The concept of sovereignty is a state’s power to do everything necessary to govern itself, such as making laws, making war and peace, and forming treaties or engaging in commerce with foreign nations. It is extremely difficult to influence, or change, a sovereign nation’s behaviors and policies, but there are times when it is necessary for the community of nations to apply pressure on a country if they pose a threat to peace and security of their neighbors and possibly the world. There are two options nations have at their disposal to apply pressure on a sovereign nation, and it is always preferable to use economic sanctions, because they are by-and-large effective and better than the devastation of a military conflict.
This week in the Senate, Republicans rejected new sanctions on Iran because it appears they are looking for any reason to use their preferred method of applying pressure; war. The Senate legislation focused on foreign banks that handle transactions for oil and tanker companies in Iran, and closed loopholes in existing sanctions. There were Republicans who wanted additional measures in the form of amendments, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said “New changes to the bill at this time will only slow down its passage” before new talks that were scheduled to get under way on May 23 in Baghdad. The House had already passed its own version, and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) sent a letter to Senate Republicans on the importance of passing its version “as rapidly as possible.”
There are conflicting reports on why Senate Republicans blocked the new set of sanctions, but it appears to be a stalling tactic regardless their excuses. Harry Reid said Republicans objected to the bill because the language was not tough enough and they lacked sufficient time to review it, but they already blocked the same bill in March. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) said “Time is of the essence. We must send to the Iranians a clear message that you cannot just forestall negotiations and have negotiations thinking that you are buying time. We must show them that notwithstanding their intentions to buy time, there are consequences.” The importance of approving the harsher sanctions cannot be overstated, because without more pressure on Iran, the likelihood of Israel launching an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities grows by the day and the result could lead to a substantial war in the region. Presumptive Republican presidential candidate Willard Romney has surrounded himself with the Bush team that pushed for war with Iraq, and has given every indication that he prefers bombs to diplomacy whether Israel attacks Iran or not.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said in an interview that getting Iran to give up any potential ambitions to nuclear weapons was the “only good option,” and he warned that an Israeli attack on Iran could spark a regional war. Gates also said that impressing on Iran that continuing to seek nuclear weapons is harming their security, and that “there are signs that those sanctions are beginning to really bite and some much more severe European Union sanctions will come into effect this summer.” Gates said if Israel attacks unilaterally, there are “lots of regional complications that may end up in a much larger Middle East conflict.” The danger of an Israeli strike was played out in war games earlier this year and the Pentagon found America will get dragged into the conflict after an Israeli attack.
The Rand Corporation suggested that if there was an attack on Iran, it would make it more, not less likely that the Iranian regime would decide to “produce and deploy nuclear weapons” and called for more U.S.-Israeli cooperation, and for America to quietly “support the assessments of former and current Israeli officials who have argued against a military option.” Israeli and American estimates say intelligence agencies still do not believe Iran has decided to build nuclear weapons and it gives time to pursue a “dual-track approach of pressure and diplomacy” to resolve the potential crisis. That is why the Senate Republicans obstructing the new set of sanctions prior to next week’s scheduled negotiations is suspicious. President Obama has vowed that “all options are on the table,” but questions about the “efficacy and consequences” of a military strike leads most American officials stay with diplomacy as the “best and most permanent way” to resolve the predicament.
There are war hawks in Israel and America who can hardly wait for the opportunity to start a war with Iran, and the cost would be enormous. Gas prices would skyrocket to over $7 gallon and a substantial Middle East conflict would embroil the entire region with America stuck in the middle defending Israel. Diplomacy and sanctions are working, and as Iranians feel the economic heat, their support of the theocratic leadership is waning. An attack would serve to unite the country behind the Islamic Supreme Council and any hopes of a regime change would be lost.
It really is curious that Republicans would block harsher sanctions over one sentence, or because they could not find time in two months to read the legislation in its entirety. However, those are their excuses and one cannot help but opine that they are deliberately holding up progress to give Israel time to launch an attack so America can be involved in the conflict. Romney has close ties to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and has made no secret of his intent to wage war if he wins the presidency in November. Americans have been at war for nearly eleven years, and they are weary of the financial and human cost of failing to use diplomacy and sanctions to pressure a sovereign nation to change their policies whether it is developing a nuclear weapon or destroying WMD.
The Senate Republicans, by obstructing new sanctions, have weakened negotiators heading into next week’s talks with Iranians, and as Harry Reid said, the Iranians must be “laughing at us for allowing partisan differences once again to scuttle a sanctions bill.” One Republican senator’s aid said that “we’re sending a signal to the Iranians that unless we see a halt to all enrichment activities, we’re coming at you with another sanctions bill,” but with the May 23 talks only four days away, Republicans have made it nearly impossible for negotiators to make any threats or demands for compliance. If the Senate does not give the President and negotiators the tools to pressure Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions, they take the only reasonable options off the table, and if Iran or Israel senses American resolve for a peaceful resolution to the crisis is no longer viable, then the chance for an Israeli attack grows and our involvement is assured. Perhaps that is the Republicans’ plan after all, and it is not out of the realm of possibility that they are setting up a scenario in which the President has no option other than join Israel in an attack and start a substantial war, or appear weak during an election.
Israel or America can ill afford a full-scale war in the Middle East, and the only reasonable approach is using diplomacy and sanctions to encourage Iran to make the right choice. The existing sanctions have prompted Iran to pass a reduced, sanction-hit budget, so there is little doubt they have been effective. However, without new, harsher sanctions, Republicans have diminished the chances of a peaceful resolution and one cannot help but believe that is their true motivation.