Late at night, in the middle of a weekend before a national holiday, Secretary of State John Kerry sat down in Switzerland, and reversed generations of foreign policy direction.
Representing the Obama administration (since no treaty is final until ratified by the U.S. Senate, and this one won’t be, at least not in its current form), Secretary Kerry agreed on a new and dangerous path in our relationship with Iran.
Iran has long argued – in English – that it has a right to develop nuclear power – and that case can indeed be made – but the West has suspected Iran of in fact wanting nuclear weapons, not nuclear power. All evidence indicates that these suspicions are correct: the type of research they do, the nature of their centrifuges, the quantities and processes employed, are all the right direction for building atomic weapons, all the wrong direction for building nuclear power plants.
Most important of all, when they speak in their own language, rather than English, they make it quite clear that it is indeed weapons they’re after. The mullahs’ political base is the islamofascists, the jihadists, the people whose desire in life is to wipe out Israel, purge all non-muslim religions off the face of the earth, and convert the world to islam at the point of a sword.
John Kerry’s document departs from the longstanding approach – not just between the USA and Iran, but the longstanding approach taken by the United Nations vis a vis all potential nuclear proliferation threats – that the country in question agree to cease proliferation efforts, and that the community of nations should have virtually unrestricted access for inspections to ensure that they have in fact done so.
What has John Kerry agreed to? Iran doesn’t have to stop anything they’re doing today. Iran only has to grant access to the two sites (out of dozens) where Iran chooses to allow inspections. Iran can now make its purchases on the open market without hiding what it’s for.
In addition, the Kerry gift - don’t let anyone tell you this was a negotiation; when the other party gives up nothing, it can only be called a gift – allows the irreversible release of billions of dollars in funds that have been frozen since the revolution, and intends to eliminate the sanctions against Iran that have kept the pressure on for all these years. This relaxation will allow billions of dollars annually in bilateral trade between Iran and the nations that want to do business with Iran.
How Sanctions Work
There are several aspects to the United States Export Control regime…
Product controls: There are numerous products considered so dangerous that they should not be shared with some or most foreign countries without government approval in the form of an export license. These products – and the technology, components, materials, and sometimes even the manufacturing equipment for their manufacture – are carefully managed by the international trade community so that no accidental sharing of these products, or information about them, can get into the wrong hands. This family begins with nuclear technology, satellite and missile technology, and chemical and biological weaponry, and encompasses practically the entire universe of munitions and other goods customized for military purposes.
Party controls: There are thousands of entities in the world – individuals, organizations, cartels, and the front companies that support them – known as Restricted Parties. These international criminals include terrorists, arms dealers, organized crime mobs, banks and transportation carriers, and the operators of slavery rings, drug traders, and prostitution trafficking. Again, the international trade community is deputized to ensure that nobody does business with these parties – neither as customers, as vendors, or as middlemen – unless authorized by a government-issued export license.
Country controls: In very extreme cases, the government decides to put a whole country on such a list. While each sanction is different, and all generally include some very limited exceptions (such as provisions to United Nations refugee camps in the country, for example), for the most part, the USA has had just five countries on this list for the past several years: Iran, Syria, (North) Sudan, North Korea, and Cuba.
Every country has its own slight variation on these approaches. The USA has long been a leader in this enforcement, even when the nominal organizer of a sanction is the UN, because of the size and scope of the USA economy, and the broad application of these export controls in the U.S. approach. Our export controls apply to all U.S. companies and individuals (both citizens and green card holders), all companies incorporated in the USA and their controlled affiliates and subsidiaries worldwide, and the employees of those foreign-situated (but U.S. owned) firms as well.
In addition, these regulations follow the product. So if, for example, John Smith Company owns and controls a toaster plant in China, and they sell their toasters through online retailers in the United Arab Emirates, those online retailers cannot legally sell those Chinese-made John Smith toasters to customers in Iran. U.S. export controls follow the product forever, so customers and distributors must agree to honor this commitment as a condition of purchasing these U.S. controlled goods.
This obviously isn’t a perfect system, and there are gaps occasionally. The U.S. government does frequently catch people or companies that can’t resist an illegal sale, people who think they’re clever enough to outsmart the government, hiding the transaction by transshipping it through an intermediate country or using a succession of middlemen. But they are caught, eventually, and the penalties – both civil and criminal – can be high, often resulting in the closure of the business, multimillion dollar fines, and incarceration.
The USA is the lynchpin of export control regimes worldwide. The UN depends on the USA to continue to take sanctions seriously, or the UN’s own sanctions will be a paper tiger. No other member nation will see value in sticking to a sanction program if the massive United States economy is freed of it.
We therefore have sixty years of history invested in this concept. Export Controls have been a part of our foreign policy strategy at least since the founding of the UN.
In fact, in some ways, export controls have been part of our foreign policy since our very dawn, since it was the too-broad application of England’s export controls that prompted us to pursue a War of Independence (King George III had banned the 13 colonies from most trade with any country except England, in a level of uber-control that defied all logic and intruded unforgivably on the colonists’ economic liberty).
Throughout the postwar period, therefore, all administrations – conservative and liberal, Democrat and Republican – have respected sanctions as a tool in the national defense toolkit. Fear of American sanctions has long been a motivator for tinpot dictators and rogue nations to moderate their activity. We abandon this tool at our peril.
Cracks in the Foundation
The Obama administration has been continuing on a Bush-era policy of loosening some of the product based export controls. Some such change was needed (ITAR and EAR have indeed been confusing areas of law, meriting review), so that isn’t – in itself – such a shock. Congress supported such reforms in general.
But the Obama administration has also been violating the restricted party based export controls, all on its own, by funding and otherwise aiding Al Qaeda affiliates in Libya and Syria, and by funding and otherwise aiding the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. This has been done without Congressional authorization of any kind, and in some cases, over clear Congressional opposition. This is disturbing, at the very least. If the U.S. government won’t obey its own export controls, why should a private business trying to stay afloat by getting a lucrative sale, particularly if it’s a commercial, non-military product???
Viewed in this prism, the Kerry capitulation is particularly disturbing. There was no need for a deal that wasn’t a good one; Iran wasn’t rumored to be on the brink of war with anyone, it was just continuing its usual slow progress toward the bomb, a progress that Kerry’s offer can only speed up.
It’s a difficult position for a conservative to be placed in – the Right has always derided sanctions as being ineffective in the long game, since as Machiavelli put it “sometimes there is no avoiding war; it can only be postponed to your enemy’s advantage.” But we have grown used to these sanctions, and if they can serve as an imperfect alternative to war, then they have value, since very few of us indeed would prefer to prosecute yet another war right now.
Supporting continued application of sanctions until we see improvement is the only logical position; it has been U.S. policy for generations.
The shock of the Kerry gift is not that it was too much, or too lopsided, or too hurried. The shock that it was so complete (Iran gets everything, the USA gets nothing) and that it represents a diminishment of the sanction as a tool in the foreign policy toolkit.
Would the American Left – the people who nominated and supported Barack Hussein Obama for president in the first place – ever have dreamed that their darling would preside over the decline of the sanction as a foreign policy tool?
This cannot be what they had in mind, but there is simply no other way to read it, in this case. The Obama administration has provided financial and military support to enemy rebels throughout the middle east since the horribly mis-named Arab spring… and now it has undercut the very foundation of postwar peace negotiations – the “sanction alternative.”
Wherever you may personally stand on sanctions – and conservatives have always questioned their value – there is no denying that this gift to Iran has implications far beyond Iran itself. As rogue nations realize that if they hold out long enough, the west will drop the sanctions for free, without demanding any retreat from their proliferation efforts, the economic sanction will simply lose its teeth.
The Senate will refuse the agreement in its current form… the UN will want to change it as well, since the agreement remains in violation of at least six major UN tenets… and there are many other nations that will independently retain their own sanctions against Iran, even if the USA drops them.
But no matter what else happens, much damage has been done. That weekend in Switzerland, John Kerry scored no blows against our enemy Iran, but he landed what may well be a death blow in the doctrine of sanctions as a tool of foreign policy.
Without sanctions as a viable alternative, there will likely be more wars. This single action by the administration of the Nobel Peace Prize winning Barack Obama, has just made the world much less peaceful indeed.
Copyright 2013 John F. Di Leo
John F. Di Leo is a former president of the Ethnic American Council, and a former chairman of the Milwaukee County Republican Party. He has now been a recovering politician for over sixteen years.
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