July 11, 2013

NIAC Policy Memo: How Congress Can Start the Iran War through Sanctions

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Senator Mark Kirk is circulating sanctions legislation that would effectively end all avenues for diplomacy and significantly increase the risk of war by making “regime change” in Iran official US policy by requiring Iran to “move toward a free and democratically elected government” as a condition for lifting sanctions (summary being circulated by Kirk: http://fcnl.org/images/ISHRA_Bill_Summary_2013.pdf). 

While seeing Iran move towards a free and democratic society is a worthy goal, it cannot be done through legislation. When the legislative route has been pursued in the past, the opposite has occurred.

In fact, this is a repeat of the strategy to take the U.S. into war with Iraq. Kirk’s legislation mirrors the Iraq Liberation Act, which was passed into law in 1998 and codified regime change as official U.S. policy towards Iraq. This effort prevented sanctions from being leveraged in exchange for Iraqi concessions, closed remaining diplomatic off-ramps and set the stage for war in 2003. Without the Iraq Liberation Act, it is not clear whether the Iraq war would have taken place.

Kirk’s strategy is now becoming clear. All sanctions bills prior to this point were essentially aimed at getting the US to a point in which the “war/regime change” sanctions would be the only option left.

The previous sanctions have set the stage for Kirk’s Iran Liberation Act. Already, the House has advanced its bill through committee (H.R.850), which brazenly attacks key presidential waivers. The sooner these other bills are passed, the sooner Kirk can put to a vote the “war/regime change” bill. 

As Secretary of State John Kerry has testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the Administration does not want further sanctions and Congress should “leave us the window to try to work the diplomatic channel.”

The sanctions bills now moving forward will not only close that diplomatic window, they will also position Kirk and allies to finally slam it shut for good. 

What was the Iraq Liberation Act?

  • The Iraq Liberation Act of 1998 (H.R.4655) codified regime change as official U.S. policy towards Iraq. It committed the U.S. “to support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq and to promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace that regime.”  It was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Clinton in October 1998.

From Iraq Liberation Act to Operation Iraqi Freedom

  • UN sanctions imposed in August 1990 after Iraq invaded Kuwait were kept in place by after the 1991 Persian Gulf War as leverage to press Saddam to verifiably dismantle WMD programs and accept full UN inspections in exchange for lifting sanctions.
  • However, Secretary of State Madeline Albright announced that sanctions would not be lifted until Hussein was removed from power. “We do not agree with the nations who argue that if Iraq complies with its obligations concerning weapons of mass destruction, sanctions should be lifted.” (Albright, Madeleine. “Policy Speech on Iraq” March 26, 1997. http://www.fas.org/news/iraq/1997/03/bmd970327b.htm)
  • According to Ekéus, “with regime change now a stated U.S. objective and the easing of sanctions off the table, Saddam lost his appetite for cooperation.”
  • In 1998, with pressure building from neoconservatives who called for an end to the containment and inspections effort and instead for an official U.S. regime change policy, Congress passed and Clinton signed the Iraq Liberation Act, which codified the regime change policy. (Project for a New American Century. “Letter to the President” January 26, 1998. http://www.newamericancentury.org/iraqclintonletter.htm)
  • In 2002, Congress passed the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002, and cited the Iraq Liberation Act.

How do we prevent the same course with Iran?

  • Block any further sanctions push that removes or complicates the President’s ability to lift sanctions or which brings the U.S. closer to setting regime change as official policy.
  • Delay or vote against further sweeping sanctions on Iran that undercut diplomacy and pave the way for the introduction of regime change legislation.
  • Bolster the President’s authority and political space to utilize existing sanctions as diplomatic leverage.
  • Clarify that it is U.S. policy to utilize the sanctions imposed on Iran as diplomatic leverage in negotiations and to lift the sanctions in exchange for verifiable concessions from Iran that have a material impact on its ability to develop a nuclear weapon.





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