“The smallest minds … selfishest souls … and cowardliest hearts that God makes”

Yesterday our distinguished and highly principled House of Representatives passed HR 2194, the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act (IRPSA). The new measure is the brainchild of Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA), and best one can say for it is that it is a foolish bit of political posturing.  As Lara Friedman of Americans for Peace Now ...

Walt-Steve-foreign-policy-columnist20
Walt-Steve-foreign-policy-columnist20
Stephen M. Walt
By , a columnist at Foreign Policy and the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University.

Yesterday our distinguished and highly principled House of Representatives passed HR 2194, the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act (IRPSA). The new measure is the brainchild of Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA), and best one can say for it is that it is a foolish bit of political posturing.  As Lara Friedman of Americans for Peace Now and Matt Duss at the Center for American Progress make clear, this act will do virtually nothing to change the Iranian government’s behavior or weaken the political grip of the clerics and Revolutionary Guards. (See also Gal Luft and Alireza Nader's 's FP pieces here and here.) Instead, it will undoubtedly cause a lot of suffering among ordinary Iranians and reinforce the widespread perception that Uncle Sam is indifferent to the sufferings of others. It will also complicate U.S. efforts to get stronger multilateral sanctions on Iran, and is therefore counterproductive to any broader effort to address Iran’s nuclear ambitions. And you may rest assured that when this new set of sanctions fails, hardliners will  argue that "we've tried everything," and that we must therefore rely on other options (i.e., preventive war).

It's not like Congress was unaware of some of these counter-arguments -- for example, all four witnesses at a Tuesday hearing before the House National Security and Foreign Affairs subcommittee said they would vote against the legislation if given the option--but these expressions of sanity could not stop the stampede to folly. AIPAC endorsed the legislation (duh!), but so did J Street, the self-advertised "pro-peace, pro-Israel" lobby that appears to be trimming its sails more and more with each passing month.  Needless to say, the act passed overwhelmingly (412-12, with four others voting "present"). No wonder Mark Twain once complained that Congress contains "the smallest minds and the selfishest souls and the cowardliest hearts that God makes." With maybe sixteen exceptions.

Yesterday our distinguished and highly principled House of Representatives passed HR 2194, the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act (IRPSA). The new measure is the brainchild of Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA), and best one can say for it is that it is a foolish bit of political posturing.  As Lara Friedman of Americans for Peace Now and Matt Duss at the Center for American Progress make clear, this act will do virtually nothing to change the Iranian government’s behavior or weaken the political grip of the clerics and Revolutionary Guards. (See also Gal Luft and Alireza Nader’s ‘s FP pieces here and here.) Instead, it will undoubtedly cause a lot of suffering among ordinary Iranians and reinforce the widespread perception that Uncle Sam is indifferent to the sufferings of others. It will also complicate U.S. efforts to get stronger multilateral sanctions on Iran, and is therefore counterproductive to any broader effort to address Iran’s nuclear ambitions. And you may rest assured that when this new set of sanctions fails, hardliners will  argue that "we’ve tried everything," and that we must therefore rely on other options (i.e., preventive war).

It’s not like Congress was unaware of some of these counter-arguments — for example, all four witnesses at a Tuesday hearing before the House National Security and Foreign Affairs subcommittee said they would vote against the legislation if given the option–but these expressions of sanity could not stop the stampede to folly. AIPAC endorsed the legislation (duh!), but so did J Street, the self-advertised "pro-peace, pro-Israel" lobby that appears to be trimming its sails more and more with each passing month.  Needless to say, the act passed overwhelmingly (412-12, with four others voting "present"). No wonder Mark Twain once complained that Congress contains "the smallest minds and the selfishest souls and the cowardliest hearts that God makes." With maybe sixteen exceptions.

Stephen M. Walt is a columnist at Foreign Policy and the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University.

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