On Tuesday, the House of Representatives sent a defiant message to President Obama in a near-unanimous vote for sanctions on Iran and Syria: the Obama Doctrine of appeasement is dead. Congress, it seems, is interpreting Donald Trump’s unexpected victory as a referendum on the current president. On the heels of the GOP’s massive electoral triumph, the House passed a 10-year extension of the Iran Sanctions Act by a staggering vote of 419-1. Yes, only one person voted against the measure. According to The Washington Post, “The ISA forms the basis for energy, banking and defense sanctions against Iran’s nuclear and missile activities, and was set to expire at the end of the year.”
Emboldened by the unraveling of President Obama’s loosely-knit popular mandate, Congress also exercised its power to address the suffering of Syria’s people. After five years of deafening silence by the Obama administration, the House finally passed a measure placing new sanctions on anyone, no matter how powerful, who provides any sort of support to Bashar al-Assad’s genocidal regime. The explicitly stated purpose of the measure is to “halt the wholesale slaughter of the Syrian people.” Notably, the Iranians and Russians, Assad’s most prominent allies, are included in the category of possible governments that may be subject to sanctions.
“Our legislation would crack down on anyone who is still doing business with the Assad regime, while leaving room for meaningful negotiations to move forward,” House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Eliot Engel, a Democrat, said of the measure in July. “It would also help ensure that down the road, anyone responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity is held accountable.”
Kicking the can down the road as a lame-duck president, Obama hoped to delay measures at the time in an apparent effort to preserve the status quo in Syria and theatrically negotiate some sort of resolution to conflict with Russia playing middle-man. But this week, the House decided that enough was enough. It could no longer stand-by and do nothing as a genocidal maniac butchered his own people.
The Obama administration has signaled that this time around it has no plans to veto ISA or the Syria sanctions act, despite the promises made by US officials on the international stage to gradually loosen sanctions on the Islamic Republic.
“Republicans and Democrats recognize the need to isolate the Assad regime for its continued atrocities against the Syrian people,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said Tuesday. “I’m glad the White House has stopped blocking these critical sanctions, which are a necessary response to Assad’s crimes against humanity.”
Congress also pushed back against Obama’s recalcitrance on Iran. While Obama has argued that the ISA is a gratuitous measure that essentially duplicates his own powers to impose new sanctions on Iran if the country violates provisions of the nuclear deal or engages in other hostile activities designed to destabilize the region, Congress is refusing to take the president at his word. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle want to ensure that “snap back” measures remain firmly in place as part of a reliable enforcement mechanism to police Iran.
“The original understanding was that we would extend it so we would have snapback sanctions if we needed them,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Edward R. Royce (R-Calif.) stated Monday. “That was the agreement, that we would have these in abeyance, we would have these in place and thus be able to assure enforcement.”
Congressional leaders have good reason to be skeptical about the Obama administration’s ability, or more accurately, willingness, to hold Iran accountable. Since Secretary of State John Kerry shook Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif’s hand to cement the controversial Iran nuclear deal, Tehran has doubled-down on its ballistic missiles program, expanding its arsenal of arms and provocatively test-firing advanced weaponry.
The Senate has yet to debate on the two measures passed by the House this week. Accordingly, the two measures may have to pass through additional bureaucratic hoops before they can be passed and implemented. The Post explains:
The ISA renewal does not change its terms — a choice that is expected to influence debate in the Senate, where there are three competing proposals to extend the law. In addition to a clean ISA renewal, there is a proposal from Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) to supplement the extension with new sanctions related to ballistic missile tests, cyberthreats and espionage, and the activities of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, and another from Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) to tie the ISA extension to $1.5 billion in aid for Israel. But it will probably be difficult for either to gain a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, where most Democrats favor an unchanged ISA renewal akin to the House’s measure.
The House passed a 10-year extension of the Iran Sanctions Act by a staggering vote of 419-1.
As far as President-elect Donald Trump goes, it’s unclear what his position is on the Iran deal.
Although he stated repeatedly on the campaign trail that he would rip up the nuclear deal on day one of his presidency, the rhetoric coming out of Trump’s recent meetings with President Obama suggests that the president-elect may ultimately soften his position and perhaps keep certain provisions of the deal while scrapping others.