National Security

Senate Needs to Act in Face of Iran's Belligerence

The brouhaha over Iran's shenanigans in the Strait of Hormuz has increased the urgency in Congress' debates over Obama's nuclear accord with Iran.

Jim Harrington · Apr. 30, 2015
The Maersk Tigris as photographed in December

On Tuesday, Iran seized a Dutch merchant ship sailing under the flag of the Marshall Islands. The Maersk Tigris was sailing through the Strait of Hormuz when nine Iranian patrol vessels approached it. The Tigris at first refused to stop, but she submitted once the Iranians fired warning shots. The captain sent a distress signal to the U.S. Navy, which sent the destroyer USS Farragut to monitor the situation.

This is the second time in a week that the Iranian Navy has intercepted a ship flying American-affiliated flags in the Strait of Hormuz. The first time was on Friday, when four Iranian boats surrounded the American-flagged Maersk Kensington and followed it before moving on.

Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren told reporters Tuesday that Iran’s firing on a merchant ship was “inappropriate” and that the State Department is looking into any obligation it might have for ships carrying Marshall Islands flags. The U.S. is responsible by treaty for the security and defense of the Marshall Islands, a former protectorate of the U.S.

The Strait of Hormuz, which connects the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, borders Iran and is partially within Iranian territorial water. And Iran has repeatedly threatened to close it. Time Magazine wrote in 2011 that if a military force disrupts the unimpeded passage of ships through the strait, it is an act of war. But Iran is unlikely to do so, as half of its budget comes from oil that is transported through the strait.

It appears to be a gotcha for Obama’s sending warships to the Arabian Sea to intercept nine Iranian vessels suspected of transporting armaments to the Houthi rebels in Yemen. The Iranian convoy is currently returning to Iran.

Iran’s meddling with the shipping passing through the strait has become an almost regular occurrence, according to a Patriot Post source familiar with the U.S.‘s relationship with the country. The biggest difference is that there are headlines about the Maersk Tigris. But the brouhaha over these incidents has increased the urgency in Congress’ debates over the nuclear accord Obama made with Iran.

The Senate is debating whether it has the right to advise and consent to Obama’s “concluded” concord between his royal self and Iran. While a full debate began on the issue, some members are being warned not to get carried away adding amendments that might offend Democrats and other moderates. We do not want to ruin the bipartisan spirit of the bill after all.

Fox News reports, “Backers of the bill are trying to keep lawmakers focused on how it would give Congress a say on a critical national security issue.” (Funny, we thought something like that was already in the Constitution.) “They say the measure is not meant to be about how Iran increasingly is wielding influence in the Middle East, its support of terrorist groups or human rights violations.”

Committee chairman and co-author of the bill Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) said, in the words of The Washington Post, that “he too would like to see Iran change its behavior, and he wants any final deal to be a good one that will prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. But he said that’s not what the bill is about.”

“This bill is about the process,” Corker said. “It’s not a bill about the content of any deal, and, hopefully, that’s how the bill will remain.” This is the new Congress: It focuses on process, not content. It forgets about shrewdly dealing with a state sponsor of terrorism to concentrating on trying to just get bills passed.

The bill has been approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and has 62 co-sponsors in both parties. It’s expected to pass both the Senate and House.

Once Obama and the Iranians hand over the final deal, the president can use his executive authority to ease some sanctions on his own and others after negotiating with the European Union and the United Nations. He “can waive sanctions that Congress has imposed on Iran, but he cannot formally lift them,” Fox News writes. Remember: It’s about the process, not the content.

After all these “sensible” politicians, then come the troublemakers — Republicans who have proposed amendments. Most amendments will probably require a supermajority. And the White House has warned that any amendments will doom the bill. But Democrats may be leery of voting against amendments that could later be used in attack ads to make them appear anti-Israel or standing in the way of the release of American prisoners.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wants a “sensible” bill that gives Congress the right to review an international nuclear agreement with Iran, but he said he expects a wide variety of amendments.

Six Republican senators are proposing amendments. Among them are Marco Rubio (FL) with seven, Ted Cruz (TX) with three and Cory Gardner (CO), Tom Cotton (AK), Mike Lee (UT) and Ron Johnson (WI) with three.

Rubio’s amendments include requiring Iran to release all Americans held captive there and for it to recognize Israel. Cruz wants any deal between the Obama administration approved by Congress, a deal breaker because Obama will refuse to agree to it. Gardner and Cotton want the administration to certify that Iran and North Korea aren’t exchanging high-tech military information. Lee would require the Obama administration to prove that that Iran hasn’t continued its missile program. And Johnson believes the nuclear agreement should be a treaty, requiring a two-thirds approval of the Senate.

We agree! We applaud all these senators for their courage to stand on principle against the tide of politics, especially knowing that they’ll lose, because Corker said there are enough lawmakers to shoot down amendments and pass a clean bill. Yay.

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