The GOP’s Iran Frustration Signals a Lack of Options in Months Ahead

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., left, and Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., right, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

AA Font size + Print

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., left, and Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., right, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013.

Republicans are irate over the Obama administration’s handling of Iran—and there’s little they can do to stop it.

Frus­tra­tion with the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s hand­ling of Ir­an is reach­ing a boil­ing point on Cap­it­ol Hill, even as Re­pub­lic­ans ac­know­ledge their lim­it­a­tions in try­ing to stop it.

With im­ple­ment­a­tion of a con­tro­ver­sial nuc­le­ar deal with Ir­an un­der­way, the coun­try has dom­in­ated the news over the last week: First cap­tur­ing and re­leas­ing 10 Navy men who in­ad­vert­ently entered Ir­a­ni­an wa­ters after 16 hours, then re­leas­ing five Amer­ic­an host­ages in a pris­on­er ex­change for sev­en of their own and fi­nally, on Sat­urday, meet­ing suf­fi­cient re­quire­ments in curb­ing its nuc­le­ar pro­gram to re­ceive sanc­tions re­lief from the United States and its al­lies.

The mixed bag of news out of Tehran has many in the GOP re­it­er­at­ing their long­stand­ing con­cerns with the nuc­le­ar deal, and even some Demo­crats are rais­ing eye­brows about Ir­an’s in­ten­tions. But in the wake of the deal, which passed through Con­gress last sum­mer des­pite Re­pub­lic­an ef­forts to stop it, there’s little that Con­gress can do uni­lat­er­ally to curb any fu­ture bad ac­tions by Ir­an.

Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans are hampered by an ad­min­is­tra­tion they don’t trust; a United Na­tions that, they say, es­sen­tially ig­nored an Oc­to­ber mis­sile test by Ir­an that vi­ol­ated a 2010 ban; al­lies in Rus­sia and China, as well as Europe, that they don’t trust to fol­low through on ad­di­tion­al sanc­tions against Ir­an, should they be needed in the fu­ture; and a re­gime in Tehran that they see as in­creas­ingly test­ing its power as it be­ne­fits from new sanc­tions re­lief.

Frankly right now there’s not a hell of a lot we can do.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

“Frankly right now there’s not a hell of a lot we can do be­cause [the U.S. and its al­lies] just freed up $100 mil­lion to the Ir­a­ni­ans,” Sen. John Mc­Cain said Tues­day. “We’ll pay a very, very heavy price for that in the fu­ture.”

Mc­Cain ref­er­enced the 10 Amer­ic­an Navy sail­ors who were pho­to­graphed in Ir­a­ni­an cus­tody with their hands over the backs of their necks, kneel­ing down, a photo he car­ried around with him dur­ing the Re­pub­lic­an Party’s re­treat in Bal­timore last week. “I’m amazed, with their hands be­hind their necks and the sec­ret­ary of State says that it’s really a great thing. It’s one of the most dis­grace­ful chapters in U.S. his­tory,” Mc­Cain said Tues­day. “I mean, the [foot­age] of Amer­ic­an ser­vice mem­bers on their knees, that was spread every­where in the Middle East. That was one of the great pro­pa­ganda tri­umphs that the Ir­a­ni­ans have ever had.”

“We’re in a really bad place,” Sen­ate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee chair­man Bob Cork­er said Wed­nes­day.

Cork­er, who fought stridently to block the Ir­an nuc­le­ar deal last year, ex­pressed frus­tra­tions with the deal in a com­mit­teewide hear­ing on its im­plic­a­tions for the Middle East Wed­nes­day morn­ing. But in an in­ter­view later in the day, Cork­er ar­gued that Con­gress isn’t com­pletely without re­course.

The Sen­ate is ex­pec­ted to take up a reau­thor­iz­a­tion of the Ir­an Sanc­tions Act, which ex­pires late this year, in the next few months, send­ing a sig­nal to the Ir­a­ni­an re­gime and provid­ing a key tool for the ad­min­is­tra­tion to re­in­state sanc­tions against the coun­try should they fail to hold up to the stand­ards of the nuc­le­ar deal.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion pushed back against Con­gress’s de­sire to re­new ISA late last year, warn­ing that it could put the nuc­le­ar deal in jeop­ardy. But sen­at­ors say that now that Im­ple­ment­a­tion Day has ar­rived in Ir­an, they be­lieve the ad­min­is­tra­tion will sup­port them in mov­ing for­ward on a reau­thor­iz­a­tion.

We’re in a really bad place.
Sen. Bob Cork­er, R-Tenn.

As part of the nuc­le­ar deal, the United States has not done away with sanc­tions against Ir­an, but merely paused them al­low­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tion to, in Wash­ing­ton’s terms, “snap back” sanc­tions should the coun­try vi­ol­ate the deal.

Sen. Robert Men­en­dez, a Demo­crat who was also highly crit­ic­al of the Ir­an deal, ar­gued Wed­nes­day that early pas­sage of a new ISA bill is im­port­ant so that the U.S. will “have something to snap back to.” Men­en­dez ar­gued that it will take months to alert and pre­pare the na­tion’s al­lies to im­ple­ment new sanc­tions on Ir­an, should they be­come ne­ces­sary. “It’s a year, easy,” Men­en­dez said.

Cork­er said that it’s very pos­sible that Con­gress could levy new sanc­tions against Ir­an in ad­di­tion to ISA this year, adding that par­tic­u­larly “if activ­it­ies con­tin­ue as-is, I’m sure there’ll be a lot of bi­par­tis­an sup­port.”

But for any sanc­tions to go through, they’ll need the sup­port of Pres­id­ent Obama, who ne­go­ti­ated the nuc­le­ar deal with Ir­an that he’s hailed as “his­tor­ic pro­gress through dip­lomacy” in the Middle East. The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has said it will sup­port reau­thor­iz­a­tion of ISA be­fore its ex­pir­a­tion in 2016, but it’s un­clear what the fate of oth­er sanc­tions would be.

Fur­ther com­plic­at­ing that mis­sion is the feel­ing, par­tic­u­larly among Re­pub­lic­an mem­bers, that the P5+1 co­ali­tion that se­cured the deal with Ir­an (which in­cludes the U.S., China, France, Rus­sia, the United King­dom as well as Ger­many) will not be there to sup­port the U.S. in levy­ing ad­di­tion­al sanc­tions if and when the time comes.

“I mean you’ve got China and Rus­sia that con­sider Ir­an to be an ally. China’s send­ing them equip­ment, Rus­sia’s work­ing with them in Syr­ia. I don’t an­ti­cip­ate they’re ever go­ing to join in in any kind of snap-back, I just don’t see it hap­pen­ing,” Cork­er said Wed­nes­day. “And we have European quote [un]quote ‘friends’ who are so de­sirous of do­ing busi­ness with Ir­an, I think it’s go­ing to be dif­fi­cult there too.”

“Now Ir­an has the lever­age both from the stand­point of already hav­ing all of their re­sources, but in ad­di­tion to that know­ing that we’re not go­ing to get unity in this P5+1,” Cork­er ad­ded.

Sen. Dav­id Per­due of Geor­gia, a fresh­man mem­ber on the com­mit­tee, took that a step fur­ther, cit­ing it as one of his ma­jor con­cerns about the Ir­an deal mov­ing for­ward. “The co­ali­tion’s already gone away. It’s pretty ob­vi­ous, the co­ali­tion’s gone away,” Per­due said. “So the snap-back pro­vi­sion of this Ir­an nuc­le­ar deal was al­ways built around, well if they vi­ol­ated [the deal], we’ll just snap-back the sanc­tions. It’s not go­ing to be that easy and I think the proof is on the table now.”

In clos­ing Wed­nes­day’s hear­ing, Cork­er said that it will be im­port­ant for Con­gress to con­tin­ue put pres­sure on the ad­min­is­tra­tion, both to hold Ir­an ac­count­able and to come up with a more “com­pre­hens­ive” strategy in the re­gion.

“I think it’s go­ing to be dif­fi­cult—very, very dif­fi­cult in the fu­ture to push back in any mean­ing­ful way against any vi­ol­a­tions that take place,” Cork­er said.

Close [ x ] More from DefenseOne

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care

  • Modernizing IT for Mission Success

    Surveying Federal and Defense Leaders on Priorities and Challenges at the Tactical Edge

  • Top 5 Findings: Security of Internet of Things To Be Mission-Critical

    As federal agencies increasingly leverage these capabilities, government security stakeholders now must manage and secure a growing number of devices, including those being used remotely at the “edge” of networks in a variety of locations. With such security concerns in mind, Government Business Council undertook an indepth research study of federal government leaders in January 2017. Here are five of the key takeaways below which, taken together, paint a portrait of a government that is increasingly cognizant and concerned for the future security of IoT.

  • Coordinating Incident Response on Posts, Camps and Stations

    Effective incident response on posts, camps, and stations is an increasingly complex challenge. An effective response calls for seamless conversations between multiple stakeholders on the base and beyond its borders with civilian law enforcement and emergency services personnel. This whitepaper discusses what a modern dispatch solution looks like -- one that brings together diverse channels and media, simplifies the dispatch environment and addresses technical integration challenges to ensure next generation safety and response on Department of Defense posts, camps and stations.

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.