Sources and Votes on the Iran Sanctions

Probably the best quick overview history of US sanctions on Iran that I've seen is at the US institute for Peace's website. The Treasury Department has a significant role in enforcing sanctions, and of course the State Department is involved. Their site has links to relevant executive orders, statutes, and UNSC resolutions.

Until I started reading through this material, I really didn't understand how fully the executive branch had authority over the sanctions. Most of the sanctions depend on executive orders, and even the  legislation that has passed on this gives the president broad authority.

I think this solves a mystery for me. A month or two ago, someone posted a rant at Ace's or Hot Air (or both?) accusing Sen. Bob Corker and the Republicans of effectively guaranteeing that whatever deal Obama struck with the Iranians would be automatically accepted by giving Congress a normal vote on it (which Democrats could block and would not be veto-proof) instead of insisting on a 2/3s majority vote in the Senate as the Constitution requires. However, this appears to ignore the fact that sanctions against Iran have always depended primarily on executive authority, not treaty powers or legislation. So, I may actually defend Corker and the Republicans on this.


Grim said...


The Supremacy Clause's jursprudence talks about the will of Congress. If Congress passes a disapproval of the deal, as they probably will (because it is terrible), and it is vetoed and the veto fails to be overriden -- well, you'll be in the case of defending the proposition that a treaty doesn't require what the Constitution demands of a treaty in terms of the expression of Congressional will, but the opposite of it. Instead of 2/3rds majority of the Senate, what is on offer is a 2/3rds majority of both houses before Congressional will can be considered.

So we're going to be splitting hairs about whether Congress' will is better exposed in the majority vote to disapprove the deal, or the vote to allow the administration to do whatever the hell it wants.

Chuck Z is right. I came out better than him, but I was under fire from Iranian rockets a number of times in Iraq. We think they killed a thousand Americans during the Iraq war. They have been our enemies since their revolution 36 years ago. Nobody should give them a half an inch.

Tom said...

Sure. Iran has been our enemy for decades and think the only way we'll stop them from getting the bomb is by bombing them. I would support doing that today.

However, apparently the legislation that imposes many sanctions leaves nearly everything up to the president's discretion. Other sanctions were enacted by executive order. So, this deal isn't a treaty and the Senate was never going to get a vote on it. Corker's plan at least gives Congress a vote.

Or, I terribly misunderstand the situation.

Grim said...

Sanctions applied by EO only have no standing before Congress. What Corker did is concede everything over that point. This is a huge deal -- annex 3 requires us to teach Iran how to secure its nuclear programs against sabotage, including programs like STUXNET that we probably launched, including threats like commando raids that our Red Cell generated data on. It's a massive concession to Iran. When was the occasion of their last concession to us? Never, I believe? Instead, they've killed as many of us as they can get away with?

This deal has to be fought tooth and nail.

Tom said...

I agree we need to fight this, but what's the legal plan of attack? If this deal is really a treaty, then it seems that 98 Senators, including Rubio and Cruz, betrayed the US by voting for Corker's bill. I'm pretty cynical about politics, but 98 of them? I just don't see what they get by undercutting their own power if it was going to come to them as a treaty vote.

I think, legally, the issue is that the sanctions legislation leaves everything up to the president's discretion, so Iran only needs to cut a deal with Obama, not the US, per se.

I could be very wrong, but that's what I think is true. I'll read some more on this this week. If you have different information, please link it. I'd love to know how we can stop this.

Texan99 said...

"you should regard yourself at war with the United States"

I decline to do so. There are many measures to be taken between "supine acceptance" and "war."

Tom said...

Was the deal going to come before the Senate as a treaty? If not, then how did voting to give Congress a vote betray the US? If it wasn't coming for any vote, if this is something previous legislation gave the president carte blanche on, then it was the previous legislators who betrayed us.

They messed up; they trusted the presidents. They probably didn't foresee this president; they probably never imagined a president would betray the nation this way, but that's just greater reason to be careful going forward.

Grim said...

There are many measures to be taken between "supine acceptance" and "war."

War, as Clausewitz tells us, is politics by other means. Politics by ordinary means is picking a candidate or a party, voting for them, participating in good faith when the other side wins, going along with the flow. At this point, I have to say that these ordinary means are incapable of saving the country from its government.

We'll need other means. I only advocate every legal avenue, but we should do our best to bring frustrate and make impossible the enacting of their agenda where we cannot block it from becoming law.

If not, then how did voting to give Congress a vote betray the US?

What they should have done was insist that this was a treaty -- which it is -- and that the actual Constitutional standard would be the only one that would apply. If the President dodged them on this, they should have taken him to court or applied power of the purse to shut down the government until he conceded his actual, constitutional duty to submit any major treaty to the Senate for formal ratification.

Instead they gave him a way to get whatever he wanted with only 34 votes. That wasn't about previous presidents, it was about this one.

Iran gives every military technology they can over to terrorist groups like Hezbollah. We think they killed a thousand Americans in the Iraq war through proxy fighters; we have always believed they were behind the bombing of the Marine Corps barracks in Lebanon that was the largest terrorist act before 9/11. This plan will allow them, if they wish, to dodge inspections and develop nuclear weapons and dirty bombs. Even if they abide by the treaty, it lets them develop nuclear weapons legally when the treaty is over.

This has to be opposed through absolutely all legal means, fair or unfair. The parties that made this possible, including the Republican congress, are to be held complicit unless they prove otherwise by throwing themselves into stopping this, or frustrating it afterwards.

Grim said...

Not "bring frustrate" but just "frustrate." I was revising on the fly and missed a word.

Texan99 said...

"I only advocate every legal avenue"--there we can agree.

I would have liked to see the votes necessary to bring the White House to heel and make it acknowledge that the measures it is pursuing amount to a treaty, not merely executive discretion. We don't have those votes, unfortunately, which is a matter for future elections, when we'll have to do better. Also unfortunate is that the law and precedent controlling what's a treaty and what's not are not as clear as we'd like. The history of the U.S.-Iran relationship, and specifically regarding sanctions, is that the executive branch has been given huge input for 35 years, through administrations of both the R and D persuasion, which is an implicit acknowledgement that sanctions are not purely a matter for treaties.

On one extreme, you have the idea that any agreement involving sanctions is a treaty, which means what the President has negotiated is a treaty and therefore is dead in the water unless Congress approves it by a 2/3 vote. On the other extreme, you have the idea that an agreement involving sanctions is pure executive discretion, in which case no one cares what Congress thinks, but the next president may undo the whole thing, which is what Sen. Cotton explained in his open letter to Iran a few months back. In the middle is the idea that Congress could, if it wished, tie the executive's hands somewhat. In the past, Congress has passed bills purporting to control the sanctions arena, but it gave the President broad power to override Congress's stated preferences. In that context, passing a bill that requires the President at least to get a majority vote of Congress for his crazy deal is a step up. Is it as good as getting a S. Ct. ruling (in a few years) declaring that the agreement is a treaty and therefore is null and void without a 2/3 Congressional vote? No, but that's a bird in the bush. The bird in the hand is the requirement for at least a majority vote.

The fact is, this is a divided Congress without the clear will to rein in the President on foreign policy (or anything else). There is a slight R majority in the Senate, which is not good enough even if you could count on all the R votes, which of course you can't. The only ones you can be reasonably sure of are the D votes--though it will be awfully interesting to see if the Schumer crowd balks.

It comes down, as it always does, to elections. Is foreign policy our first priority? Or do we elect a President and a Congress on the basis of issues like the social safety net, or gay marriage, or judicial activism, or fiscal soundness?

Tom said...

Here's a National Review "It's better than nothing" editorial, followed by an Andrew McCarthy "It's worse than nothing" editorial. I think McCarthy wants to see a fight between the executive and legislative branches.