Two senators, Republican Mark Kirk and Democrat Bob Menendez, have authored a bill to impose tougher economic sanctions on Iran if it ultimately refuses to honor the demands of the international community as regards its nuclear weapons program. President Barack Obama has now pledged to veto that bill. A few points to consider before trying to make sense of this news:
1. Obama himself has said inducing Iran to surrender its capability to produce nuclear weapons will be a difficult task; an understatement if ever there was one.
2. We are to believe that sanctions can work as a means of harnessing the behavior of an irrational actor like Iran, and we’re told specifically that sanctions helped bring the Iranians to the negotiating table.
3. States like Iran — ones that are unburdened by the niceties of Western diplomacy — negotiate on the basis of ruthless pressure. We saw an example of this when the Cubans used an imprisoned American aid worker as a hostage to secure favorable negotiating terms. To sit down across the negotiating table from such people requires the willingness to apply hard pressure in kind.
All that said, it seems difficult to explain the position President Obama has taken regarding the Menendez-Kirk bill, which has two dozen bipartisan Senate sponsors and would subject Iran to a host of severe sanctions, such as deep limits on oil exports and new restrictions on the country’s mining, engineering, and construction sectors. Menendez explained the “Nuclear Weapons-Free Iran Act” in a Washington Post op-ed by saying it “supports continued negotiations, gives the administration a year of flexibility to secure a comprehensive agreement, respects the sanctions relief Iran is set to receive and prevents any new sanctions from taking effect while good-faith negotiations are underway.”
And yet not only has Obama rejected the bill, he touched off an intraparty squabble with Menendez and other Democrats by attacking it as the product of influence by “donors and others” — which many have interpreted as code for influential Jews protecting Israeli interests. More on that later.
“I have no illusions about how hard it will be to achieve this objective, but for the sake of our national security and the peace and security of the world, now is the time to give diplomacy a chance to succeed,” Obama said in a written statement last week that threatened a veto of the bill. “Imposing additional sanctions now will only risk derailing our efforts to resolve this issue peacefully.”
While the president is busily lauding the power of diplomacy, Iran is going in a different direction. The Iranians announced last week they’re building two new nuclear reactors, which is hardly suggestive of an intention to ramp down their program. Also last week, Iran’s news agency reported that Jason Rezaian, a Washington Post correspondent the Iranians picked up in Tehran last July, has been referred to the Revolutionary Court for “processing.” Rezaian is wasting away in an Iranian jail; his mother reports he’s lost fifty pounds and is not doing well, which makes his story reminiscent of Alan Gross’s sufferings at the hands of the Castro regime before some generous dealing by the Obama administration brought him home. Rezaian hasn’t been informed as to the charges he faces, nor has he been allowed to consult with a lawyer.
Let’s remember that the current negotiations with Iran aren’t about human rights abuses, nor do they deal with Iran’s diplomatic estrangement from other powers. The subject matter of those negotiations has to do with Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons — perhaps the gravest national-security threat America faces. What we need are two things: a demonstration that America is as resolved to stop the Iranians from getting the bomb as the Iranians are to have it, and a showing of unity among the negotiating partners on the opposite site of the table from the mullahs.
But Obama is attempting to sacrifice the former for the benefit of the latter, which, as PowerLine’s Paul Mirengoff suggests, could be evidence that he’s willing to give away the store to Iran in order to set the stage for a grand bargain with the mullahs that will magically solve the problems in the Middle East. Obama slapped down Menendez and those agreeing with him by insinuating they’re in thrall to Jewish interests. The Post’s Jennifer Rubin reports:
The New York Times, in a story almost certainly leaked by furious Democratic senators or staff, reported a face-off between the president and dogged sanctions proponent Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.). When Obama accused his fellow Democrats of being moved by “donors and others,” Menendez reportedly stood and expressed his outrage, telling the president he took “personal offense” to the remark.
So do many others. Josh Block, a longtime Democrat and head of The Israel Project, fumed: “This administration appears willing to both dissemble — and claim falsely that Iran’s nuclear program is ‘frozen’ when in fact we know that during the negotiation period Iran has already amassed enough additional enriched material for one more nuclear weapon — and impugn the motives of Senators and others who take a different policy view, as the President himself did yesterday saying to Senators that their motives for increasing pressure on Iran are based not on principle, or 20 years of working to stop Iran, but on being bribed or pressured by ‘donors and others.’ ” He added, “It’s a vile suggestion and one that will only damages the President’s personal credibility and his position.”
When Obama doesn’t even command the agreement of his own party, much less the political class in Washington as a whole, it’s difficult to negotiate with Iran from a position of strength. But negotiating from strength has never been a feature of Obama’s foreign policy.
Meanwhile, the Iranian nuclear program continues apace, and no one seriously believes multilateral diplomacy of the kind practiced by the likes of John Kerry will put a stop to it. Particularly not when a showing of American spine such as that proposed by Menendez and Kirk is rejected by the main negotiator on our side.
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