Do GOP Frontrunners have an Iran policy besides Sanctions and Bombs?

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) –

President Barack Obama’s negotiations with Iran to ensure that its nuclear enrichment program remains purely civilian, for generating electricity, ought to be bipartisan in spirit. Achieving that goal would benefit all Americans.

The GOP presidential field in particular and the Republican Party in general have decided to treat the Iran negotiations the way they did Obamacare, as the unfortunate apparent achievement of a president they had determined to emasculate, which needs to be abrogated yesterday. In short, they are making the Iran talks a partisan domestic issue, refusing to recognize it as a diplomatic victory.

Some of the Republican obstreperousness derives from a desire to please one man: Sheldon Adelson, the sleazy casino magnate who made his pile in unsavory ways in Macao, China and who threw $100 million of his own money behind Newt Gingrich and then Mitt Romney in 2012. As a result of recent Supreme Court rulings such as Citizens United and the striking down of campaign finance reform by that theorist of capitalist dictatorship, John Roberts, cranky individual billionaires like Sheldon Adelson have abruptly been awarded the right to buy and sell American presidents. Chris Christie traipsed off to try to please Adelson in Nevada and called the Occupied Territories of the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza Occupied Territories, and was taken to the wood shed by Adelson, who wouldn’t be able to see oppressed persons if they were carrying him in a palanquin.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has carefully managed to avoid saying anything about the deal outlined this week. His basic reply is, “no comment.” This position is a little surprising, since last January at a Presidential forum he openly let the warmongers among his rivals have it with both barrels. Carol Giacomo wrote in the NYT that Rand asked chickenhawks Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz,

“Are you ready to send ground troops into Iran? Are you ready to bomb them? Are you ready to send in 100,000 troops? … I’m a big fan of trying to exert and trying the diplomatic option as long as we can. If it fails, I will vote to resume sanctions and I would vote to have new sanctions… But if you do it in the middle of negotiations, you’re ruining it.”

So the reason Mr. Paul is hiding from the press on the Iran issue is that he agrees with President Obama’s approach but does not want to let his GOP competitors slam him as an isolationist peacenik.

Unfortunately, Paul has not been consistent. He signed the infamous letter of 47 senators to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, intervening in the midst of the talks in precisely the way he warned against last January. And now he is just quiet.

Scott Walker, the far right wing governor of Wisconsin, pledged to “blow up” any deal with Iran if he became president, regardless of what the Europeans thought of that, and to do it on his first day in office.

Walker doesn’t seem to understand that releasing Iran from its obligations under the Kerry-Zarif deal while undermining international sanctions against Iran would put the ayatollahs in the catbird seat! Ignoring the Europeans may play well as a sound bite to conservatives, but the Europeans would take revenge for being jerked around by refusing to revive sanctions against Iran. Iran is a country of 77 million people with a gdp of some $400 bn., and as a market has the same attractions as Poland. European firms want to invest in Iran, and have only been held back by a their governments, who want to give the USA a chance to succeed in diplomacy. If the US demonstrates that it has no interest in diplomacy, why should European companies deny themselves a primo investment opportunity? Hint: They won’t.

And if Europe bails on the sanctions, they become irrelevant. Scott Walker’s is a good path toward taking off all restraints on Iran except unilateral American sanctions, which cannot in and of themselves have much effect. Even European sanctions on Iran have largely been offset by the country’s increased trade with China.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) called the Iran deal “troubling.” Last January, he accused the Obama administration of facilitating a nuclear weapon for Iran: “In five years we’ll just build them one.” But Rubio did not seem actually to have grasped the details of this deal as explained in the White House talking points. He maintained that the Fordow facility near Qom would be allowed to continue to enrich. That isn’t what the White House said. He said that thousands of centrifuges would be allowed to spin. Yes, but there is no way short of invasion and occupation to dismantle those centrifuges. Obama is shrinking their number from 19,000 to 5,000 according to the WH talking points, which would make it impossible for Iran to go for broke and enrich enough fissile material for a quickie bomb.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), for all his bluster, did not actually threaten to vote down the Iran deal just announced. He did insist that it be cast in the form of a treaty and voted on by the senate. But 84 percent of international agreements signed by the US are simply presidential initiatives; treaties are fairly rare. Nor is there an obvious way for him to get his way on this matter, since the GOP does not have a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate on the Iran negotiations (even conservative Democrats are likely to side with Obama here).

So, just to recap: The usually flamboyant Ted Cruz has been more cautious and circumspect than Scott Walker in his reaction to the Iran deal. Walker used the unfortunate phrase “blow up” about a nuclear negotiation and does not seem to understand how international sanctions work, nor that unilateral US sanctions wouldn’t much hurt Iran. Marco Rubio needs new glasses, since he seems not to be able to read the fine print of the agreement.

And Rand Paul is AWOL on one of the most important issues facing the country.

The Republican presidential field is not ready for prime time regarding the Iran deal.

As for the rank and file GOP congress representatives, such as Louis Gohmert (R-TX), they just raved like lunatics, talking about bombing each and every centrifuge in Iran. But then they were going to fix Iraq by bombing it, too.


Related video:

VOA: “‘Unprecedented’ Iran deal draws GOP critics”

29 Responses

  1. A useless, if not downright dangerous US congress has been developing for some time, which is incapable of fixing itself. Yet, sometimes things need to get done.

    We have to be very careful with this line of thinking. It leads directly toward support of some sort of Unitary Executive, to transcend the weaknesses of unrepresentative representation.

  2. I think you misrepresent the US sanctions.

    They are 3rd party sanctions i.e. the USA punishes foreign companies that trade with Iran by banning them for the US Market.

    That means a foreign company has to decide wether to go with Iran (small market) or USA (whoppin’ big market).

    Not much of a choice…..

    So one of three things are required:
    a) The EU and China have to threaten to go toe to toe in a trade war with the USA (not going to happen), or
    b) The EU has to “coincidentally” decide to sanction the shit outta Israel for its settlements, or
    c) China has to announce that it is Shocked! Shocked! That Gambling Is Taking Place In This Establishment, then review whether Sheldon Adelson is a fit and proper person to hold a casino license.

    Option (b) or (c) should do the trick, while both together makes it a sure-thing.

    • China never paid any attention to US 3rd party sanction threats. They can be bucked & that is what will happen everywhere. They can be challenged legally, at WTO etc if governments wish

      • Which is why the REAL Republican is to bomb. It’s simple:

        1) While waiting for the bombers to get into position, say that sanctions never work;

        2) Impose unilateral sanctions which the rest of the world deems inappropriate and ignores;

        3) Say: “See, we told you sanctions don’t work”; and,

        4) By this time, the aircraft carriers, etc. are in position – so the Republicans can proceed with their real plan: to bomb…

      • “China never paid any attention to US 3rd party sanction threats.”

        But the Europeans did, and that hurt Iran badly.

        “They can be bucked”

        But, again, the Europeans were too scared to buck them.

        The USA slapped a $9billion fine on French bank BNP Paribas and…. the bank paid up. They couldn’t afford not to pay up.

        “They can be challenged legally, at WTO etc if governments wish”

        Well, yeah, that’s the point I’m making. Foreign COMPANIES can’t really stand up to those US 3rd party sanctions – they can’t afford to show that defiance to US regulators.

        Foreign COUNTRIES can, sure. But apart from China, Russia and (maybe) India all the other big economies are in Uncle Sam’s pocket, and so the idea of any of them challenging the USA at the WTO is most unlikely.

        I’m not sure that this sinks into an American audience, but there are a lot of countries out there – even supposed allies – who are scared of the USA.

        With good reason, because since the end of the Cold War the USA’s behaviour hasn’t been particularly rational.

        As in: inmates taking over the asylum-style irrational.

        You can get full marks for courage for standing up to a crazy-eyed bully. But probably zero marks for smarts.

        And Europe, in particular, is full of very smart cowards.

        • China and Russia by themselves are enough to seriously undermine the sanctions. Since Russia is already under sanctions from the US and Europe, I’m sure they would love to have a vigorous trade with Iran and anyone else they can. Also, it has been reported that many of th3e advances for the Iranian nuclear program came via the Khan network. With the failure of negotiations, help from russia, China, and the Khan network, Iran could probably have a bomb within 6 to 12 months if they decided to go full speed ahead. So sanctions as a way to prevent development of a bomb just won’t work. If they achieve a bomb anyway, then a lot of countries will probably figure that continuation of sanctions is meaningless.

    • Except that while countries can pretend to agree with the USA, they can simultaneously look the other way and plead innocence. I noted my own experience with trade embargoes that did not work here:

      link to

      Actually the USA has almost zero leverage over third-party sanctions, especially as the Chinese international trading bank comes on-line because it will hide all financial transactions from the USA. It is very, very easy to create shell companies around the globe to shield international companies from USA retaliation. All they have to do is show that they sold to the shell company in good faith and promise to never sell to that shell company ever again (real easy to do because the shell company had served its purpose and had long disappeared). All the USA will be left with is egg on its face.

      So how do you set up a “reasonable” shell company you ask? First find a company that has existed on paper someplace on earth for several years. The company just has to exist for a reasonable amount of time without having any legal problems. Then you buy it for a reasonable price. You may even keep it running. then buy stuff from American companies and have it shipped to your long standing address. Then it gets “stolen” from your location. After it is safely out of the country, you may even report it to the police so that you can continue to buy for American companies. After all,there is a LOT of theft in your country (especially of American stuff that sells well on the “secondary” market), so you can’t be responsible for stuff that gets stolen. Note that the American companies get paid, so they have no complaint, they just have to cover their rears from the US government.

      As you can see there are LOTS of ways to get around anything the USA congress critters try to prevent. This is because as long as political entities have been trying to regulate trade, the traders have come up with ways to totally ignore the restrictions which means the smugglers and money launders WIN EVERY TIME.

      The bottom line is there are ZERO ways for the USA to enforce third-party sanctions in the real world. For example, Iran recently purchased FOUR brand new American made helicopters along with all the spare parts by using the old shell company trick.

      Also as I noted, option “A” is highly;y likely not because the other countries want to have a trade war with the USA, but have been waiting for a plausible excuse to cripple USA companies in their country in favor of local companies. If he USA gives a country a handy way to kick Google out, all the better.

      Americans are pretty egotistical and have no clue how much other countries would love to shaft the USA while wearing a big friendly smile.

  3. Every time a republican opens their mouth, every journalists should loudly point out that republicans have NO SOLUTIONS. It is really down to this deal or no deal and Iran does what they want.

    Every republican should be repeatedly asked HOW?

    – HOW can the USA put any further direct sanctions on Iran when all the possible direct sanctions were put in place in 1979?

    – HOW will the USA keep third-parties from dropping most of the existing sanctions? USA laws are meaningless outside the USA.

    – HOW will the USA convince China, Russia, India and most of the rest of the world to increase sanctions on Iran when most woudl rather drop the sanctions that are now in place (they will not put new ones in place, no matter how much the USA begs).

    – HOW can the USA use the global banking system as a bludgeon when most countries on earth are joining the Chinese global banking system because they are angry about the USA control of the current banking system?

    – HOW soon after most of the earth switches most of their financial transactions to the Chinese banking system will the USA dollar drop through the floor, taking the USA economy with it?

    – HOW soon will they actually pass a declaration of war on Iran over a POTUS veto? (considering they are afraid to pass a declaration of war on Syria or ISIL, it may be a while).

    – HOW many dead Americans are they OK with when the USA attacks Iran?

    – HOW soon will they authorize a draft to triple the size of the USA military so it is comparable to Iran’s current active military? (this ignores the 25 million military capable humans in Iran that have a 50:1 advantage over the USA)

    – HOW soon will they triple the taxes for the wealthiest Americans to pay for the war with Iran?

    – HOW soon after the USA loses the war will they apologize for being so stupid?

    basically the republicans are delusional about the real world. They appear to think all we have to do is snap our fingers and the world will obey blindly, whereas in the REAL WORLD countries like China, Russia, India, Japan and even many in Europe will do what they want, when they want and will defy the USA and there is ZERO the congress critters can do about it.

    Journalist should do their job and point out how delusional republicans are, but given how meek most journalists are, I do not expect very much. For example, Bibi’s interview this weekend was basically an uncontested rant full of lies.

    • It would be wonderful if the US media did what they are supposed to do – question, challenge, and be informed enough to confront liars with facts, but unfortunately they are so biased they have not only let themselves used as tools for false propaganda, they have also let down the American people. The Iraq war was the perfect example of the media being used by war mongers to sell that war, based on fake intelligence and flimsy evidence. Yet, here we are again, and instead of learning from past mistakes are doing the same thing over and over again. You only have to tune in to any news program to see Netanyahu’s mindless minions parroting his talking points. Not one journalist has the spine to ask a few simple questions – why are you doubting the nations trying to push through this deal, taking the word of a known liar like Netanyahu who once said ” “There is no question whatsoever that Saddam is seeking and is working and is advancing to the development of nuclear weapons. No question whatsoever”. Why is the media still harping on Netanyahu’s lies, and not asking him exactly why he keeps pushing for a war, and why he seems resentful that the world is trying to work with Iran, and have peace. After all, if we wage war with Iran, it is not as if a single Israeli life will be there in the front lines, fighting alongside the nation that sends them billions in aid and weapons that are used on civilians.

      • The American media seem to think that journalism consists of providing two sides to a story. If one side is made up of lies, well, see rule # 1–provide both sides of an argument and you have done your job.

        • I do not know of any “journalist” that is willing to call a “guest” a liar to their face (which is what should be done).

          Of course I am a firm believer in “skin the rascals alive” type of journalism. I think public figures should be treated like scum every chance there is such that they dread running for political office.

  4. The sanctions component of the Republican policy cannot be effective since the Europeans and others will relax their sanctions if the Republicans sabotage the deal. It is no policy at all.

  5. These Republicans are making fools of themselves. They have no alternate policy regarding Iran, they have no credible reasons to oppose the Deal, nor have they come up with workable suggestions to debate any part of the Deal.
    They are simply mindless puppets who are vehemently opposing the Deal because Netanyahu commands it, and well, we know that anything President Obama does is immediately labelled wrong, and they become naysayers. The bottom line is, Netanyahu will only settle for sanctions, and an American bombing spree in Iran. Nothing satisfies this man. He salivates for war, he does not ANY part of the deal, and as Juan Cole says, neither he nor the GOP has viable alternatives. Netanyahu was given a lot of air time yesterday, and he spewed a lot of BS, opposing the Deal, and as Diane Feinstein says, he has spoken enough and should simply contain himself.
    But are war mongers, who have proven records of lying and pushing us to war, capable of containing themselves?

  6. It is so depressing to read this stuff. If only the US would put as much energy into peace as it does into war …

  7. During his video with Tom Friedman of the NY Times, Obama missed a golden opportunity to take a shot at one of the biggest hawks in journalism.

    “By the end of June we will have the best opportunity to secure peace in the Middle East. Tom, in less than HALF A FRIEDMAN UNIT we could have peace for our time!!!”

  8. Really, if you think about it, Russia and China, both of which have provinces with active Islamic insurgencies and would be in range of a first-generation Iranian nuclear weapon, have much more to fear than the U.S. does if Iran gets the bomb. Yet they seem quite sanguine with the negotiated deal. If somebody as security-conscious as Putin feels good about his southern flank, methinks Republican concerns are based more on Islamaphobia and Adelson’s money than any genuine worry about the safety of the US and its citizens.

    • Their Moslem populations are Sunni, so their concern should be with one of Iran’s biggest enemies, the Sunni jihadi network spawned by Reagan’s blind support of Saudi Arabia’s operation with Pakistan against the Soviet Union.

      Interesting that the GOP once again seems to be on the side of this network, despite supporting token bombings of ISIS in Syria. Is this part of a larger strategy to restart the Cold War despite the extinction of actual Communists? All the people commenting here on the stupidity of the GOP’s strategy seem to be missing the possible benefits conservatives ascribe to the Cold War.

  9. Socialists were ignored when they raised the prospect of fascism. Gore Vidal suggested proto-fascism was in play. Someone recently suggested neocons should instead be called neo-fascists. Now consider this:

    Conservative revolutionaries and the echo of German fascism by Todd E. Pierce – link to

  10. I agree with Mr Cole. GOP has nothing but hate, lies and misinformation that gets spewed out 24/7 by this right wing media (to include FOX).

    I heard this morning that Obama does not have to come to congress to get an OK to sign deal in June. It’s an agreement among countries not a treaty. Even coming back to senate to lift sanctions was not in the sanctions legislation which gave President authority to lift them.

    What the GOP is doing is trying to insert themselves into the game that they gave away when they voted for it. They thought Obama/Kerry would not get a deal.

    Now they are up in arms claiming outrageous things against Iran, against Obama. USA media could put an end to GOP bickering by exposing the facts of the sanctions legislation. But this media can’t carry water for GOP and expose their tactics too. Forget DC Dems who media allows to be on their shows are enabling the GOP and look silly trying to go along with them.

    Didn’t Reagan talk with USSR and then the wall came tumbling down, didn’t Nixon talk with China and now China is one of our larger debt holders, and so on.
    Dems have a lot of factual historical talking points on what GOP presidents did to move forward….where were these angry, whiny GOP politicians then.

    Thanks, Mr Cole. I come to you for real deal on what’s going on in Middle East.

  11. Shorter commentator response to your post: No. Next question!

    Okay . . . let’s have some fun with this now . . .

    Do GOP frontrunners have a solution to human driven Climate Change besides denial?

    No, next question.

    Do GOP frontrunners have a response to childhood hunger in the US apart from cutting public assistance?

    No, next question.

    Do GOP frontrunners have a healthcare policy solution apart from gutting Obamacare?

    No, next question.

    Do GOP frontrunners have a policy solution for depressed wages in our country apart from attempting to gut workers rights under the guise of “right to work” laws?

    No, next question.

    And so on . . .

    I suppose we could have some fun and change this into a multiple choice type quiz, as in,

    Do GOP frontrunners have a policy on anything that is not utterly wrong-headed and not designed to appeal to a popular base that rests squarely on the shoulders of racism, false nostalgia, and rabbid nativism? Please circle the appropriate response:

    A. No, next question!

    B. Freedom!

    C. Thththththppppppttttttt!

    Cruz/Palin ’16 – because “This Time, Why Not the Worst?”

    • The underlying ideology is one of punishment; government exists only to punish those at home and abroad who interfere with “real” Americans’ monopoly on power.

      Thus, the lack of policy solutions listed above is a matter of intent. People are meant to be hurt. Hurting them defines them as not-us. The racism, nostalgia and nativism justify the monopoly of power that should exist.

  12. The Republicans signed Tom Cotton’s letter and with Bibi Netanyahu because they were certain Obama/Kerry would bring back a bad deal. Didn’t happen, now they must defeat the bill or look even more ridiculous. Hillary Clinton couldn’t have hope for anything better.


  13. Amongst other post-sanction purchases, Iran is said to be in the market for up to 250 civilian airliners. Even if the actual number is half this, I would expect Boeing executives to be already on their way to Tehran, hoping to get in ahead of the Airbus executives. And then there’s the pent-up demand for aircraft spare parts …

    Several sectors of US business, and the labor they employ, stand to benefit from the agreement. Congress members intending to reject the agreement should expect some forceful lobbying.

  14. The War Party is against the agreement with Iran regarding nukes and sanctions. They are against morality and propriety as well. They make me want to puke.

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