Senate Republicans, it has been reported, are looking to attach Iran sanctions legislation to a Veterans Affairs funding bill in an effort to get a vote on the measure, which enjoys wide bipartisan support. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will aim to stop it, claiming sanctions aren’t bipartisan. That is false. What is not bipartisan is the willingness to defy the White House in what Democrats and Republicans know is its failing Iran policy. Since this last came up, we have evidence of further economic recovery in Iran and more defiant statements from Iran’s leaders. It is a good time to revisit the issue.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) had this exchange with Wolf Blitzer on CNN:
Blitzer: What about this interim deal with Iran right now? In six months they’re going to supposedly freeze their nuclear program, the U.S. eases up together with the allies some sanctions, hoping that afterwards there could be a real deal to eliminate Iran’s nuclear weapons capability. Are you with the president on that?
Rubio: I’m not, I’ll tell you why. I will not be the one to wake up tomorrow morning to the news that the Supreme Leader in Iran has decided to forever abandon their nuclear ambitions. That’s not going to happen. For them, above everything else, other than a matter of geopolitical pride and influence, a nuclear weapons capability, they view as the ultimate insurance policy against ever being overthrown. They believe it provides them immunity.
Blitzer: The president says if you pass this legislation in the Senate, he’ll veto it in the interim period.
Rubio: Well I’m sure he will and I hope that we will have enough votes to be able to overturn that. Because what we’re seeing already, is even with this interim deal in place, already exports of Iranian gas and trade and commerce with the Iranians, has skyrocketed. The horse is out of the barn with this now. You’re not going to be able to put this back together, if in fact the talks fail.
Blitzer: Because he says and the secretary of state [say], “If they cheat, if they violate this, the U.S. can turn on those sanctions within a day.”
Rubio: Violate what? What kind of deal are they looking to make? Because they will not assure us that it will not involve any enrichment capability, and if Iran retains any ability to enrich or to reprocess. They are a nuclear power whenever they want to be, all they have to do is flip the switch. And that’s their strategy. This is what North Korea did. This is a time-tested model. What you do is you use sanctions and you use negotiations to buy time, but you retain the enrichment capability. And then when you decide, a few years from now, when the world is distracted and something else is going on, to move forward and develop a weapon, you can and will. That’s Iran’s plan.
Republicans should make an effort on sanctions even though it will, in all likelihood, fail. Here’s why: The Democrats are willing to force votes (on immigration, on a minimum-wage increase) even though they will lose in order to make a clear distinction between themselves and the GOP. Republicans should have no objection, if they believe in the efficacy of their positions, to voting against these domestic measures and articulating their reasons for it (e.g. “A minimum-wage hike will cost 500,000 jobs). Likewise, if Democrats actually believe the policy of rolling back sanctions and hoping for the best is good policy and good politics, they should embrace it.
What about this elusive bipartisanship in foreign policy and specifically on Israel/Iran? First, there is bipartisanship on the merits of the Menendez-Kirk legislation (more than 70 votes in favor, according to informal whip counts). The Congress is bipartisan on this; Reid is blocking a vote based on pure loyalty to the White House, which is at odds with Congress. Second, there has to be a time, especially in an election year, in which politicians are held accountable for their votes. The voters have every right to see precisely who is willing to abandon what they know to be the most effective national security move against our greatest international threat.
The contrary view is a sort of emperor-has-no-clothes mind-set, namely that we shouldn’t let on how wimpy Democrats (specifically the White House) are on Iran. A variation of this is that the White House will get “mad” at the pro-Israel community. Well, it’s fair to say it’s a little late on both scores. The administration is in a virtual war with pro-Israel lawmakers and groups on this; it’s not like pro-Israel groups will lose influence with the president. They have none. Nor will the president be able to “blame” Congress or the pro-Israel community if sanctions pass and Iranians walk out. If he really believes the Iranians will leave and not come back, let him veto it and let Democrats uphold the veto.
Enough is enough. On the most critical foreign policy issue of our time — one that will have ramification for decades to come — Congress should take a vote. If not, what role can Congress possibly have in national security?
UPDATE: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) went after Reid on the Senate floor, accusing him of “muzzling the Congress on an issue of this importance to our own national security.”