I. The US Senate prepares for (sending other people off to fight its) war
Iran and the P5+1 finally reached an agreement on the implementation of the 6 month interim agreement they reached in November (ah, diplomacy, as always the model of peak efficiency). But if you’re a fan of American wars in the Middle East, don’t worry; the Senate is here just in time to scuttle the deal. A bill to impose additional sanctions on Iran if certain conditions are met is approaching a veto-proof majority in the Senate and likely already has one in the House. Forty-two Senate Republicans are backing the measure, which you’d expect since it’s an agreement negotiated by Iran and the Obama Administration so it must be The Devil, but already 17 Senate Democrats, led by Foreign Relations Chair Robert Menendez of New Jersey, are openly behind it as well, which is odd seeing as how the Democrat in the White House keeps urging them to back off. Their positions here must be rooted in some really
massive amounts of money deep and totally legitimate concerns. So far there’s been no move to bring the bill to the floor for a vote, and Harry Reid seems to be holding firm on that, but there are procedural ways around Reid’s obstruction if the fervor continues to grow.
This bill is an extraordinarily provocative thumb in the eye to President Obama and the international community, and it’s astonishing that the same body that can’t agree to extend unemployment benefits in a struggling jobs market can find this kind of consensus on a bill that undercuts a historic diplomatic achievement and makes war with Iran much more likely. If it passes it will kill the Geneva deal, full stop, and kill it in a way that will leave both Iran and our European negotiating partners with precious little reason not to tell us to go to hell with respect to further negotiations and maybe the whole sanctions regime. Iran is pretty unequivocal that new sanctions would violate the agreement, and they would in all likelihood give considerable new weight to hard-liners in Iran that already oppose what Iranian President Hasan Rouhani is doing, forcing Rouhani (or more importantly his boss, Ayatollah Khamenei) to upend whatever progress Iran has made toward a more moderate domestic and foreign policy climate.
Defenders of the new bill have taken to basically outright lying about what it does and why they’re pushing it. The other New Jersey Senator, Cory Booker, and man it didn’t take long for him to become a disappointment, says he’s only supporting new sanctions if negotiations fail to work, and that this bill is all about strengthening Obama’s hand in negotiations by making the penalty on Iran more punitive, a lie that Ryan Cooper takes apart pretty well:
This isn’t credible. First of all, the administration presumably has some idea of what’s best for its negotiating position, and it has been lobbying furiously against new sanctions. Second, the timing is suspect—these senators hurriedly drew up this bill only after the breakthrough in negotiations was announced. Third, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif himself said new sanctions would signal a lack of good faith that would kill any long-term agreement.
I would add a fourth point, which is that the Senate bill actually moves the goalposts substantially from where the Geneva agreement was at. Suspension of sanctions in the Senate bill requires not only nuclear concessions but also requires Iran to shut down its long-range missile program, demonstrably end its support for what the US government considers to be terrorism, and requires that Iran end all uranium enrichment whatsoever. It would be great if Iran agreed to all of these things, and then maybe offered to give everybody a pony too. But Geneva said nothing about missiles or terrorism, and it allows Iran to continue low-level uranium enrichment. Iran simply won’t give up its uranium enrichment program completely, so that bit by itself is going to end the negotiations, and the other two bits are a slap in the face at the rest of the P5+1. Why would the Europeans continue to participate in a united front with us in terms of maintaining sanctions on and entering into negotiations with Iran when they have no reason to believe that Congress will honor the terms of any agreement? Ed Kilgore has this right:
You will hear some Democrats and even a few Republicans claim they are trying to strengthen the adminstration’s hand in their negotiations, but that’s a shuck. The whole idea is to torpedo the talks because Bibi Netanyahu believes they are aimed at the wrong goal: keeping Iran from developing nuclear weapons, as opposed to Bibi’s demand that Iran lose its capability of developing nuclear weapons. If that means war, so be it.
Menendez, the lead Democrat pushing this terrible bill, was given column inches in the Washington Post a few days ago to lie repeatedly about what he’s doing and what the effect will be. For example:
Opponents of prospective sanctions against Iran argue that sanctions are like a spigot — easy to turn on and easy to turn off.
But the story of sanctions, while effective, is more complicated.
Passing anything in Congress takes time. Writing regulations and implementing sanctions takes even longer, and enforcement of sanctions is an ongoing process.
The agreement in Geneva was reached at the end of November, which means its taken supporters of this new sanctions bill less than two months to craft it and secure a near-filibuster and veto-proof majority in favor. For the US Senate that’s lightning quick, and it was done in the face of considerable opposition from the White House and from most of the Senate’s Democratic leadership. Based on this experience, it seems clear that if Iran reneges on its end of the deal the Senate would have a response ready by the end of the day, give or take. What’s more, there’s absolutely no reason why some enterprising senator, say the Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, couldn’t have a bill to reimpose and toughen sanctions sitting in a desk drawer or on a computer waiting to be introduced in the event that things don’t go well. There is simply not justification for doing this right now. Menendez:
The legislation endorses the Obama administration’s efforts and the Joint Plan of Action achieved in November.
See above; this is a lie.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has said that “the entire deal is dead” if prospective sanctions are passed by Congress. “We do not like to negotiate under duress,” he told Time magazine.
But the opposite is true. The proposed legislation is a clarifying action. It allows all sides to negotiate in certainties and provides one year of space for the parties to continue talking. It spells out precisely the consequences should the agreement fail. This should motivate Iranians to negotiate honestly and seriously.
Oh, please. Let’s just say that if the Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee thinks the Iranian government doesn’t understand what will happen if they violate the terms of the Geneva agreement, then I’m not all that comfortable with this guy being the chair of that particular committee. Menendez, one more time:
This is hardly a march to war, as some critics have suggested. The legislation explicitly does not authorize the use of force, though it does restate the language of a resolution, passed 99 to 0 by the Senate, supporting the United States’ commitment to Israel, should Israel be forced to defend itself against Iran.
Yes, we already know that the Senate wants us to let Netanyahu decide whether or not we should go to war against Iran. Is there any need to restate it? Is there any doubt that if Israel decides to start airstrikes against Iran, we’ll be right there with them?
The US Senate, the Israeli right, and Iranian hard-liners: working together to make war just a little more likely.
II. Hasan Rouhani isn’t helping
Because we try to be Fair and Balanced here at ATTWIW, let’s also note that Iran isn’t making this process any easier. Rouhani is saying things for domestic consumption that are giving too much ammunition to the pro-sanctions folks in our Congress:
Our relationship w/ the world is based on Iranian nation’s interests. In #Geneva agreement world powers surrendered to Iranian nation’s will
— Hassan Rouhani (@HassanRouhani) January 14, 2014
Rouhani’s Twitter account is the subject of some speculation, and it’s probably not run by him or his office. But it’s not like he hasn’t been saying this kind of stuff in other venues:
The Geneva deal means “powers yielding to the demands of Iran,” the Iranian president said addressing a gathering in Iran’s southwestern city of Ahvaz.
“By Geneva deal, the world accepted the peaceful nuclear technology of Iran which has been achieved through the hard work of the young Iranian students,” he added.
It’s important to understand that Rouhani probably has to say things like this domestically in order to somewhat defend himself from attacks by conservatives and reactionaries in the government, the Republican Guard, etc., and it’s also important to consider that these are translations and what he’s actually saying may not be this strident. But verbiage like “surrender” and “yielding to the demands of Iran,” if it accurately represents what he said, is needlessly provocative and inflammatory, and for all the good it will do Rouhani domestically will probably make things much harder for the Americans and Europeans trying to sell this deal to their own constituents.