. territory or on U.S. armed forces. This does not include a national emergency arising from other causes; nor does it include attacks on civilian Americans."
The dilemma of our European and Asian partners has aroused sympathy in unexpected quarters. Ronald Reagan, for instance, is saying, "A long string of conflicting signals from the White House, State Department and the National Security Council to the allies clearly is causing them to wonder if the Carter administration really knows what it is doing." He has a point.
The allies, being so dependent on Persian Gulf oil, naturally are not eager to join the United States in economic and diplomatic warfare against Iran, let alone military involvement. They feel it would not only be against their best interests, but against the best interests of the alliance as well.
There is also concern here and abroad that a resort to raw force could be fatal for the hostages and jeopardize the long-range interests of the United States in the whole area, especially if Iran, in desperation, should turn to neighboring Russia for help.
Since Carter pursued a constructive policy of patience and quiet diplomacy for almost six months, why not extend it for a couple of more months to give the new Iranian parliament, now being elected, a chance to resolve the hostage question, as proposed by Ayatollah Khomeini? Even if it turns out to be just another delaying tactic, there is little to lose.
The danger to the hostages, who have been well treated, is not losing their liberty between now and summer, but the possibility of losing their lives if U.S. armed force is invoked. Being confined is no picnic, but it is certainly better than being killed.