What Not to Do on Iran
Michael Makovsky and Bill Kristol have some typically awful proposals for Iran policy:
Congress could immediately pass new and stronger sanctions legislation, which would seek to cut off all of Iran’s oil sales, a manageable prospect given the current global supply glut and the drop in oil prices of about 30 percent since the summer. Congress could pass an Authorization for the Use of Military Force against Iran, to at least make clear it will support the president if he acts. Congress could augment Israel’s capacity to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities by passing legislation that would sell Israel 30,000-pound Massive Ordinance Penetrators (MOPs)—bunker-busters that can penetrate 200 feet below ground—as well as spare B-52s, currently unused by the U.S. Air Force, to deliver them. This would boost our leverage with Iran, send a strong signal of support for Israel, and improve the chances for a successful Israeli strike if that proves necessary.
Congress could do all these things, but all that they would succeed in doing is killing any chance of an agreement with Iran. Imposing new sanctions would sabotage the negotiations, and they would also undermine international support for existing sanctions, which rely in large part on Iran’s trading partners’ cooperation to have any meaningful effect. Iran’s trading partners in Asia and more than a few in Europe would be very pleased with a deal that would allow them to resume their normal business, but they would probably be just as glad to resume that business whether or not an agreement is reached. Additional U.S. sanctions would give them a perfect excuse to resume business as usual, which would make another round of U.S. sanctions as futile as it is foolish. Jim Antle points out this downside of imposing more sanctions in his article today:
A sanctions regime without strong international support may make Senate cosponsors feel good about themselves, but it won’t do much to influence Iranian behavior.
I doubt that Congress could bestir itself to pass an AUMF for Iran, since it seems so reluctant to pass an authorization for a war that the U.S. is already fighting, but it would be terrible if it did. Even if the Iranian government assumed that Obama would not act on such an authorization, the fact that it had been passed would be an additional and ongoing reason to distrust any offer the U.S. made. It would give Iran a pretext to abandon negotiations without incurring blame for their collapse. Worst of all, it would leave the door open to war with Iran at some point in the future. That would not only give Iran an excuse to walk away from negotiations, which would be bad enough, but it would give a future administration an opening to attack Iran at will. The threat by itself would probably be enough to strengthen the position of Iranian hard-liners to the detriment of all involved, and it would give those hard-liners another argument for acquiring a nuclear deterrent. Likewise, providing Israel with more weapons to create the impression that the U.S. wants to facilitate an Israeli attack would have much the same harmful effect on the prospects of a peaceful resolution of the issue. Each of these proposals would achieve nothing except to ratchet up tensions in the region and make a new armed conflict more likely, but then I assume that is why Iran hawks favor them.