Foreign Policy

Iran Sanctions Bill Out of Senate Does Not Authorize Military Force


Thank goodness for small favors, and thanks to Sen. Rand Paul. Al Arabiya News on the measure out of the Senate earlier this week:

The bill also allows President Barack Obama to impose sanctions on any country or company that enters joint ventures with Iran to develop its oil or uranium resource, or provides technology or resources to help Iran with such development.

The legislation targets Iran's national oil and tanker firms, its elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), and would for the first time widen sanctions on Iran's energy sector to any joint venture anywhere in the world where Iran's government is a substantial partner or investor.  

The bill calls for a travel ban and freezing of U.S. assets of individuals and firms that provide Tehran with technology–everything from rubber bullets to surveillance equipment–used to repress dissent.

It would require firms competing for U.S. government contracts to certify that they and their subsidiaries have not had "significant economic transactions" with the Revolutionary Guards or individuals or entities connected to it.

As we–with no hostile intent, natch!–order the world not to do business with Iran, the bright side:

The bill also includes language introduced by Senator Rand Paul stating that the measure does not authorize the use of military force….

What might this mean down the line?

a former CIA analyst for the Near East and Persian Gulf region said the sanctions could be counterproductive ahead of the Baghdad talks on Iran's nuclear program by making Tehran think that the West is less interested in a deal than in undermining the regime. 

"The biggest requirement now for getting an agreement is not to pile on still more sanctions, but instead to persuade the Iranians that if they make concessions the sanctions will be eased," said Paul Pillar, now a security studies professor at Georgetown University. '

The Senate bill will have to be reconciled with a similar House bill passed in December. The bill does not authorize military force as per Rand Paul; still, as CNN notes, "Passage came after senators agreed to add language warning that military force would be an option available to the United States if Iran seeks to build a nuclear weapon."

As Jason Ditz argues at, sanctions are a long-lasting thing. And Nathan Fuller also at analyzes some of the dangerous language in a recent House resolution on Iran: 

The resolution passed the House 401-11, with a few representatives absent and a few abstaining. This means it had massive bipartisan support — for those of you who only consider Republicans to be warmongers, 166 of 190 Democrats voted in support, including some of its ostensibly most progressive members, such as Barney Frank and Rush Holt.

The language used bodes terribly for the United States' already disastrous and destructive foreign policy. The House affirms not merely that Iran will not be allowed to manufacture nuclear weapons, but that it will not be permitted the capability to manufacture them. Never mind that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta observed that Iran is not actually pursuing these weapons….

The worst part about the bill, though, is not what policies it specifically introduces or accusations it announces but rather what it signifies more broadly: the U.S. is taking the next step in the war on Iran that has already begun.

For one thing, Israel has already teamed up with a U.S.-backed terror group within Iran to assassinate nuclear scientists, serving both the temporary, practical purpose of inhibiting Iran's nuclear progress and the long-term, psychological purpose of instilling fear within Iran and its fledgling nuclear program.

More insidiously, the U.S. has imposed severe sanctions on Iran that most describe as "crippling" and that all should describe as acts of war. On Monday, the Senate votedunanimously to escalate those very sanctions….

We should also look to Iraq to understand how this bipartisan process of escalation works, from sanctions to bombing to occupation. Arguing against sanctions on Iran in April 2010, Rep. Ron Paul recalled how sanctions on Iraq led inevitably to war:

"Some of my well-intentioned colleagues may be tempted to vote for sanctions on Iran because they view this as a way to avoid war on Iran. I will ask them whether the sanctions on Iraq satisfied those pushing for war at that time. Or whether the application of ever-stronger sanctions in fact helped war advocates make their case for war on Iraq: as each round of new sanctions failed to "work" — to change the regime — war became the only remaining regime-change option.

This legislation, whether the House or Senate version, will lead us to war on Iran. The sanctions in this bill, and the blockade of Iran necessary to fully enforce them, are in themselves acts of war according to international law. A vote for sanctions on Iran is a vote for war against Iran. I urge my colleagues in the strongest terms to turn back from this unnecessary and counterproductive march to war."………..

President Obama called last month's "negotiations" with Iran that country's "last chance," effectively threatening to escalate sanctions or attack if Iran didn't cease its nuclear enrichment program entirely. How are those "negotiations"? How is that "diplomacy"?…

On the kind of bright side, and we'll see if it means anything when Obama decides to prove how tough he is, perhaps pre-November, Common Dreams reports that both houses of Congress seem to have effectively "un-declared" war on Iran:

The House was the first chamber to 'un-declare war', with its inclusion of a proviso in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that this legislation does not authorize war with Iran. This stipulation that "nothing in this Act shall be construed as authorizing the use of force against Iran" is a remarkably sober note of caution and common sense in an otherwise dangerous and reckless piece of legislation…

Rep. John Conyers (MI) championed this amendment to 'un-declare' war with Iran with a bipartisan group of representatives: Rep. Ron Paul (TX), Rep. Keith Ellison (MN), and Rep. Walter Jones (NC). In less than a week, Congress received more than 1,000 calls through FCNL's toll-free number from grassroots activists across the country who support this and other anti-war, pro-peace amendments that FCNL was working on. Partly as a result of your advocacy against war with Iran, the Conyers/Paul/Ellison/Jones amendment was considered so uncontroversial that it made its way into the NDAA as part of a package (called 'en bloc amendments') of non-controversial amendments, rather than going to the House floor for a separate vote.

I wrote back in March on "Why Rand Paul Associated Sanctions with War."

Reason on Iran.

NEXT: Rand Paul Introduces Amendment to End the FDA's Insane Police Powers: "I see no reason to have the FDA carrying weapons." [UPDATED]

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  1. So is Congress tunring into the UN under the Obama administration? Ostensibly there to pass sanctions and write angry letters to Iran, but no one in the White House gives a shit and will do whatever they want? I have little doubt that if Obama wants to attack Iran, he’ll attack Iran with or without Congressional approval since the resolution does not explicitly disallow the usage of military force.

    The President can do as he likes.

    1. Congress has the power, they just have to use it. It’s Congress’s fault that it’s been willing to criticize but not actually stop things. Though I will grant that the President can put Congress in a tough position by just sending in troops and daring it to cut off funds.

  2. the charade continues with The Obama thinking that anyone, especially someone like A-Jad, takes him seriously. Whatever.

    Want to exert leadership? Here’s how: POTUS takes to the lectern and says, “if a country is bent on acquiring nuclear weaponry, there is not much we can really do short of war and no one wants another of those. But here is what we can do – any country that uses nukes offensively against the US, a US ally, or a US interest will effectively cease functioning within 24 hours.”

  3. So now why didnt I ever think of that? Wow.

  4. And as we all know, BO would never use military force for months not weeks without Congress’ authorization. Right Ken Shultz?

  5. Do drones constitute military force? I seem to recall a drone visiting Iran. Was it just a tourist and off-duty?

    1. A drone is analogous to U-2, which we had flying over the USSR pretty much constantly during the CW.

      1. Aren’t drones usually armed?

        1. IIANM, some are strictly for spying while others are for agressive action.

          I’m not sure which kind the one the Iranians shot down (claim to have shot down?) was. I believe the official version was that that one strayed of course from its proper mission in Afghanistan.

          1. It was a recon drone.

            IIRC, Recon drones on occasion will operate autonomously. The armed ones always have a human pilot at the helm.

            1. Presumably a Recon drone could be programmed to fly a set course over an are of interest and return to base – or to blow itself up before it runs out of fuel if it’s cheap enough to sacrifice.

              I would think the weakness of that could be that there would be no option to turn around and take another look if you saw something of interest.

  6. Iran Sanctions Bill Out of Senate Does Not Authorize Military Force


    1. sanctions != blockade

  7. Ron Paul and Justin Amash both voted against the sanctions.

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