Neocon Sabotage of Iran-Nuke Deal

Congressional neocons are determined to sink negotiations to constrain but not end Iran’s nuclear program all the better to get on with bombing Iran at the heart of their agenda. They are now disguising their sabotage as a constitutional argument, as ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar explains.

By Paul R. Pillar

David Sanger’s article in the New York Times about how the Obama administration is seeking a nuclear accord with Iran that would not require any early votes in Congress has garnered a lot of attention. Naturally, the administration in response has offered assurances that Congress has a role to play and no one is trying to shove it out of the picture. Just as naturally, opponents of the administration accuse it of such shoving.

We all know what’s going on and what’s at stake here. The more of a role Congress does play in the immediate aftermath of signing a deal, the greater the chance that elements opposed to anyone reaching any agreement with Iran on anything will be able to torpedo the deal.

Iranian women attending a speech by Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. (Iranian government photo)

Iranian women attending a speech by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. (Iranian government photo)

This is reflected in the substantial record Congress has already compiled, as cataloged by Navid Hassibi’s review of that record, of past attempts that would impede the negotiations. It also is reflected in the fact that some of those quickest to complain about a supposed offense to Congressional prerogatives on this matter are those who have been most determined all along to sabotage any agreement with Iran.

So for anyone who realizes the advantages of having a deal to restrict Iran’s nuclear program versus not having a deal, the less Congressional involvement right now the better.

A major caveat to this conclusion is that any lack of confidence on the part of the Iranians in the staying power of a deal in which the United States fulfills its part of the bargain only through executive action may also make it harder to complete the negotiations. If the Iranians believe all they are getting in the way of sanctions relief is tentative and reversible, in an accord that can be undone by Congress or a later president, they understandably will be reluctant to offer anything other than tentative and reversible things in return.

This is why the assertion that has routinely accompanied past efforts to slap more sanctions on Iran during negotiations, that this supposedly would increase U.S. bargaining power, is fallacious (and if it really did increase, why wouldn’t any president want to have the added power?) Instead, the effect would be to make negotiations more difficult by increasing Iranian doubts about the administration’s ability to fulfill U.S. commitments.

Probably the best way to deal with all this is to rely, as Hassibi suggests, on the combination of a couple of years of compliance with an agreement and confirmation of its terms in a United Nations Security Council resolution to make the saboteurs’ task harder.

None of this appears to be really about high constitutional principles concerning the relative powers of branches of the U.S. government. It is about whether the United States is going to seize or to blow the best opportunity to preclude an Iranian nuclear weapon and to do it in a way that will have other benefits for U.S. interests in the Middle East. There are, nonetheless, some more principled things to say about the role of Congress on different types of national security matters.

Consider the issue of the Iranian negotiations alongside another subject on which relative powers of the legislative and executive branches have received considerable attention: the use of military force. One legislator whose stance is worth looking at is Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Virginia. Kaine has taken a responsible position regarding the Iran negotiations, opposing any Congressional interference with them in the form of new sanctions. He also has become quite an activist in asserting a Congressional prerogative to approve or disapprove the use of military force.

In fact, he has broken openly with the president of his own party by arguing that the current use of force in Syria and Iraq should have first obtained Congressional authorization. Kaine’s positions should be emulated, and here’s why.

There is good reason that the Constitution placed the power to declare war with the people’s representatives in Congress. It is a major and potentially highly costly departure. Expending blood and treasure in warfare is one of the riskiest and most consequential things the nation can do. As has been demonstrated painfully and recently, going to war has a way of dragging the nation into even costlier and longer-lasting commitments.

An agreement of the sort being negotiated with Iran is none of those things. The agreement would impose no new costs on the nation; in fact, it would involve reducing the cost that sanctions inflict on the United States. It does not create, as warfare does, any new exceptions to normal peacetime relations with other states; instead, it would be a move toward restoring normality. It does not, as do some other matters that are appropriately codified in treaties subject to Senate confirmation, impose any new legal obligations on U.S. persons; instead it is a step toward reducing the costly and cumbersome restrictions on U.S. business that the sanctions involve.

It does not mark a departure in national goals and objectives, because it is an almost unanimously shared objective that Iran not acquire a nuclear weapon. The issue instead is what is the best way of executing policy to achieve that objective; that is part of what the Executive Branch is supposed to do.

Recognition of that last point is reflected in the laws about sanctions that give the president waiver authority and thus the flexibility needed to achieve the objectives that the sanctions were supposed to be all about. Those were laws that the U.S. Congress enacted. That is why it is ridiculous for Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Florida, one of the most consistently Iranophobic hardliners in Congress, to say, as she does in a “dear colleague” letter she is circulating, that the President is “circumventing” Congress by making use of waiver authority that is written into sanctions legislation that she sponsored.

There is a time and place for Congress to assert itself, and different times and places for it to defer to the Executive Branch in execution of its proper functions.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)

7 comments for “Neocon Sabotage of Iran-Nuke Deal

  1. Jim Hannan
    October 24, 2014 at 14:09

    If either Israel or the U.S. does attack Iran, it will prove to the world that Iran, in fact, does need nuclear weapons to keep itself safe. We have never attacked a nation that has nuclear weapons.

  2. Gregory Kruse
    October 23, 2014 at 21:05

    I am guilty of Ileana Ros-Lehtinenophobia.

  3. Zachary Smith
    October 23, 2014 at 17:10

    I see a 9/11 Truther and WW2 Revisionist have already shown up. Oh, well….

    Regarding the essay, I see a fair chance that BHO’s handlers have instructed him to make a deal with Iran. From the NYT:

    WASHINGTON — No one knows if the Obama administration will manage in the next five weeks to strike what many in the White House consider the most important foreign policy deal of his presidency: an accord with Iran that would forestall its ability to make a nuclear weapon. But the White House has made one significant decision: If agreement is reached, President Obama will do everything in his power to avoid letting Congress vote on it.

    Normally this would outrage me, but considering how both houses of Congress are totally OWNED by the shitty little nation on the east end of the Med, in this case dodging the sell-outs makes sense.

    With regard to all the hand-wringing about Iran getting nukes, IMO there’s an excellent chance it has a few already. Bought from North Korea. Bought from the disintegrating USSR. And there are at least a couple more routes. From what I’ve been reading, Holy Israel suspects this is a possibility too:


    Possibly this is one reason Israel is so very determined to force the US into ‘whacking’ Iran. A direct attack and Iran might have the capability to neuter a large part of the murderous little apartheid state. Much safer to Wag The Dog.

  4. historicvs
    October 23, 2014 at 09:47

    This has happened many times before. Britain sabotaged German-Polish negotiations in 1939 and used the military conflict that followed as an excuse to declare a second war against her feared continental economic rival. By this action Britain turned a local border dispute into a world war that would kill sixty million people and, one must carefully note, finished destroying Britain’s status as the world’s great superpower.

  5. JWalters
    October 22, 2014 at 19:23

    Thank you for this close analysis of the tactics and ulterior motives of some players in this drama.

    Hopefully at some point the real hidden agenda of the neocons will be able to get into the public discourse. As one example, I’d point to the Project for a New American Century and some of its components.

    Fact – The original, official Bush administration report on the 9/11 attack contained NO MENTION whatsoever of the third WTC building which collapsed that day. By ordinary reporting standards this is an absurd omission. By standards of engineering analysis or forensic analysis this is dereliction of duty. Thousands of building professionals, architects and engineers who know buildings, how they are built and how they are destroyed, have looked at the evidence on this collapse and concluded it was a controlled demolition. These are NOT amateurs. An excellent 15 minute video summarizing the evidence is at

    Who would have had the motive and operational capacity to carry out such a demolition? A logical, evidence-based analysis is given by Dr. Alan Sabrosky (Ph.D., University of Michigan) whose background includes over five years at the U.S. Army War College as Director of Studies, Strategic Studies Institute, and holder of the General of the Army Douglas MacArthur Chair of Research. His compelling analysis points to the Israelis as having motive, opportunity, and capacity.

    Lest there be any accusations of anti-Semitism, Dr. Sabrosky is a Jewish American.

    It’s well known that discussion of Israel is heavily suppressed in America today. Professor Stephen Walt, co-author of “The Israel Lobby”, recently made the following comments at a conference on re-assessing the U.S. relationship with Israel.

    “Although discourse is more open now, it is still, I think, extremely risky for young, ambitious foreign policy wannabes to question key elements of U.S. Middle East policy, and especially the ‘special relationship’ [with Israel]. You can if you have tenure at a university, if you don’t have your heart set on working in the U.S. government, or if you’re retired. But it’s hard to find people inside the foreign policy establishment who are willing to say what they think on this issue out loud. Just look at how Chuck Hagel and Samantha Power had to contort themselves during their confirmation hearings and you see the lobby’s continued influence.”

    All this makes perfect sense when one considers how Israel was established.

  6. Parvin
    October 22, 2014 at 19:01

    What should we expect from a congress that is sold to AIPAC and Israel? I believe the US congress works for the benefit of Israel and the Pocket of its member, the hell with the America’s interest.

  7. Parvin
    October 22, 2014 at 19:00

    What should we expect from a congress that is sold to AIPAC and Israel? I believe the US congress works for the benefit of Israel and the Pocket of its member, the hell with the America’s interest.

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