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Iran War related legislation

Feinstein Delivers Strong Defense of Diplomacy on Senate Floor

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) added to her credentials as a champion of diplomacy with Iran with a remarkable speech on the floor of the Senate last night. Sen. Feinstein warned that S.1881, a sanctions bill from Sens. Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) that has garnered 59 cosponsors, would “collapse negotiations” and be a “march toward war.”

Her speech came at a critical time. On Sunday, the P5+1 and Iran announced an agreement to implement the first phase nuclear deal struck in November. Further, a number of Senators are voicing their strong opposition to the new Iran sanctions, including Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), the Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on the Middle East, and Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL). Despite the growing opposition, the bill still retains the support of a majority of U.S. Senators.

Feinstein began her speech by noting that countries can change direction, citing the examples of post-war Germany and Japan, Spain, Yugoslavia, Vietnam and South Africa. Further, she noted that several nations have abandoned the pursuit of nuclear weapons, including Sweden, Argentina and South Korea. Citing robust diplomatic engagement and steps to curb Iran’s nuclear program, Feinstein suggested that Iran could be on the cusp of a similar change “and that it is the job of diplomay to push for that change.”

Feinstein highlighted the strong security benefits of the first phase nuclear deal, including that it will require Iran to cap its enrichment at 5% and eliminate its stockpile of uranium enriched to 20%, all while instituting “the most intrusive international inspection regime ever” to verify compliance.

According to Feinstein, Senate passage of S.1881 would kill the deal and ongoing talks with Iran, “and, with it, the best opportunity in more than 30 years to make a major change in Iranian behavior—a change that could not only open all kinds of economic opportunities for the Iranian people, but help change the course of a nation. Its destiny in fact could be changed. “ Further, Senate passage would “play into the hands of those in Iran who are most eager to see diplomacy fail.”  Those Iranian hardliners would argue that Rouhani and Zarif “exchanged a freeze of its nuclear program for additional and harsh punitive sanctions.”

“Above all,” Feinstein added, “they will argue that the United States is not interested in nuclear diplomacy–we are interested in regime change. “ Nuclear negotiations would collapse, Iran’s nuclear program would be unconstrained, and the U.S. would only be left with military options.

Feinstein, citing Secretary of State John Kerry’s formal request that the Senate hold off on new sanctions to allow the negotiators time and space to do their jobs, argued that the Menendez-Kirk bill “is an egregious imposition on the Executive’s authority to conduct foreign affairs.”

Citing the fact that new sanctions would collapse the agreement, Feinstein asked, “How does that (passing new sanctions) make any kind of common sense? It defies logic, it threatens instant reverse, and it ends what has been unprecedented diplomacy. Do we want to take that on our shoulders? Candidly, in my view, it is a march toward war.”

Sen. Feinstein concluded by stating that the first phase nuclear deal with Iran “is strong, it is tough, and it is realistic. It represents the first significant opportunity to change a three-decade course in Iran and an opening to improve one of our most poisonous bilateral relationships. It could open the door to a new future which not only considers Israel’s national security, but protects our own. To preserve diplomacy, I strongly oppose the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act (S.1881).”

Sen. Feinstein’s strong speech could weaken support for the sanctions bill at a critical time, encouraging other Senators to make their opposition to the bill public. Currently, two dozen Senators have yet to take a formal public position on the bill.

The House Gets Bad Advice

When it comes to crafting law, Congress seeks input from outside experts to help inform and guide their decisionmaking. The type of experts the body seeks out can say a lot about why Congress does what it does. Last Wednesday, the House Foreign Affairs Committee invited some particularly revealing “expert witnesses” that say a lot about the body’s priorities.

The Middle East Subcommittee held a hearing on the “Iran-Syria Nexus and its Implications for the Region,” featuring Mark Dubowitz, the Executive Director of the Foundation of Defense and Democracies (FDD), a major pro-sanctions lobby that has  been in the spotlight thanks financial filings that indicate it is primarily sponsored by far-right wing millionaires like Sheldon Adelson. Also testifying was John Bolton, a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute who has called for the U.S. to bomb Iran for years now, going back to his days as UN Ambassador under the Bush Administration.

Dubowitz and Bolton, both representing the neo-conservative hawks in Washington, urged the Members of Congress in attendance to escalate sanctions, dismiss negotiations, and carry out preventative war on Iran.

Dubowitz called for “massively intensifying sanctions on Iran to bring it to the verge of economic collapse.” According to him, Washington was not doing enough to send the message to the Supreme Leader that the U.S. means business. He claimed that the U.S. has been granting sanctions relief to Iran through its “unwillingness to entertain new sanctions [and] non-enforcement of existing sanctions.”

Bolton sided with Dubowitz but added that negotiations with Iran are worthless and that the U.S. should ultimately aim for regime change within Iran. As predicted, Bolton argued yet again that the “only option is a pre-emptive military strike against Iran’s nuclear program.”

Blocking Iran talks is rerun of Iraq failure

This past weekend, with news that the U.S. and Iran may be planning direct talks soon to address the nuclear standoff, there were swift reactions by some to try to kill the initiative.  Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren warned that Iran should not be “rewarded” with direct talks, and Senator Lindsey Graham–who has pledged the U.S. will join Israel if they choose to bomb Iran–ominously said “the time for talking is over.”

For some, it seems that negotiations with Iran that could resolve the nuclear impasse are a bigger danger than Iran’s nuclear program.

Rolf Ekéus, who headed the UN team charged with eliminating Iraqi WMD infrastructure from 1991 to 1997, makes a compelling case in Foreign Affairs that the international community is indeed headed down the same path with Iran that we took with Iraq.  The piece, co-written with Målfrid Braut-Hegghammer, presents a timeline in which a U.S. policy aimed at regime change prevented sanctions from being removed and made war inevitable:

  • In 1991, after the Gulf War, the UN Security Council requires Iraq to destroy all WMD material and accept international inspections.  
  • From 1991 to 1997, Iraq procedes with disarmament in order to get the international community to honor its end of the deal: to lift UN financial and trade embargoes once Iraq has complied.
  • By 1997, Iraq completes disarmament and the UN has a monitoring system in place.  There are calls in the Security Council to begin lifting the sanctions.
  • But that spring, Secretary of State Madeline Albright announces the U.S. will not lift the sanctions until Saddam is removed.  
  • By the end of 1998, Congress passes the Iraq Liberation Act which makes regime change the official U.S. policy towards Iraq.  President Clinton signs the bill into law.
  • In 1998, with no chance of getting sanctions lifted through cooperation, Saddam obstructs and finally kicks out inspectors after a U.S.-British bombing campaign.
  • Citing the Iraq Liberation Act and allegations of Iraqi WMD programs and capabilities, Congress authorizes war with Iraq and the U.S. invades in 2003.

These Are the Facts

Today marked the release of the first in a series of reports from an impressive group of former US ambassadors, retired generals and policy experts dubbed The Iran Project. The primary purpose of the paper, titled “Weighing Benefits and Costs of Military Action Against Iran”, is to answer the tough questions and ensure that Americans are as informed as possible before the nation hurriedly decides to strike Iranian nuclear facilities: Can military strikes stop Iran’s nuclear program? What are the immediate and long-term impacts? Are strikes even possible?

The report has already made a splash with its frank assessment of the significant costs of military strikes and what it says are the limited gains.

First to the plate, the Washington Post:

The assessment said extended U.S. strikes could destroy Iran’s most important nuclear facilities and damage its military forces but would only delay — not stop — the Islamic republic’s pursuit of a nuclear bomb.

[The report] says achieving more than a temporary setback in Iran’s nuclear program would require a military operation — including a land occupation — more taxing than the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined.

Congressional zero-enrichment demand will “lead to either an Iranian nuclear weapon or a new war”

In an important piece in the LA Times, Daniel Kadishson explains how Congressional demands for “zero enrichment” as the only acceptable diplomatic resolution to the Iranian nuclear impasse is obstructing legitimate chances to ensure Iran does not build a nuclear weapon and to prevent war.

“To prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon,” he writes, “verification is more important than zero centrifuges.”

Kadishson argues that “Members of Congress who demand only that Iran agree to a complete, permanent suspension of all uranium enrichment and allow unfettered inspections in all facilities, and are trying to legislate that the U.S. can accept nothing less, are ignoring reality in a way that will likely lead to either an Iranian nuclear weapon or a new war.

Kadishson suggests that “it is better to let Iran openly have five centrifuges with international inspectors allowed unrestricted access throughout the country than to let Iran claim it has zero centrifuges and no nuclear military program without having the means to verify this.”  With this in mind, “U.S. negotiators should have bipartisan support from Congress to pursue any agreement that precludes Iran from building a nuclear weapon.”

Iran News Roundup 12/15

Broad Iran sanctions approved by the House

The House of Representatives approved central bank sanctions on Iran as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).  The bill is expected to pass the Senate and be sent to the President by the end of the week (Newsweek 12/15).

The House also approved two standalone Iran sanctions bills, H.R. 1905 and H.R.2105.  H.R.1905 eliminates the President’s humanitarian waiver to allow for parts and repairs of Iranian civilian airplanes, puts legal restrictions on contacts between U.S. and Iranian officials, and places sanctions on Iran’s Central Bank. The bill must now go to the Senate for consideration, which is not expected until after the New Year (The Hill 12/14).

Reuters reports that Asian countries China, India, South Korea, and Japan are increasingly worried about oil in light of new Iran sanctions. (Reuters 12/15). China is looking to obtain discounted Iranian oil as the U.S. increases pressure on Iran. “Any restriction on oil supplies from Iran, the world’s fifth-largest crude exporter, could drive up already high oil prices and threaten economies already facing the impact of the euro zone debt crisis.”

“This is an issue that could have a big impact on the global economy in terms of crude prices, so our nation will pay close attention to this with grave concern,” said Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura.

Growing concern over the number of executions in iran

Amnesty International warned of “a new wave of drug offence executions”  in a report published yesterday. Public and secret hangings have increased in what has been called “a killing spree of staggering proportions” (Guardian 12/14).

War watch

On Tuesday former Vice-president Cheney advised the Obama administration to launch a “quick air strike” against Iran after it had captured the U.S. drone.  NIAC’s Trita Parsi says, “the Obama administration’s decision not to risk war by going in and destroying the drone reflects its desire to avoid catastrophic escalation” (Salon 12/12).

Republican presidential hopeful Jon Huntsman, speaking to CNN, said he’d commit to a ground invasion to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon (Think Progress 12/14).

Revolutionary Guards commander Brigadier General Gholamreza Jalali said Iran would move the uranium enrichment centers to safer locations if Iran were attacked (Reuters 12/14).

Additional Notable News:

State department official Frederick Hof toldCongress that Syrian president Assad’s hold on power will be short-lived despite the repression of protestors.

Ominous signs for new Congress’ Iran agenda: sanctions, blockade, war

This past Wednesday, the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee convened for a hearing on “Implementing Tougher Sanctions on Iran” and offered a frightening preview of what will be on the House’s agenda next year.

At the hearing, Representative Don Manzullo (R-IL) laid out what may be the game plan by the new Republican Congress to drag the US into yet a third war in the Middle East:

“If these sanctions don’t work, then the next step would be a blockade,” Manzullo said looking over his shoulder to incoming chairwoman Ros Lehtinen.  “And the next step would be some type of—you hate to use the word—but military action.”

Even though it is evident that sanctions have weakened Iran’s economy, it should come as no surprise that Ileana Ros-Lehtinen now wants to pressure the Administration to impose even tougher sanctions on Iran.

“Since the 1990’s, the US and international efforts to stop growing Iranian threat have been half-hearted at best. The problem is not that a tough approach has failed, but that it has yet to be fully tried.”

When it came to the opposition Green Movement in Iran – a movement based on the civil and human rights on Iranians -Representative Ted Poe (R-TX) was incensed that his question about support  for that movement was answered instead with a response about supporting human rights. “My question is what are we doing to promote the opposition, not human rights.”

It appears that the representatives have blindfolded themselves to what is actually going on in Iran and are taking sides on issues that they don’t seem to fully comprehend.

Read NIAC’s report from the hearing

  • 8 October 2010
  • Posted By Patrick Heffner
  • 1 Comments
  • Iran War related legislation, Israel, Nuclear file, US-Iran War

Israeli Official’s Call for Imminent Iran Blockade is Really a Call for War

Hyperbole reached new heights this week when Israeli Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz told the Council of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations on Monday that a blockade will be necessary in two to six months to give “Iran a deadline to change its behavior.”  Steinitz, a member of Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party and a former protégé of the Prime Minister, has always been known as hawkish; given his role as a government minister and his ties to Israel’s leaders, his latest remarks should not be ignored.  Never mind the absurd justification Steinitz offered, in which he likened such a blockade to that of  Cuba in 1962—Cuba, an island nation that, unlike Iran, actually possessed nuclear weapons in its territory at the time of the embargo.  And never mind that Steinitz demanded that Iran “become open for inspection,” when in fact the IAEA constantly has inspectors in Iran looking at the country’s nuclear facilities.  Instead, what is most concerning is that this call mirrors a Congressional resolution introduced in 2008, which suggests that a blockade may actually have support among US lawmakers.

Calls for a blockade are not new.  In the past it was seen as an option for dealing with Iran’s nuclear program by commentators who believed sanctions were not enough or would inevitably fail.  They claim that a blockade is simply the “next logical step.”  However, what these pundits fail to mention is that a blockade is an act of war.  Such an act against Iran by the United States or any state in the international community could likely lead to open violent conflict between US and Iranian forces as Iranian warships try to force their way through the blockading force.  Furthermore, such a blockade would seek to destroy Iran economically, punishing Iranians who have nothing to do with the nuclear program and destroying America’s image with the Iranian people.  Finally, a blockade would convince Iranian leaders they have nothing to gain from negotiating a deal with the West and provide an incentive to push for an actual nuclear device, ending all hopes for a compromise that would avoid a calamity in the region.

  • 29 July 2010
  • Posted By Jamal Abdi
  • 4 Comments
  • Election 2010, Iran War related legislation

The Republican back door to war with Iran

A game plan to draw the United States into a third war in the Middle East may be quietly unfolding before our eyes.

Late last week, Republicans in the House or Representatives unveiled H.Res.1553, a resolution providing explicit support for an Israeli bombing campaign against Iran. The measure, introduced by Texas Republican Louie Gohmert and forty-six of his colleagues, endorses Israel’s use of “all means necessary” against Iran “including the use of military force”.

“We have got to act,” Gohmert has said in regard to the measure. “We’ve got to get this done. We need to show our support for Israel. We need to quit playing games with this critical ally in such a difficult area.”

But Gohemert’s resolution may be an unprecedented development–Congress has never endorsed pre-emptive military strikes by a foreign country.  What’s more, this is the minority party signaling to Israel that they can count on Republican support should the President object to Israeli strikes on Iran–as did George W. Bush in 2008.  The resolution also explicitly endorses “any means necessary”, a carte blanche for the use of nuclear bunker-busting bombs.

The measure may be overtly political, coming just one week before the Congressional recess in which Members of Congress will return home to their districts to campaign and raise money for the upcoming midterm elections. Democrats and Republicans are in a foot race to demonstrate who can be toughest on Iran. But while Democrats continue to tout newly imposed “crippling” sanctions as evidence of their commitment to pressure, Republicans appear to be moving on to the next phase and are openly endorsing an Israeli strike. Gohmert even argued that instead of sanctions, Congress should have passed his resolution green-lighting military strikes on Iran.

But by encouraging such an attack, supporters of war are effectively working to circumvent the President and his military leadership, who have warned in dire terms against military action in Iran, and instead goading a third country into launching the first strike. Once the bombing campaign has commenced, the authors of this resolution may believe, the US would have few choices but be dragged into war.

In fact, this measure is no small part of a neoconservative agenda to go to war with Iran. The green light resolution is precisely what John Bolton called for two weeks ago in a Wall Street Journal piece that reads as a playbook for dragging the US into military conflict with Iran.

Bolton lays out a game plan in which Congress can “reassure” Israel in order to make a military strike possible. He argued that with “visible congressional support in place”, the President’s concerns about an Israeli strike can be short-circuited.

Some of the resolution’s supporters, like Michelle Bachmann, face tough re-election bids this November and are looking for more red meat to throw the hawks that make up their base.

Bachmann, who for years supported budget-busting foreign wars under George W. Bush, is now the leader of the deficit-obsessed Tea Party Caucus. The caucus has yet to produce a policy paper outlining a plan for a budget-neutral war with Iran.

Others, such as Congressman Dan Burton–now the top Republican on the House Middle East Subcommittee–would hold important leadership positions to shape Iran policy were Republicans able to regain the majority this November.

But by endorsing military strikes, supporters of H.Res.1553 are playing games with US national security and could provoke the US into a third war in the Middle East.

By couching the resolution’s endorsement of bombing Iran as an issue of Israel’s right to self defense–an area that is sacrosanct for many in Congress–supporters of war are framing the question as one of support for Israel rather than the numerous other messy questions that one might want to answer before endorsing military strikes. Will this engulf the Middle East in a “destabilizing” (General Petraeus), “cataclysmic” (Joint Chiefs Chairman Mullen) regional war? Will military strikes even stop Iran’s nuclear program? Or will they merely set the program back, convince Iran to leave the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, and guarantee that Iran aggressively pursues a nuclear deterrent?

The resolution does not go into the murky details of how devastating a military strike on Iran would be to the US and Israel, not to mention the civilian death toll in Iran, the collapse of Iran’s democratic opposition movement, and the consolidation of popular support by Iran’s now-disputed government.

It doesn’t take into account the dire warnings from US military leadership who have consistently expressed serious concerns about any military options.

But it does give House Republican supporters an opportunity to pretend that they are more concerned about national security and allow them to burnish faux pro-Israel credentials. In some districts, this will play quite well in November.

There are serious consequences for this transparent ploy. A Congressional green light for military strikes is not just politics; it could significantly alter perceptions for those in Israel pressing for strikes and undercut efforts by the President and US military leadership to protect against such impulses.

There is a reason Louie Gohmert is not President, Michelle Bachmann is not the Secretary of Defense,  and that the Tea Party does not comprise the Joint Chiefs. But the scary thing is that this resolution, just by being introduced, may very well represent one step forward towards the US being dragged into a war with Iran.

War with Iran will seem farfetched until it is a fait accompli.

Originally Posted at Foreign Policy Magazine’s Middle East Channel

Leverage Through Sanctions Not a Long-Term Strategy

Last week, the U.S took a page out of its well-worn foreign policy playbook and imposed new sanctions on North Korea. The similarities between the U.S approach to North Korea and Iran are striking, centering on a strategy of sanctions, isolation, and containment.

It can be argued that the U.S has had more success isolating North Korea — though a lot of the responsibility for that also lies with Kim Jong Il (something the hardliners in Tehran should be aware of).  But there is one crucial difference in trying to apply this same model of containment and isolation to Iran, and that is Tehran’s indispensable geostrategic importance.

The Persian Gulf is and will continue to be perhaps the most vital region in the world. Iran is the world’s fourth largest oil producer, thereby providing the government substantial oil revenue, and giving them a key opportunity to ensure that sanctions never fully seal off the country’s economy, as there will also be a buyer for Iranian oil.

For that and other reasons, a policy that depends on isolation and  containment as the sole approach for dealing with Iran is doomed to fail.

By looking into the history of sanctions imposed on Iran, and by spending time in Iran, it’s not difficult to realize that sanctions are not as persuasive as many in Washington might like to believe. Under nearly three decades of sanctions, Iran went from having no enrichment capacity, to creating an indigenous reactor and installing more than 8000 centrifuges. Three rounds of international sanctions did not stymie their efforts to build the planned enrichment facility in Qom. Sanctions did not impede the IRGC’s ballistic missile program that is continually evolving.

Washington’s motto: “Leverage through Sanctions” clearly isn’t working — and it’s not because we haven’t made sanctions “crippling” enough.  It’s because Iran refuses to be bludgeoned into submission.  If a country like Iran faces a choice between economic hardship and absolute humiliation, it’s likely to choose hardship every time.  But if given a chance to save face, it’s very likely that Iran will play ball.  Diplomatic engagement offers a better way forward than sanctions ever will, precisely because diplomacy offers a chance to convey privately all of the ways Iran stands to gain by acceding to the demands of the international community.  It will be a give and take, with concessions on both sides, but it offers a much greater chance of success than sanctions, pressure, and bullying.

What’s more, a diplomatic solution offers a long-term strategy, while sanctions — even if successful — only offer a short-term change of behavior.  Think about it: if the US can make sanctions so painful that Iran gives up its nuclear program, isn’t it likely that future generations will resent that outside pressure being forced upon their country?  Throughout history, this pattern of behavior has given rise to nationalist movements that produce greater degrees of instability in the long run than the original conflict ever would have.

Alternatively, negotiated settlements offer the chance of a win-win, with no loss of national prestige and possibly even a net benefit for the country overall.