I. S 1881 Derailing of Legislation Harmful to Diplomacy
The current derailing of S 1881 the Kirk-Menendez-Schumer anti-diplomacy pro-Iran sanctions bill stands as a triumph of the “responsibles” in the US government, the Congress and allies outside of Congress. It is a remarkable story that has been underplayed and should not be. It reflects intensity on the part of the pro-diplomacy constituency groups, an intensity combined with a tenacity that demonstrated the value of being informed citizens
It reflects a determined President Obama, a vigorous and resolute Secretary of State Kerry, growing Senate allies and a cohesive group of constituency groups and experts that included the arms control, religious, peace and mainstream Jewish-American organizations such as J Street and Americans for Peace Now. Even the vaunted Jessica Mathews in the New York Review of Books was not on top of the Congressional actions in her brilliant analytical article on Iran policy.http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2014/feb/20/iran-good-deal-now-danger/?pagination=false
S 1881 expands sanctions against Iran just when there is a real chance at diplomacy, tested by the current six month interim agreement. The proposed legislation is a diplomatic wrecker by ignoring changing Iranian political developments within Iran including strengthening its rear guard hard liners who would seize on the legislation to undo Rouhani’s Iranian diplomatic efforts, reflected obtuseness about the realities of what is to be expected in non-proliferation outcomes and ignorance of what works in nuclear proliferation agreements. S1881 appeared — rightly or wrongly– to be doing Prime Minister Netanyahu’s bidding
The legislation quickly got 58 Senate sponsors– 42 Republicans and 16 Democrats. A Democrat was added later and nearly all the Democrats running for re-election signed up. The proponents tried to create a sense of inevitability, framing the issues as supporting diplomacy and helping the President, protecting Israel and underlying is that no negotiation can really work with Iran. At one time S1881 supporters claimed they had 72 supporters. Underneath it had the taste, for this old veteran of these wars, a reminder of the time in the 1950s when isolationists felt our negotiators were naive and to get an agreement with the USSR would betray national security. The current ugly situation brought back reminders of nearly 60 years ago.
II. Responsibles Refuse to Accept the Inevitable
What stopped the anticipated inevitable was firmness by President Obama and Secretary Kerry. They were unbending in opposing the legislation.They took the time to explain what harm that legislation would do in unraveling the diplomatic effort and why it put us on an unneeded war risk. The argument was careful. Nobody charged others with being pro-war. But this was an effects test, not an intent test. The effect of S1881 is that its enactment would obliterate diplomacy, put Iran on a course of creating a nuclear weapon which no Western country or Israel wanted. That runs the risk of war.
Majority Leader Reid was equally resolute declaring repeatedly that S1881 would not be brought to the Senate floor for a vote. Ten Senate Committee Chairs led by Feinstein (Intelligence) and Levin (Armed Services) spoke out strongly in support of the Obama Administration’s diplomatic efforts.All of this allowed the constituency groups to apply cohesive and intense pressure with forceful arguments on the harm that S1881 does.. Here the groups modeled cooperation, sharing information, knowing when to duplicate and when not to and recognizing that each group has different strengths that could be contributed to the overall effort. It brought together policy wonks, organizers, lobbyists and media cognoscenti so that the whole began to be greater than the individual parts.
Politically what is felt is a vibrancy among arms control , peace and religious groups. The political equation was changed by the active and sophisticated support of the Iranian-American community and strong voices within the American Jewish community from J Street and Americans for Peace Now. That combined overall effort, with strong nationwide editorial support, has created a new political dynamic.
First the effort for new sponsorships hit a brick wall. No magic number was reached. The counter triangles– The Obama Administration, its Senate supporters and the constituency groups– demonstrated influence with the blocking of new sponsors.
Then those who sponsored began hearing from their constituents. The Senators were not blessed for their co-sponsorship. As the Interim agreement took shape even co-sponsors acknowledged that the bill shouldn’t be voted on until later or everyone learns what happens in the negotiations.
What has been accomplished is that there is a group of elected officials who support and defend diplomacy. They are not silent supporters.
III. What Happens Next
We are in a new phase. Do no harm is a first principle. Disagreements with S1881 supporters will not go away. But there are openings to discuss with various Senators. These must be fully explored.
We are on the lookout for resolutions that can be damaging declarations of policy. To those abroad there is no difference between a resolution and a law. We know differently. But that is neither the perception nor the understanding. That is the reality. So our efforts are determined to prevent harm from occurring within the Congress, House or Senate.
Now there will be lots of discussion on what an agreement should include and not include. The pro-diplomacy side has be prepared to continue its active discussion of such concepts so that there is a public familiarity with what is important and what are the barriers that will prevent an agreement. That’s a major responsibility. It means informed activism so that elected officials know that there are constituents who are informed about what’s necessary to achieve an agreement that keeps Iran from having nuclear weapons.