August 8, 2013

The House Gets Bad Advice

When it comes to crafting law, Congress seeks input from outside experts to help inform and guide their decisionmaking. The type of experts the body seeks out can say a lot about why Congress does what it does. Last Wednesday, the House Foreign Affairs Committee invited some particularly revealing “expert witnesses” that say a lot about the body’s priorities.
The Middle East Subcommittee held a hearing on the “Iran-Syria Nexus and its Implications for the Region,” featuring Mark Dubowitz, the Executive Director of the Foundation of Defense and Democracies (FDD), a major pro-sanctions lobby that has  been in the spotlight thanks financial filings that indicate it is primarily sponsored by far-right wing millionaires like Sheldon Adelson. Also testifying was John Bolton, a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute who has called for the U.S. to bomb Iran for years now, going back to his days as UN Ambassador under the Bush Administration.
Dubowitz and Bolton, both representing the neo-conservative hawks in Washington, urged the Members of Congress in attendance to escalate sanctions, dismiss negotiations, and carry out preventative war on Iran.
Dubowitz called for “massively intensifying sanctions on Iran to bring it to the verge of economic collapse.” According to him, Washington was not doing enough to send the message to the Supreme Leader that the U.S. means business. He claimed that the U.S. has been granting sanctions relief to Iran through its “unwillingness to entertain new sanctions [and] non-enforcement of existing sanctions.”
Bolton sided with Dubowitz but added that negotiations with Iran are worthless and that the U.S. should ultimately aim for regime change within Iran. As predicted, Bolton argued yet again that the “only option is a pre-emptive military strike against Iran’s nuclear program.”
For his part, Dubowitz also urged that the U.S. should be “responding in places like Syria, not with UN Council recommendations or Geneva II conferences but with actually killing IRGC commanders in Syria.” This should send the message to the Supreme Leader that “we are serious,” he added.
Ranking Member Deutch (D-FL), siding with the hawks, aruguing that the U.S. must tighten “the economic noose so that the Supreme Leader changes his ways.” Accordingly, Deutch argued that the sanctions “have not yet caused the Supreme Leader to change his commitment to nuclear weapons because they have not been strong enough.”
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the subcommittee’s chairwoman, dismissed the election of Hassan Rouhani. “This new leader is not the moderate that so many are eager to believe in Iran,” she said. “It is the Supreme Leader who still calls the shots and his nefarious ambitions have not been altered.” Ros-Lehtinen said further, “no concession and no waivers should be issued by the Obama administration until we see concrete and verifiable proof that Iran has begun to dismantle its nuclear program.”
Also testifying at the hearing was Daniel Brumberg of the United States Institute of Peace. However, his comments urging caution against war and sanctions escalation largely fell on deaf ears. In fact, he was often cut off by the attending Members of Congress, who were not interested in his more moderate approach.
Just a few hours after the committee hearing, the House passed H.R. 850, a bill to impose even more sanctions on Iran. Even though this bill still has to be passed by the Senate and signed by the President for it to become law, many experts warned that such a move will undercut prospects for new diplomacy with Iran’s incoming president. Those experts weren’t invited to testify in Congress. In Iran, hardliners quickly seized on the vote as proof that the U.S. is not interested in a negotiated solution and talks are meaningless. In Washington, following the vote, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and American Enterprise Institute quickly issued their congratulations.

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