Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Senators echo Clinton in push for 'crippling sanctions' on Iran

Following up on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's promise to impose "crippling sanctions" on Iran should it continue to defy the "international community" (that is, the U.S. and the E.U.) with regard to its nuclear program, a bipartisan group of the Senate's finest have introduced legislation that would empower the president to engage in a new round of economic warfare by sanctioning companies that sell refined oil products to Iran.

As one might expect, the April 28 press conference announcing the bill was filled with unsubstantiated fear mongering, including this from Senator Evan Bayh (D-IN):
If events continue to go as they are currently going, at some point, during the next two to four years, Iran will have a nuclear weapon.
Actually, if "events continue to go as they are currently going," the IAEA will continue inspecting Iran's nuclear facilities to ensure its compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which allows Iran to pursue nuclear power so long as they permit international inspectors to verify the non-diversion of nuclear materials to a weapons program. To that end, the most recent IAEA report (pdf) states that its inspectors have "been able to continue to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran." If Iran were to have a nuclear weapon in "the next two to four years", as Bayh asserts, it would have to withdraw from the NPT and kick the IAEA officials inspecting its nuclear facilities out of the country. Even then, it would likely take months if not years for Iran to stockpile the highly enriched uranium necessary to build a bomb -- which Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair recently testified they currently do not have and which they have not made the decision to pursue.

Later in the press conference, Bayh claimed Iran could avoid all this nastiness about economic sanctions "if they simply will agree to a civilian nuclear power and to forego with international oversight and that sort of thing [sic]." Iranian officials have always insisted their program is peaceful in nature and IAEA inspectors have so far been able to verify that, so it's unclear from Bayh's garbled statement what would qualify as "international oversight" in his view.

One might be tempted to chalk the statement up to ignorance -- U.S. senators are generally not revered for their intellectual prowess -- but Bayh, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, should certainly know his claim that "everyone agrees" Iran is on "a nuclear weapon path" is just not true. Indeed, back in March Bayh attended a hearing where Blair reaffirmed the view of all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies that Iran suspended any weapons program it may have had years ago and has not in fact made the decision to pursue nukes. Either Bayh wasn't paying attention, in which case he's incompetent, or else he's a liar -- take your pick.

Following Blair, independent Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman -- who told me back in the summer of 2007 it would be irresponsible to not attack Iran for its supposedly "waging a deadly proxy war" against U.S. troops in Iraq -- likewise inaccurately referred to Iran's "nuclear weapons program" before launching into a self-congratulatory, albeit accurate, description of congressional support for more economic warfare against Iran spanning "not only Democrats and Republicans but, I'd say, probably by self-description, some of the Senate's most liberal and conservative members."

Lieberman also noted that despite Obama's public statements on the need for diplomacy with Iran, his top diplomat for the region -- United Against Nuclear Iran co-founder Dennis Ross -- was informed of the Senate bill enabling more sanctions, and "I will tell you he didn't say don't. . . . we've even sent him a copy of it."

Finally, Senator John Thune (R-SD) joined his Senate colleagues at the press conference -- which also included Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Jon Kyl (R-AZ) -- in the fear mongering fun, saying if Iran possessed nuclear weapons, "we know inevitably [they] would be transferred or given to terrorist nations that would target Israel."

But do we? If Iran actually someday develops nukes, we are to believe that after all the sanctions and hardship it suffered to build them, it would proceed to give them away to some uncontrollable terrorist group or "terrorist nation" in order to attack a country -- Israel -- that would immediately annihilate Tehran's 10 million-plus inhabitants in response? And assuming Iran really is run by a messianic death cult committed to the death of Jews in Israel (yet curiously not the 25,000 or so living in Iran right now), even at the expense of its own power by using nuclear weapons, don't you think its leaders would want to press that big red button themselves?

Spouting off about an endless series of external, "existential" threats, however inconsistent and exaggerated, typically goes unquestioned in Washington. If anything, it insulates the fearmonger from the dreaded charge of displaying "naivete" in foreign affairs. If everything you say is wrong, at worst a few people might be further impoverished or killed in some far off land. And how many of them are registered to vote?

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