Contrary to liberal political pundits’ talking point of the day (Romney’s trip: Bad!), at least the Israel portion of the trip was so successful, and the embarrassment to President Obama so great (from the Israeli prime minister’s statement that sanctions haven’t worked and from Mitt Romney’s willingness to declare Jerusalem the capital), that the Obama team Tuesday rushed out what it has strenuously refused to present for seven months, namely more Iran sanctions. By executive order Obama agreed to sanction two financial institutions and make one of the Iranian financial work-arounds sanctionable.
What changed between the time the State Department told Right Turn the administration had all the sanctions it needed and today? Why Romney’s trip of course. Oh, and the agreement by the House and Senate to pass additional sanctions (accompanied by bad press pointing out the administration’s foot-dragging.)
Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), whose efforts to impose tough sanctions have been blocked or delayed at every turn by Democrats, put out a gracious statement praising the Treasure Department officials who worked on the additional items the president signed off on, which read in part: “I applaud Under Secretary Cohen and Assistant Secretary Glaser for their efforts to designate Bank of Kunlun and Elaf Bank, and to crack down on alternate payment mechanisms used by Iran to evade financial sanctions. The European Union should immediately follow suit and order SWIFT to disconnect Kunlun and Elaf from its network.”
He however also noted that the legislation agreed upon by Congress, parts of which the administration has opposed: “A broad bipartisan coalition overcame objections from some in the Administration to ratchet up energy and shipping sanctions to unprecedented levels, expand the Menendez-Kirk sanctions against the Central Bank of Iran, and increase penalties facing those who violate our sanctions. In the coming weeks, should the Iranian regime continue to defy the U.N. Security Council and refuse to halt its uranium enrichment activities, we will build a new bipartisan coalition to impose farther-reaching sanctions.” (Emphasis added.)
Mark Dubowitz, of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, with tongue in cheek, explained to me why the administration acted yesterday: “To demonstrate that the administration can be proactive and not just reactionary on sanctions and to deal with the criticism that Congress has forced the administration into adopting the most forceful measures which, after initially rejecting, the administration is now embracing enthusiastically and touting their efficacy.”
He nevertheless welcomed the move, however belated, which will “crack down on the various ways in which the Iranians are using payment channels both inside and outside the formal financial system in order to get access to the hard currency from oil sales that are the economic lifeblood of the regime.” He argued:
The administration should take the next step of designating Iran’s entire energy sector as a zone of primary proliferation concern, which would automatically blacklist every activity, transaction, mechanism, workaround, and entity used by Iran to sell its oil.
By doing so, the U.S. government will stay ahead of the Iranian regime’s relentless drive to find new ways to do an end run around U.S. measures.
Also, today’s designation of Kunlun under CISADA is a welcome step because it targets China’s main financial conduit for Iranian oil purchases and prohibits Kunlun from setting up new banking relationships with U.S. banks. But, to be more effective, since Kunlun has no current U.S. banking relationships, and is therefore immune to U.S. pressure, the administration needs to encourage the EU to designate Kunlun and demand that SWIFT immediately expel Kunlun from the SWIFT network. That will get the attention of Kunlun, its Chinese parent company CNPC, and all of Iran’s other extraterritorial bankers.
In other words, why the heck aren’t we at full throttle now on all available sanctions?
The Romney campaign in a written statement accused the Obama team of “leading from behind” once again. (“Since taking office three and a half years ago, President Obama has allowed Iran’s nuclear ambitions to proceed unimpeded. As Israel’s prime minister recently made clear, the Obama Administration’s efforts haven’t made an ‘iota’ of difference. The president’s refusal to take a tough stance when it comes to Iran has imperiled our allies and jeopardized our national security.”) The attack hit a nerve.
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice tried to paper over some of the administration’s problem:“What the Prime Minister of Israel was saying was that to date, they still have a nuclear program. And obviously, that’s a fact. And one that we share grave concern about.” Well, yes. That would fall under the category of “haven’t worked ‘one iota.’ ”
In a tell-tale sign of defensiveness, the Obama crew was spinning to the media throughout the day that there is no difference between Obama and Romney on Iran. Au contraire. Romney wanted to enact tough sanctions years ago (for example at the Herzliya Conference five years ago), “impose diplomatic isolation” on Iran’s leaders and make credible the potential for a military option. “Diplomatic isolation should also include an indictment of Ahmadinejad for incitement to genocide under the Geneva Convention.”) He advocated U.S. support for the Green Movement, and he wanted there to be no doubt there was any diplomatic separation between the United States and Israel. And unlike Obama, Romney has long appreciated that the “Muslim world is not one undifferentiated mass. (our “mission would be to support progressive Muslim communities and leaders in every nation where radical Islam is battling modernity and moderation. This Partnership for Prosperity should help provide the tools and funding necessary for moderates to win the debate in their own societies. They need secular public schools, not Wahhabi schools, micro credit . . .”) Yeah, other than all that Obama and Romney are, like, totally the same.
In short, the only time Obama acts serious on Iran is when he has a political problem or is about to be shown up by domestic political opponents. After November, he’ll have nothing to incentivize him to act. Certainly, voters are smart enough to figure that out. And Israelis sure are.