What The Republican Congress Means for Iran Policy

On the eve of the mid-term elections, George Washington University professor Marc Lynch blogged about how the outcome could impact U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. His Foreign Policy piece included the potential of a GOP-led Congress approving an Iran sanctions bill, which would tie the Obama administration’s hands on enforcement and possibly undermine its efforts at negotiation. And Iran “may conclude that it’s pointless to deal with Obama if they think he can’t deliver on his end.”

Indeed, both of these concerns should be taken seriously as the hawkish Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) takes over as the new Chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

A review of her statements from the past year would indicate that the Obama administration’s policy of sanctions, while keeping the door open for negotiations, will be challenged by Ros-Lehtinen.

In a December 14, 2009 op-ed in the LA Times, Ros-Lehtinen wrote:

The regime in Tehran knows only hardball, and nothing less than overwhelming and crippling sanctions could produce a reversal of its threatening programs and policies.

But these sanctions must be coupled with action on all fronts. The U.S. must also specifically reject Iran’s claim to an inalienable right to produce nuclear fuel.

And, as The Cable’s Josh Rogin cautions, Ros-Lehtinen could cause significant problems for the Obama administration’s foreign policy if, as expected, she pushes the administration to punish Russian and Chinese companies doing business with Iran. She is expected to lead a congressional effort to demand more information about the U.S.-Saudi arms deal, which was widely seen by realists as an Obama administration plan to form a long-term containment and deterrence strategy against a nuclear armed Iran.

In this same article, Rogin quotes from a previously unreported letter obtained by The Cable. In it, Ros-Lehtinen and then House Foreign Affairs chair Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA) demanded answers to their questions about the arms deal from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

They wrote:

We are writing to raise concerns and pose a number of strategic questions about the impact such sales would have on the national security interests of the United States and our allies.

It’s fair to ask how Ros-Lehtinen will view the Obama administration’s endorsement of “linkage”—a concept which is accepted at the highest levels of the U.S. military, that resolving the Arab-Palestinian conflict will forward the United States’ broader strategic interests in the region.

So far it appears likely she will oppose the Obama administration’s efforts to pressure Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on settlements, having been a vocal critic of the administration’s strained relationship with Israeli leadership.

Lynch concludes:h

I’m gritting my teeth in anticipation of the next Congress becoming a platform for Iran war hawks, hyping the issue even further in anticipation of the 2012 elections… look for another round of sanctions and some kind of Iranian Liberation Act on the horizon, regardless of how things are actually going for U.S. diplomatic efforts. A GOP-controlled Congress may not go for the big $60 billion arms sale to the Saudis, what with that whole “sharia” thing.

Eli Clifton

Eli Clifton reports on money in politics and US foreign policy. He is a co-founder of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. Eli previously reported for the American Independent News Network, ThinkProgress, and Inter Press Service.