Foreign Policy

Silver Shrapnel: Congress targets the energy lifeblood of the Iranian regime

Few would dispute that getting strong bipartisan support for legislation that actually has teeth is as rare as a Sidney Crosby fan at the Verizon Center.

One exception to the bitter partisanship of Washington has been Congress's support for tough energy sanctions against the Iranian regime. Yesterday, conferees were named to iron out the differences between the House and Senate versions of energy sanctions legislation as the next step before a final Congressional vote and President Obama's signature.

If there are differences, they are likely to be found between the Congress and the Administration, not between the political parties.

Congress's patience with Iran is reaching an end as Iran continues to reject reasonable deals aimed at preventing its development of nuclear weapons. The Administration wants to buy more time to gain international support for sanctions, which many in Congress fear will only yield another toothless UN resolution.

Why even pass energy sanctions? Economics:  Energy is the lifeblood of the men who rule Iran.  Oil alone accounts for three-quarters of the Iranian government's revenues.  The Islamic Republic also has an economic "Achilles' heel" -- it imports up to 40 percent of its gasoline from a handful of foreign suppliers. Profits from the gasoline trade and the Iranian oil and natural gas sectors are the source of an enormous patronage system run by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.  In addition to its dominance over the Iranian economy, the Guard is increasingly the dominant political and security force; it is responsible for safeguarding the regime and using murder, torture, and rape to crush all dissent.

The Congressional sanctions moving through conference committee over the coming period have already had an impact. Numerous international energy firms are reducing their ties to Iran and some have cut or plan to cut their ties to Iran's energy sector completely.  The political risk equation is changing for these companies as they fear the possibility of being cut off from doing business in the U.S. if they continue their trade with Iran.

To sort out who is still involved in the Iranian energy sector, the non-partisan Foundation for Defense of Democracies launched a new online resource this week. The website at contains documents, databases and analysis useful for government policymakers, reporters, the corporate world and the public.

FDD also has expanded its Iran Energy Project with the addition of two scholars. According to Dr. Emanuele Ottolenghi, a Brussels-based senior fellow with FDD's Iran Energy Project, "If sanctions are to remain the main tool to confront Iran, America and its allies need to rethink the overall goals of their policy and adopt suitable measures to increase the likelihood of its success. In this context, Europe must by necessity play a vital role, given its thriving and privileged business relations with Iran,"

Dr. Ottolenghi is the author of Under the Mushroom Cloud: Europe, Iran and the Bomb, a seminal book on ties between Europe and Iran that will soon be re-published in the United States.

Regarding sanctions, Dr. Ottolenghi wrote:

"The focus should be on imposing tough sanctions against those in charge of strategic decision-making in Iran and against those sectors from which regime stalwarts draw their wealth, power and influence. Sanctions must target activities and businesses directly linked to the Revolutionary Guards, to the oil sector, the petrochemical complex, free-trade zones, and the vast economic empires of the religious foundations. They must also target those areas where Iran's economy is dependent on imports and outside expertise, crippling vital services which the Islamic Republic cannot deliver to its population, and thereby further undermining the regime and further alienating an already restive public."

Also new to the project is Berlin-based Benjamin Weinthal, who has published widely in the U.S. and Europe on commercial ties between Europe and Iran. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Weinthal said,

"Because of the sheer volume of its trade with Iran, Germany, the economic engine of Europe, is uniquely positioned to pressure Tehran. Still, the obvious danger of a nuclear-armed Iran has not stopped Germany from rewarding the country with a roughly 4 billion Euro trade relationship in 2008, thereby remaining Iran's most important European trade partner. In the period of January to November 2008, German exports to Iran grew by 10.5% over the same period in 2007. That booming trade included 39 "dual-use" contracts with Iran, according to Germany's export-control office. Dual-use equipment and technology can be used for both military and civilian purposes."

Energy sanctions are not a silver bullet, but could be silver shrapnel.  And shrapnel could wound a regime suffering a severe economic and political crisis. Companies are more likely to end their ties to Iran on the basis of a calculation of business risk.  Congress wants to put these companies to a simple business choice: do business with America or with Iran. The President should put teeth into his campaign pledge to "put the squeeze on Iran." He should support a bill that does just that.


US-Japan relations strained (Sen. Jim Inhofe)

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the U.S. – Japan Treaty of Mutual Security and Cooperation, which gave the United States military base rights in Japan in return for a U.S. pledge of protection. 

Recently, however, I have become increasingly concerned that Japan may ignore its more recent agreements with regard to our U.S. military installation realignment plans on the island of Okinawa, and Japan’s continuing disregard of American law when American children are abducted by a Japanese parent and successfully taken to Japan.


Timetable for Afghanistan key to broader security strategy (Sen. Russ Feingold)

Today I am introducing bipartisan legislation, along with Representatives Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Walter Jones (R-NC), requiring a timetable to draw down U.S. troops from Afghanistan. The legislation is one component of a comprehensive national security strategy to defeat al Qaeda and its affiliates around the world.  Below are several key elements of the strategy, which include improving our intelligence capacity, pursuing al Qaeda’s global network, improving the reach of our diplomats and addressing the conditions that enable al Qaeda to thrive.


The dividends of U.S. support for Israel (Rep. Steve Rothman)

The argument that American military aid to Israel is damaging to the United States is not only erroneous, it hurts the national security interests of this country and threatens the survival of Israel.

U.S. support for Israel is essential, not only for Israel’s national security, but for America’s. Every bit of that support — and more — withstands all reasonable scrutiny.

Under the 2010 U.S. budget, about $75 billion, $65 billion and $3.25 billion will be spent on military operations and aid in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan during this fiscal year, respectively. Israel will receive $3 billion, in military aid only. There is no economic aid to Israel, other than loan guarantees that continue to be repaid in full and on time.

There isn’t enough space here to discuss the relative merits of the expenditures in these other countries, but we already know the critically important return we get for helping our oldest, most trusted ally in the strategically important Middle East — the most powerful military force in that region, the pro-United States, pro-West and democratic Jewish state of Israel.

Here’s how:

First, it’s important to remember that about 70 percent of the $3 billion aid must be used by Israel to purchase American military equipment. This provides real support for U.S. high-tech defense jobs and contributes to maintaining our industrial base. This helps the United States stay at the very top in the manufacturing of our own cutting-edge military munitions, aircraft, vehicles, missiles and virtually every defensive and offensive weapon in the U.S. arsenal — with the added contribution of Israel’s renowned technical know-how.

Second, the United States and Israel are jointly developing state-of-the-art missile defense capabilities in the David’s Sling and Arrow 3 systems. These two technologies build on the already successful Arrow 2, jointly developed by our two countries, which is already providing missile defense security to Israel and U.S. civilians and ground troops throughout the region.

A multiplier effect

The knowledge we gain from these efforts also has a positive multiplier effect on applications to other U.S. military and non-military uses and jobs here.

Third, given Israel’s strategic location on the Mediterranean, with access to the Red Sea and other vital international shipping and military lanes of commerce and traffic, it is critically important to the United States that Israel continue to serve as a port of call for our troops, ships, aircraft and intelligence operations.

Israel also has permitted the United States to stockpile arms, fuel, munitions and other supplies on its soil to be accessed whenever America needs them in the region.

Fourth, America’s special relationship with Israel provides us with real-time, minute-to-minute access to one of the best intelligence services in the world: Israel’s. With Israeli agents gathering intelligence and taking action throughout the Middle East and, literally, around the world, regarding al-Qaida, Hezbollah, Iran and Hamas, the U.S. receives invaluable information about anti-U.S. and terrorist organizations and regimes.

Fifth, imagine the additional terrible cost in U.S. blood, and the hundreds of billions more of American taxpayer dollars, if Saddam Hussein had developed nuclear weapons, or if Syria possessed them.

Then remember that it was Israel that destroyed the almost-completed nuclear reactor at Osirak, Iraq, in 1981 and Syria’s nuclear facility under construction at Deir-ez-Zor in 2007.

And think about the many operations that Israel’s Defense Forces and intelligence agents have undertaken to foil, slow and disrupt Iran’s efforts to develop a nuclear weapons capability. A nuclear-armed Iran would threaten the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans in the region, all of Iran’s Arab neighbors, the world’s largest oil supplies and those who rely on that oil.

Access to lethal Iranian technology

It also would provide anti-U.S. terrorists with access to the most lethal Iranian technology and probably set off a nuclear arms race in the region.

For about 2 percent of what the United States spends in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan this year, Americans can take pride in the return on our investment in aid to Israel.

And with Israel’s truly invaluable assistance to America’s vital national security, we can take comfort that — in actions seen in Tehran and Damascus and noticed by al-Qaida and other anti-U.S. terrorists everywhere — the United States is safer and made more secure because of the mutually dependent and beneficial relationship between us and Israel.

Cross-posted from


Don't play politics with START (Sen. Harry Reid)

I commend the President for signing a historic treaty that will help keep Nevadans and Americans safe from nuclear attack.  Along with the groundbreaking Nuclear Posture Review released last week, today’s signing of the new START treaty firmly reestablishes U.S. leadership on global non-proliferation and arms control and demonstrates that we can take concrete steps to secure a nuclear-free world without sacrificing America’s security.  This treaty will significantly reduce Russian and U.S. nuclear arsenals, and includes strong verification measures to maintain strategic stability and ensure both sides faithfully implement the agreement.  In addition, this treaty maintains our ability to deter our adversaries with nuclear weapons, and our missile defense system is in no way constrained by this historic agreement.

Strategic arms control treaties similar to this one have historically passed the Senate with strong bipartisan support, and I am confident that this agreement will receive the 67 votes from both sides of the aisle needed for passage.  There is no need to play politics with something as important as this is to our national security.  I look forward to passing this out of committee and working with Chairs Kerry, Levin and Feinstein to bring this treaty to the Senate floor.”


Ratify START this year (Sen. John Kerry)

Today’s signing of the START treaty strengthens our security while affirming the vital role the nuclear arsenal plays in our nation’s defense.  I will work closely with Senator Lugar and our colleagues to see that this historic treaty is ratified this year.

The White House has indicated that the full treaty will be completed and submitted to the Senate in early May.  I plan to begin hearings on the treaty in the coming weeks, and then report a proposed resolution of advice and consent to ratification out of the Foreign Relations Committee for approval by the full Senate as soon as possible. 

The Senate has a long history of approving strategic arms control treaties by overwhelming margins and I am confident we will renew that spirit of cooperation and bipartisan tradition on arms control and national security to approve ratification of this vital treaty. This is too important to delay.


The Big Question: How should the White House handle Karzai?

Some of the nation's top political commentators, legislators and intellectuals offer insight into the biggest question burning up the blogosphere today.

Today's question:

How should President Barack Obama deal with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in light of his recent threat to join the Taliban and his other anti-American comments?


Bi-partisan consensus in Congress should be aggressively followed

On March 16, at a time when elected officials in Washington seem unable to come together in agreement on almost any issue, an extraordinary event involving an important national security concern passed almost without notice. In an unprecedented act of consensus, a bipartisan majority of the United States Senate, 54 Senators, slightly more Democrats than Republicans, signed a letter to Secretary Clinton urging the Obama Administration to put the full weight of its diplomacy together with our allies to support long-standing US policy to promote a resolution to the "Western Sahara stalemate," a 35-year old conflict that has the potential to destabilize North Africa now more than any time in the past twenty years and threaten our interests.

The US bi-partisan policy aims to resolve the conflict through the United Nations, bringing together the parties to achieve a compromise political settlement. As the Senate letter makes clear, the "serious and credible" resolution of this stalemate is Morocco's 2007 proposal for "broad autonomy for the Western Sahara under Moroccan sovereignty." Now, as so often is required in international disputes, it is up to the US, and our allies, to lead the process to a realistic resolution.


Israel should not have to question America's commitment (Rep. Tom Price)

In just over a week, the Obama Administration has successfully called into question the United States’ unwavering commitment to the people of Israel and further progress in the Middle East peace process. The Administration began with an inappropriate response to Israel’s announced plan to construct new homes in Jerusalem – claiming the White House was 'insulted' by Israel’s timing on the announcement. The President determined this was reason enough to condemn our strongest ally in the Middle East. That was followed by an unprecedented cold-shoulder for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House. Here the media was shut out and the two leaders had what has been reported as a less than cordial exchange.

Being honest and straightforward with our allies is an important part of international diplomacy. But delegitimizing Israel through a series of public rebukes will only strain the US-Israeli relationship which significantly undermines the peace process. Moreover, we make our ally the target of additional rhetorical barbs lobbed by its neighbors in the region – namely Jordan’s King Abdullah II who felt it appropriate to get on board in denouncing Israel’s actions. It is deeply troubling when misguided statements by the White House are parroted by other nations in the region.