New Russia Sanctions Not Helpful For Anything but Domestic Political Rhetoric

New sanctions harm Russians, Europeans, Americans, and the prospects for improved relations.



The Senate has passed a bill to impose new sanctions on Russia and Iran, and to curb the president's power to roll back such sanctions unilaterally. The legislation passed 98-2. Only Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) voted against it. (Sanders has specified that it's the Iran sanctions, not the Russia ones, that concern him.) Only Paul and Mike Lee (R-Utah) voted against the amendment adding Russia sanctions to the Iran bill.

In other words, most of the Senate is willing to sacrifice sound foreign policy goals for cheap soundbites and political point-scoring.

The new Iran sanctions threaten to undermine the Iran nuclear deal, which the Trump administration has tolerated so far but is by no means fully committed to. (The administration ordered a review of the deal in April.) Democrats may love to invoke Barack Obama as a rhetorical tool, but they seem rather blasé about undermining one of his central accomplishments.

The Russia sanctions are dangerous for other reasons. When Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton in last year's presidential race, it was the third consecutive election in which the candidate with a more hawkish stance on Russia lost. Yet U.S. policy toward Moscow is set to get harsher anyway. The Trump administration has rejected Exxon's request for a sanctions exemption that would permit it to continue a development project in Russia. It has demanded that Russia return Crimea to Ukraine if it wants sanctions relief. Trump has even gone back on his campaign-era insistence that NATO is "obsolete." Now this bill will make it harder for him to try to improve America's relations with Russia even if he tries to.

Europeans leaders are not particularly pleased about the bill: Russia is one of Europe's leading energy suppliers, and the sanctions will also apply to European companies working on Russian energy projects. The German foreign minister and the Austrian chancellor released a joint statement insisting Europe's energy supplies were "a matter for Europe, not for the United States."

They're right about that. The conflict in Ukraine should also be a matter for Europe, not the United States. The sanctions currently being proposed are in part a product of Europe's inability to engage Russia on its own: Europe relies on American leadership, and America produces "solutions" like this.

Congress should reassert its role in foreign policy making. It would be good if it did that by no longer being a rubberstamp for indefinite global war, not by making it harder for the president to try to improve relations with a foreign nation.