In matters of foreign policy, Congress must disentangle the national interest from its appetite for political red meat. How to de-fang a nuclear Iran throws the problem into relief.
Last November, the United States, Germany, France, China, Russia and the United Kingdom reached agreement on a “Joint Plan of Action” with Iran that puts the brakes on its nuclear program, including programmatic rollbacks. In exchange, Iran will receive a temporary, limited and targeted suspension of certain commercial sanctions. The plan is to resume sanctions in six months (July 20) unless Iran makes additional concessions.
It’s a precarious but hopeful turning point that could get sandbagged by the U.S. Senate. Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez and Republican Sen. Mark Kirk have introduced a sanctions bill freighted with agreement-snuffing language. Thoughtful hawks such as Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Diane Feinstein believe Menendez-Kirk edges us closer to war, undermining negotiations and making whole the nightmare of a nuclear-armed Iran.
But taking a truncheon to Iran, even when it’s fated to backfire, provides an easy applause line. Currently, 58 senators have signed on as co-sponsors.
“It seems to me that you can’t have sanctions and then when they work (severe damage to the Iranian economy, including a massive depreciation of its currency, a more moderate leader elected professing to want to settle the nuclear issue) say that you will assess more sanctions,” said University of Washington International Studies Professor Joel Migdal. Migdal, author of “Shifting Sands: The United States in the Middle East,” notes, “We have seen the first opening by the Iran regime in some time, and the new sanctions bill may torpedo any progress that could come out of that opening.”
Washington’s U.S. Senators have avoided the bandwagon, exhibiting admirable restraint.
“I believe the Administration should be given time to negotiate a strong, verifiable comprehensive agreement,” Sen. Patty Murray wrote in a letter to constituents this week. “However, if Iran does not agree to a comprehensive agreement that is acceptable, or if Iran does not abide by the terms of the interim agreement, I will work with my colleagues to swiftly enact sanctions.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by Sen. Maria Cantwell.
“Sen. Cantwell would prefer to see a diplomatic solution and wants to give Secretary Kerry the time necessary to negotiate a final deal before considering more sanctions,” Cantwell spokesman Jared Leopold told The Herald.
It’s in the national interest for this sputtering, reactionary bill to die a quick death.