So, this is weird. Most foreign policy types around town agree the Obama administration is conducting foreign (not to speak of domestic) policy through the prism of the elections: The president’s doing nothing on foreign policy that might cause trouble (Syria? What?), international unpleasantness (Russia? What?), or military conflict (Iran? What?). But he doesn’t want anyone to know it, so he’s got the public tough guy face on the private do-nothing administration. Here’s the weirdness: Obama has every interest (practical and political) for the American people and the world to think he’s tough on Iran. On the practical side, a tough approach may get the Iranians to the table with a serious offer; on the political side, it’ll undercut Mitt Romney’s argument that the president is presiding over Iran’s transition to a nuclear weapons-armed state. But…
Instead, the White House and its allies on Capitol Hill and in lobbying shops across town are doing their best to gut the Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Human Rights Act of 2012, ensure it doesn’t have sweeping sanctions against the Iranian energy industry, doesn’t slam companies that evade insurance sanctions against Iran, doesn’t nail those facilitating financial sanctions against Iran.
The bill is not bad in and of itself, and makes some technical fixes to previous sanctions bills. In addition, rumor has it that it will have some additional provisions that will go after the Iranian financial sector in new and effective ways. But then again, it’s not going to have some of the really tough provisions which originated in the House and Senate versions. So, here’s what I don’t get: The president needs to look tough on Iran; presumably members of Congress who profess their sincerity in dealing a blow to Iran’s energy sector meant it. But instead, both the White House and supposed Iran hawks (Dem and GOP) in the House and Senate are ganging up to quietly water the bill down.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep saying it. The president has all the authority he needs to whack the stuffing out of the Iranian energy and banking sector. He doesn’t want to, and apparently there are plenty in the House and Senate who feel the same way. Remember: No sanctions, no negotiations; no negotiations, no nuclear weapons deal; no nuclear weapons deal…. War. At least that’s what the White House is telling its friends.
Update: Mark Dubowitz from over at FDD emails me and asks the right question: “What’s wrong with the idea of blacklisting Iran’s entire energy sector as a zone of proliferation concern? That’s what real economic warfare looks like.” Couldn’t agree more. If we’re using sanctions to avoid war, then why not go after the whole shebang? That way, Treasury can stop sending daily updates to their sanctions, desperately trying to catch up as Iran changes the names on companies, vessels, banks and more to evade targeted measures.