Can Congress Stop Peace With Iran?

Fred Kaplan suspects so:

In exchange for cutting back on their nuclear program, the Iranians will certainly demand, at the very least, a drastic easing—perhaps a lifting—of Western sanctions, which have so crippled Iran’s economy. But who takes the first step, and how big should that step and each subsequent step be? How does this process go forward in a way that builds trust, not suspicion? President Obama can lift some of the sanctions, but some of them can only be lifted by Congress. Many in Congress don’t want to solve Iran’s nuclear problem through diplomacy. First, they don’t trust Iran (not without reason). Second, they want “regime change” in Iran, and they believe (correctly) that an arms-control accord—even, or especially, one that thwarts any nuclear ambitions the regime might have—would legitimize and thus perpetuate the regime. Third, they don’t want to hand a historic foreign policy triumph to Obama.

Once again, on that final point, pure partisan spite would trump national self-interest and a president’s foreign policy power. And there is no question that AIPAC will do all it can to kill any chances for an agreement that would leave Iran as a country able to enrich uranium as is its right under the NPT. But, as Kaveh Waddell explains, the Congress isn’t the only body with sanctions in place, giving the Obama administration some lee-way for action despite the nullification-driven House and AIPAC-dominated Senate:

The myriad sanctions on the Islamic Republic originate from different actors.

The U.S. has always led the charge for economic sanctions, but since 2006, the United Nations and the European Union have also been involved in creating an international sanctions regime. This means that the U.S. would have to coordinate with the international community to provide any meaningful relief. Even within the U.S., the origin of sanctions laws varies: the current armada of sanctions is made up of 16 executive orders and nine congressional acts. Obama could annul the executive orders easily enough, but to lift the remaining, harder-hitting sanctions, he would have to go to Congress, hat in hand, at a poisonous moment in American executive-legislative relations.

Much better to get Congressional agreement. But if it’s stymied by the usual nihilism and war-mongering among the Christianists and neocons, I can see the administration easing the international sanctions it has cobbled together with our allies, and lifting those US sanctions it can do so unilaterally by executive order. The question, it seems to me, is how to time these relaxations right, in tune with greater and greater Iranian transparency, how to prevent Israel from launching a pre-emptive war, and how to prevent further sabotage from the GOP in Congress. They do not acknowledge the right of a Democratic president to enforce a duly enacted law, let alone conduct foreign policy. This will be a tight-rope to the very end. But it is not impossible.