The Wall Street Journal reports that at the annual Wall Street Journal CEO Council meeting, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) reaffirmed that he is the sole GOP potential 2016 contender to support White House national security adviser Susan Rice’s fear-mongering that new Iran sanctions would wreck the ongoing (critics say fruitless) negotiations with the P5+1, which was supposed to reach a final deal in six months. “Mr. Paul noted that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he thought the extension was a good thing. . . . He said he thought the U.S. should do all it can to prevent Iran from possessing a nuclear weapon, and that instituting sanctions at this stage could hinder the progress so far.” Progress?! Many conservatives would hotly dispute that, citing the one-sided negotiations that are allowing Iran to move ever closer to a nuclear weapons capacity.


Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) speaks during the Freedom Summit meeting for conservative speakers in Manchester, N.H., in April. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

No, Netanyahu does not agree with Paul. In speech after speech, he has implored the P5+1 to increase sanctions on Iran and roundly criticized efforts to roll back sanctions for reversible changes in Iran’s illicit program. Netanyahu, like many domestic critics of the interim deal, sees the extension as the lesser of two evils. He nevertheless, unlike Paul, wants sanctions to be ramped up in order to pressure Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions.

Mark Dubowitz, sanctions guru at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, is fed up with the scare-mongering over new sanctions. “Instead of playing into the Iranian trap of threatening that any form of pressure will blow up negotiations, the administration would be well advised to work constructively with Congress on such a bill instead of continuing to ignore lawmakers’ concerns,” he says. “The bill can use a phased approach to tightening the screws backed up by a credible threat of a tidal wave of sanctions if Iran continues its nuclear intransigence. So far the administration has failed to deliver; it’s time to respect the advice of Congress which played an instrumental role in designing the toughest sanctions over administration objections.”

The administration demands to continue the process in which Iran pays no price (to the contrary, gets sanction relief) while we abandon position after position. This practice is only being enabled by Paul and a shrinking band of mostly left-wing opponents of renewed sanctions who insist we can’t interfere with the negotiations. Paul makes sense only if you think negotiations are going well, that John Kerry and Wendy Sherman should be trusted and that the stream of U.S. concessions and Iran’s total lack of concern about adverse consequences from delaying and refusing to make a deal are acceptable.

Paul might want to listen to what Netanyahu is actually saying:

So don’t be fooled by Iran’s manipulative charm offensive. It’s designed for one purpose and for one purpose only: to lift the sanctions and remove the obstacles to Iran’s path to the bomb. The Islamic Republic is now trying to bamboozle its way to an agreement that will remove the sanctions it still faces and leave it with a capacity of thousands of refugees — of centrifuges, rather — to enrich uranium. This would effectively cement Iran’s place as a threshold military nuclear power. And in the future, at the time of its choosing, Iran, the world’s most dangerous regime, in the world’s most dangerous region, would obtain the world’s most dangerous weapons. Allowing that to happen would pose the gravest threat to us all. 

Paul, not unlike President Obama, who tried to convince voters in two elections that he had Israel’s back, is at loggerheads with Israel on its most critical national security issue. That puts him far out of the mainstream  — of both parties and the voters (as reflected in multiple polls) — on the most important national security issue we and Israel face. The GOP majority in favor of sanctions will only grow with the addition of new members in 2015, who ran on and have tougher positions on Iran than does Paul.

Paul also might want to check with ally and fellow Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.): “What we ought to do, if we can’t get an acceptable agreement with the Iranians, is tighten the sanctions. In fact, we had a bill in the Senate to do that which the current majority leader wouldn’t allow a vote on. … That’s the kind of thing a new Senate would be voting on.” Indeed it will, and in the new Senate, Republican after Republican will rise to denounce the administration’s position, with which Paul is in sync.

Even more dicey for Paul, David Brog, executive director of Christians United for Israel, the largest pro-Israel group in the country, weighed in, telling Right Turn: “We are disappointed by reports that Senator Paul has joined with the Obama Administration in opposing new sanctions on Iran. Tough sanctions are the only reason Iran came to the negotiating table in the first place. And only the threat of tougher sanctions will convince the Iranians to make the kind of meaningful concessions they have thus far resisted.” He added, “Those dreaming of some sort of virtuous cycle of compromise with the mullahs demonstrate a dangerous ignorance about who they are and what they seek.”

I suppose if you like Obama’s Iran policy, the safest bet would be to heed Paul and Rice’s warnings. But huge bipartisan majorities in both houses will soon make clear that they think this would be disastrous, and for good reason. “The Administration lowered the pressure on Iran over the last year by taking new sanctions off the table after cutting what was portrayed as a short-term deal that conceded long-term Iranian enrichment, and it has yielded deadlock instead of a comprehensive deal,” says Michael Makovsky, chief executive of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA). He says that coupled with our “irresponsible concessions,” we managed to weaken “our leverage and made an acceptable deal less likely, after several years of tough Congressional and European sanctions helped lead Tehran to want to participate in talks.” He admonishes the administration to “learn from this failed record and engineer a radical course correction.” Unfortunately, neither Obama nor Paul so far are willing to do so.