Should Congress enact further sanctions on Iran?
Providing a proper response is like being caught in the horns of a dilemma. The real issue is a combination of first, how to avoid war; second, how to inhibit Iran from nuclearizing weaponry; and, third, how to impact Iran to become less of a terrorist outreach state.
I assess the pragmatic goals in the following order:
First priority is to keep Iran from a nuclear weapon. Unfortunately, there’s no practical way, short of all-out war, to keep Iran from having nuclear capabilities. Had the U.S. taken them on seriously five or eight years ago, when they were substantially not as far along the nuclear development process, had less fortified facilities, had less investment, and still had a fear of the U.S.’s incursions into the Middle East to effectuate serious changes, then perhaps there would have been an opportunity to reverse their directions. The fact that the U.S. proved to be a toothless tiger in the handling of North Korea didn’t help the situation, either. U.S. foreign policy with respect to the “Arab Spring”; the bailout of Afghanistan (which we should never have been this deeply embedded anyway); the U.S. insistence in re-awakening an Israeli-Palestinian peace program; the U.S. naivety in dealing with Russia’s Putin; and any variety of other foreign policy missteps, have all led to Iranian confidence that they could proceed with nuclear development with impunity. That calculation has proven to be correct.
Further, the calculation that continued effort to develop nuclear weaponry would remain unchallenged, even in the wake of the most successful sanctions regime in world history, has proven to be correct. Iran must have assumed that once sanctions were proving cohesive within the international community, it was only a matter of time until they would be forced to capitulate something. Therefore, the further down the road they could move, the better their position would be for giving up something, but not everything. Again, that assumption will prove to be correct, particularly when viewed in two lights: one, the original goal was to keep Iran from being nuclear anything; and secondly, the Obama administration had tacitly, now explicitly acknowledged Iran’s right to have “peaceful” nuclear capability.
Short of a war (which I don’t think will happen within my lifetime) Iran will end up with nuclear capabilities; will openly agree to limit any development of nuclear weapons; and will do exactly what Germany did after WWI: lay low on any weapons development until such time as the world has other things with which to be concerned, and then commence to covertly start the higher level enrichment process, which will ultimately be witnessed overtly. They are wise enough to know that once the sanctions are softened or lifted altogether, the sanctions are highly unlikely to be reinstated on such a broad international coalition basis. During that period, Iran will never have stopped the development of missile delivery development and refinement, which is already substantially down the road, and about which you hear absolutely nothing discussed in reporting on the negotiations. Iran has always demonstrated “patience” in the attainment of their ultimate goals, and will continue to follow that most successful path in the attainment of nuclear weaponry.
So, that begs another question: Do you use the current negotiations to dissuade Iran from acting as the terrorist-sponsored state that it is known to be? I’ve yet to hear, read, or assume anything that would convince me that the question of lifting sanctions is tied in any way to a modification of Iran’s current activities within the world. Why the Obama administration fails to broaden the sanctions discussions to trade off “other concessions,” is beyond my comprehension. Again, short of a direct threat of war, which the Iranians know the U.S. won’t wage, and which they assume Israel won’t undertake without U.S. support, there is no overt threat to force them to change their behavior, beyond sanctions. Is it inconceivable that Iran couldn’t be cajoled into changing some political activity within Syria, Iraq, or Lebanon? (Forget the terrorist positions being fomented within sub-Saharan Africa, or South America). Alas, that appears to be outside the scope of the “nuclear negotiations,” regardless of the successful sanctions.
Should the U.S. Congress hold off from approval of implementation of more sanctions? Absolutely not. Notwithstanding Kerry’s comment about not thinking of himself as “stupid,” the best position for hardcore negotiation is the black hat/white program. Let Iran think that Congress can further impact the removal of sanctions, particularly as Iran sees how fractured and weak the administration and legislative branches appear to the rest of the world. The additional pressure Iran may think they’re going to be subjected to can only work in the P5+1 favor. Also, there’s no reason the P5+1 shouldn’t think that the U.S. can act as “rogue,” too. The secret may be in the “timing” of the new sanctions implementation, and using that as a wedge for obtaining timely concessions. Will that possibly push Iran over the cliff toward war? I highly doubt it. With sanctions in place and effective, they’re probably too weak to sustain a substantial, long-term battle position. Further, they know that war will destroy the vast majority of nuclear facilities they already invested in. “War” is a red-herring argument.
So, where are we now? Netanyahu has played a brilliant game of undermining the credibility of the U.S. position by directly enlisting help from other U.S. allies in toughening up the P5+1 negotiating position. Even the Saudi’s and the Emirates are on Israel’s side. France is happy to be there after Obama embarrassed them so badly on his back down regarding Syria. No doubt Netanyahu and his cabinet weighed deeply the impact his actions would have on the relationship with the U.S. However, you can bet that the feeling was that U.S. public support, together with U.S. congressional support would outlive the Obama administration embarrassment and anger. Plus, Netanyahu has convinced the world that he isn’t kidding about attacking Iran and that only the U.S. so far has held him back...true or not. The other thing worth thinking about is the Israeli philosophy to negotiation with the Arabs: Always ask for way more than you think you’re going to give; always carry a big stick; and when you back down, you’re still ahead of what your true goals originally were. I highly doubt that the U.S. Department of State, and certainly not the EU’s Catherine Ashton, entered these negotiations under the same tactical philosophy.
Our basic position should be: “We’ve got them by the short-and-curlies.” This is no time to let go. We need to squeeze hard and long and without much give. Iran is being severely hurt and isn’t going to go all the way to a nuclear weapon without knowledge they will be attacked. We’re in the strongest position we’ll ever be in. We must take maximum advantage. Being “good international partners” is naïve and counterproductive. We should use every advantage (including additional congressionally mandated sanctions) at our disposal.