Democratic Senators Stand up for the Iran Deal in Response to GOP Threats

September 17 marked the end of the Congressional review period established by the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015. After four votes in the Senate and three votes in the House, the nuclear agreement between the United States, its negotiating partners, and Iran will move into the implementation phase. However, the dust remains unsettled.

Why ISIS Cannot Be Defeated by Putting US Boots on the Ground

Seemingly overnight, the terrorist organization ISIS established an illegitimate state spanning the borders of Iraq and Syria. Systematic human rights abuses and dramatic executions have drawn the world’s attention to the group; however, ISIS does not pose an immediate existential threat to the United States, begging the question: are there options other than putting US put boots on the ground to combat this problem?

Iran Nuclear Negotiations go into Overtime:

The United States, its international partners, and Iran are continuing to negotiate a comprehensive final deal to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. The June 30th deadline has come and gone, but all sides remain committed to reaching a final deal.

Highlights of the 2015 NPT Review Conference

Highlights of the 2015 NPT Review Conference
The 2015 Review Conference for the Non-Proliferation Treaty has finished. There was so much that could have been done, but regrettably, this year’s conference failed to produce a final consensus document (which also happened in 2005). This means that previous commitments have still not been achieved, and worse, no plans have been made to remedy this.

Senate Committee on Foreign Relations passes authorization of use of force against ISIL

Earlier today, the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations passed the Senate Joint Resolution 44 – Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) by a party-line roll-call vote of 10 to 8.

The resolution authorizes the use of force in Iraq and Syria while rejecting ground combat operations already ruled out by the President.  However, it includes exceptions to the prohibition of troops on the ground large enough to drive a battalion through: except when necessary to protect U.S. military personnel or U.S. citizens whose lives are directly endangered by ISIL, and other specific circumstances. Additionally, the president must report to Congress at least once every 60 days on specific actions taken Iraq and Syria. The enemy is identified as “associated persons or forces” with ISIL, meaning “individuals and organizations fighting for or on behalf of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant or a closely-related successor entity.”

The legality of Obama’s current campaign in Iraq and Syria is contested. The president has been using the out-of-date 2001 AUMF against Al-Qaeda, passed in the wake of the September 11th attacks, to justify military actions against ISIL, or as Secretary Kerry called it in his testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Daesh. The word ‘Daesh’ is a transliteration of the Arabic acronym for ISIL. Many Arabic-language media outlets prefer to use this term because it distances the terrorist organization from the practice of Islam.

In his testimony on December 19th, Kerry said he supports the three-year limitation proposed by Menendez, “subject to provisions for extension that [the Administration] would be happy to discuss.”

The Administration does not want to be hampered by any hard limitations on the duration of our involvement in the region, the ability to resort to combat operations if necessary, or an expansion of offensive actions to other countries.

The proposed AUMF against ISIL would repeal the 2002 AUMF against Iraq but says nothing about the 2001 AUMF.

During today’s hearing, Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) spoke of the necessity to define unambiguously the enemy and the objectives of this war. He also spoke out against limiting the AUMF to three years, as proposed in the Act, suggesting that this would reveal to our enemies what we are willing and unwilling to do to defeat them, and for how long. In essence, he argued to give the President a blank check.

Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-NJ) argued, “A three-year authorization creates the greatest accounting to the Congress to come back, knowing that authorization can be renewed and may need to be.”

As Menendez suggested, sunsetting the authorization after three years would force Congress to revisit the AUMF and ensure the Act stays relevant to strategic realities.

On the point of sending U.S. ground troops back to the region, Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) pointed out, “massive amount of ground forces in the middle east ends up creating more enemies than it ends up killing.”

Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) highlighted the need for both a military and fiscal strategy, saying that it is “[his] hope that we will keep right in front of us how we will pay for [this] war [against ISIL.]”  He also called for the president to release a clear, in-depth strategy as to how he will degrade and defeat ISIL, how much it will cost, and the projected scope and duration of the war.

An amendment to constrain a U.S. campaign geographically was put forward by Senator Rand Paul (R-KY). An amendment to limit the authority of the AUMF to one year was proposed by Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) and co-sponsored by Senator Paul. Neither amendment passed.

So Democrats, some of whom are skeptical about a new war in Iraq and Syria, voted to authorize the use of military force because the resolution included some limits to presidential action in the region. And Republicans who most support our military involvement voted against the resolution because they felt the president’s hands would be tied.

As Congress plans to adjourn in the next few days, Congress will most likely have to start all over against in 2015 on this or another measure.

The Vote:
Democrats for: Bob Menendez (NJ), Barbara Boxer (CA), Cardin (MD) Jeanne Shaheen (NH), Chris Coons (DE), Dick Durbin (IL), Tom Udall (NM), Chris Murphy (CT), Tim Kaine (VA), Ed Markey (MA)

Republicans against: Bob Corker (TN), James Risch (ID), Marco Rubio (FL), Ron Johnson (WI), Jeff Flake (AZ), John McCain (AZ), John Barrasso (WY), Rand Paul (KY)

Perspective from Tehran: A Young Iranian on the Nuclear Talks, Written by Brenna Gautam

Written by Brenna Gautam

As an American college student, I have followed the Iran negotiations as a removed observer. Reading political blogs and browsing IAEA reports is about as close to the reality of the negotiations themselves as I can get from my cozy university in northern Indiana.

I’ve watched from afar as reports on the progress of diplomacy with Iran become more and more pessimistic, as my congressmen grow more and more impatient with the lack of a comprehensive deal. I’ve listened as they’ve given statements on the dangers and risks of extending the agreement deadline while ignoring the benefits that come with continued negotiations. Diplomacy builds trust and strengthens confidence. Dialogue brings people together. So why would walking away from the negotiating table be in anyone’s interest?

Like so many of my peers, I suffer from a burning desire to create positive change in the world combined with a feeling of helplessness in the face of US foreign policymakers’ decisions. I know that I am only one student, but I’ve often found myself wishing that I could send a message to the negotiating team, to my government officials, and most importantly to Iran itself.

So I decided to reach out to Iran.

Meet Mehdi Dehnavi, a young academic from Tehran. Thanks to the Internet, I was able to connect with Mehdi through an online networking website and get a sense of a young Iranian’s perspective on the negotiation extension. I asked Mehdi to share some of his thoughts regarding the extension, and this is the message he sent in reply:

“It is important to look at Iran’s history before assessing its present. After the Iranian revolution and the revolutionary discourse, development windows in Iran closed. The Iranians did not want this; they just did not want to be dependent. Iraq, with the help and green light of outside powers, attacked Iran, and was met with resistance. Much of this resistance was based upon national dignity.

We Iranians stand against excessive violence. This is a lesson from history and from Iran’s national character. National memory of the oil industry conflict in 1953 has tried to break Iran, but we are still alive. As an Iranian, I see that my country must maintain rational and respectful relationships with others, and I call on other countries to do the same. We know that 2014 is not 1953, but we do not see a big difference in the approach of the West.

Yet there is no doubt in our minds that the world needs stability and peace more than anything else.

An Iranian nuclear challenge with the West would be useless. Who would create such a challenge? Iran is a wise and pragmatic country. Why would we want our costs to increase from sanctions? For which purpose: to defend or attack?

If our purpose were to attack, I would ask: attack whom? Practically, unlike the great powers of today, Iran has not invaded another country for at least the past 100 years. And despite the fact that nuclear powers like the United States have threatened to nuke us, we are against war.

Some worry that we would create a nuclear challenge to defend ourselves, from a power like Israel. But this is nothing more than chatter. Iran is a large and powerful country in the Middle East and even without nuclear capabilities it could enact rapid and devastating retaliation upon an attacker. For this reason, I do not believe Israel would attack Iran. Arabs also do not have a reason for a military attack on Iran. We don’t need nuclear weapons for defense or for attack.

With no deal reached yesterday, the governments of Iran and America are both in very pessimistic mindsets, afraid of a new Cold War. But the balance here is not dependent on the weapons; rather, the future of the negotiations is dependent on rationality and respect. We do not need bombs. Peace is the mother of all good.”

-Mehdi Dehvani, Malek Ashtar University (MUT) in Tehran

I am an American student. I do not share Mehdi’s national history, I do not speak his mother tongue, and I do not live under the economic sanctions he endures. Yet we are both two young people who want the same fundamental things: rationality, respect, stability and peace.

I hope that our respective governments can similarly find common ground as we enter into another round of negotiations.

Brenna Gautam was an intern with the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation in the Summer of 2014. She attends the University of Notre Dame.

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It would be helpful if international events unfolded like dominoes, one falling into the next in an orderly, linear fashion. But this is rarely the case. Instead, events overlap and new crises spring up before old ones are fully resolved: more similar to a chaotic tower of Jenga blocks than a tidy row of dominoes.