What I most appreciate about Ted Cruz is his willingness to deal with the actual causes of the problems that our country confronts. Before announcing his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination on Monday, he re-introduced an Iran-sanctions bill last week. Unlike other proposals aimed at derailing President Obama’s disastrous plan to enable the mullahs’ nuclear-weapons ambitions, Senator Cruz’s proposal takes aim at the actual challenge: the Iranian regime itself.
Other congressional plans to thwart Obama’s Iran deal are welcome, of course. They suffer, however, from the same fundamental flaw as the negotiations conducted by the Obama administration — and, for that matter, by the Bush administration. They focus on the wrong problem. The issue is not nuclear weapons; it is the government that would be controlling the nukes. We’re not worried about another country entering the nuclear-weapons club. We’re worried about entry by the rulers of this particular government, an incorrigible American enemy that is the world’s leading state sponsor of jihadist terror.
The U.S. approach to Iran has been wrongheaded for decades. President Obama is, as usual, the most irresponsible offender — he’s ready to enable Iran to become a threshold nuclear power. Yet even President Bush, though committed to preventing Iran’s acquisition of nukes (however unrealistic he may have been about the prospects of preventing it through the “P5+1” diplomatic track), narrowly focused on confining Tehran to civilian use of nuclear power. The Bush administration did not condition Iran’s acquisition of (civilian-use) nuclear power and relief from sanctions on the regime’s credible renunciation of terrorism, much less on regime change. Laughing off Bush State Department pleas that it negotiate a settlement on the nukes, Iran continued fueling jihadist attacks on American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, and backed Hamas and Hezbollah’s aggression against Israel.
In the same mindset, today’s congressional opposition to Obama’s deal has myopically focused on nuclear power: endeavoring to force a congressional vote on the deal; to reinstate existing sanctions (without allowing the president to waive them in the future); and to pressure Iran to dismantle the components of its program that are patently designed to develop weapons.
There is reason to wonder about the practical effect of these measures. Under our Constitution, it is the president’s obligation to come to Congress for approval of a momentous international agreement. An unsolicited vote on the deal would shift the burden to Congress; it would also perversely be portrayed by the administration as “approval” if Congress does not have the votes to override a certain veto. Obama, moreover, is obviously not going to sign anything that repeals his waiver authority — again, the challenge will be attracting sufficient Democratic votes to defy the president.
Still, a more basic problem than the doubtful prospects for enactment is the fact that these proposals are limited to improving the U.S. position in a negotiation that should not be happening in the first place. At best, the pact Obama and Secretary of State Kerry are trying to finalize would significantly undermine the Security Council resolutions and statutory sanctions against Iran that are currently in place. The premise of the deal is that a terror-sponsoring aggressor regime with a long record of deceit should be rewarded with relief from financial penalties for its rogue development of nuclear power as long as we can be reasonably satisfied that it won’t weaponize nuclear material for a few more years. That is absurd.
By contrast, the Cruz proposal emphasizes that the point of imposing sanctions on Iran was to force the complete dismantling of its nuclear program, not to entice Iran into negotiations that legitimize that program and haggle over its scope. Consequently, the sanctions must be ratcheted up in order to achieve the objective, not eased or eliminated to facilitate the program. The Cruz proposal thus not only restores sanctions Obama has waived and contemplates eliminating; it intensifies the sanctions to impose grave pain on the regime’s financial, energy, automotive, and defense sectors.
Concurrently, the Cruz proposal requires the Iranian regime to renounce its sponsorship of terrorism and demonstrate that the renunciation is genuine. Congress would use its power of the purse to deny funding for negotiations with Iran in the absence of: the regime’s freeing of all political prisoners; its payment of compensation to American hostages it detained beginning in 1979; proof that the regime has dismantled its centrifuges and processing facilities; proof that it has relinquished its stockpiles of enriched uranium; proof that it has abandoned its ballistic-missiles program; and certification by the president that Iran is no longer a state sponsor of terrorism — a certification that would require acknowledgment that Iran is responsible for several notorious acts of terrorism and that it has ceased to provide any support for international terrorism.
Finally, the proposal makes clear, by a finding of Congress, that any deal Obama completes with Iran that is not submitted to Congress for approval is non-binding and without the force of law. Other nations are expressly put on notice that if Obama were to submit such a deal, not endorsed by Congress, for approval by the U.N. Security Council, any resulting resolution of approval would have no legal force or effect in the United States. As I’ve argued before, such a finding by Congress, even if rejected by the president, would undermine the contention that the American people are bound by international law to accept an agreement that has not been ratified by the Constitution’s treaty procedure or otherwise codified by congressional legislation.
In sum, Senator Cruz’s proposal, which Representative Trent Franks will be backing with companion legislation in the House, targets the Iranian regime. In order to enter meaningful negotiations with the United States, it would have to undergo what Mr. Obama might call a “fundamental transformation,” renouncing terrorism and making amends for its past atrocities. Meanwhile, it stresses that the only acceptable short-term American goal is to dismantle Iran’s nuclear program, not manage it; and it defends the constitutional right of Americans not to be saddled with a bad international deal that our elected representatives in Congress have not endorsed.
It goes without saying that President Obama would not sign such legislation. Critics, furthermore, will say a tougher proposal has less chance of attracting Democratic votes to override a veto. But the other congressional proposals, which have only a slim chance of achieving override levels of support, fail in any event to grapple with the real challenge here: the Iranian regime, its promotion of terrorism, and its 36-year jihad against the United States. That’s what we should be discussing and debating — now and in the 2016 campaign.
Our national interest is to achieve regime change in Iran. Senator Cruz’s proposal would align our policy with our interest. What a concept.