With the Bush administration taking increasingly provocative actions toward Iran, like the deployment of aircraft carriers to the Gulf, the arrest of Iranian representatives in Iraq, and the sharp escalation in bellicose rhetoric it seems clear that they’re at least considering a military strike. Here’s an idea that might help deter it.

Suppose groups like MoveOn, TrueMajority, and Democracy For America circulated a petition where those who signed it would ask our Senators, Representatives, and any of the other Democratic Presidential Candidates to pledge to oppose any attack on Iran and to also promise to initiate impeachment hearings if Bush attacked Iran without getting explicit Congressional authorization.

The groups would circulate the petition first among their members and whoever else they could reach. Then after the signatures were collected, they would then present it to all of America’s Senators, Congressional Representatives, and to all the other announced or likely Presidential Candidates, and publicly ask them to sign the pledge.  To maximize publicity, they could deliver the petitions in Washington DC but also have members deliver them to local Congressional or Senatorial offices.

This would have several benefits.

It would create a public presence for opposition to an Iran war that would make Iraq look like a welcome party.

It would put the Congressional Representatives, Senators, and Presidential candidates on record, making as many as possible part of this opposition

In the case of the Presidential candidates, it would publicly separate those willing to sign the pledge from those who were not, which could be a telling division point when voters go to the polls in the primaries.

Although the groups could do the same petition without the impeachment threat, adding it in gives the measure teeth, and framing it in terms of requiring explicit Congressional permission frames the issue as not only about the likely consequences of another catastrophic war, but also about the administration’s more general seizure of power from the legislative branch, and the need to reverse this process.

There are lots of other ways a petition like this could proceed, but I think it could be a powerful tool to focus public attention on the issue, make clear the level of opposition before it’s too late to stop a war, and compel key political figures to go on the record and take a stand.  By including the threat of impeachment and challenging elected officials to sign on to it, the petition would have some actual teeth, and might just work as a deterrent.

Paul Rogat Loeb is the author of The Impossible Will Take a Little While: A Citizen's Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear, named the #3 political book of 2004 by the History Channel and the American Book Association. His previous books include Soul of a Citizen: Living With Conviction in a Cynical Time. See