In the spirit that a highly opinionated, fast-and-loose-with-the-facts op-ed deserves a slightly less opinionated and more factual point of view, here’s another perspective on the issue of individual U.S. state sanctions on Iran.
Sarah Steelman, a Republican former Treasurer of Missouri, penned an editorial in the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, August 5th where she recaps her 2006 move to divest all state funds from any bank, company or financial institution doing business with a “terrorist-sponsoring” state. She notes that the countries on the list at the time were Iran, North Korea, Syria and Sudan. She also points out that 30 other states undertook similar divestment initiatives.
Iran nuclear deal commits federal government to try to lift individual state sanctions on Iran
Steelman also correctly notes that the new Iran nuclear deal specifically calls for the federal government to “actively encourage officials at the state or local level” to lift any current economic sanctions on Iran.
The Iran nuclear agreement (formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) states: “If a law at the state or local level in the United States is preventing the implementation of the sanctions lifting as specified in this JCPOA, the United States will take appropriate steps, taking into account all available authorities, with a view to achieving such implementation. The United States will actively encourage officials at the state or local level to take into account the changes in the U.S. policy reflected in the lifting of sanctions under this JCPOA and to refrain from actions inconsistent with this change in policy.”
From reasonable questions to unreasoned assertions
Steelman begins her critique of the Iran nuclear deal with a few perfectly reasonable questions. “We are left to wonder how the Obama administration intends to proceed against these sanctions at the state level. Federal law of course pre-empts state law, but does this agreement, which still lacks congressional approval, trump state laws and constitutions? What kind of consequences might the president suggest for state officials who continue to follow the divestment and sanctions programs duly enacted by their states?”
Instead of trying to answer these questions, however, Steelman in effect “jumps the shark” and reveals her true agenda. She first notes what a “tough battle” it was to get the sanctions pushed through state legislatures in the first place.
Steelman then goes on to make a highly opinionated assertion disguised as fact. She says: “The highly advertised “snapback” provision that puts sanctions back in place if Iran violates the agreement is a figment of Mr. Obama’s imagination. Once the sanctions are gone, they are not coming back.”
It would have been nice if Ms. Steelman had bothered to support her assertion with even the slightest of facts or argumentation. Instead, in very poor debating form, she presents a very dubious conclusion as fact.
In my humble opinion she is dead wrong. Not only would any violation of the Iran nuclear agreement very rapidly lead to the U.S. Congress passing equal if not stronger sanctions on Iran, it is also quite likely that generally more conservative state legislatures would follow suit in relatively short order. Now, if Steelman had advanced the argument that some countries in Europe and elsewhere might well be slow or even loath to “snapback” the sanctions, she might have a leg to stand on, but she didn’t even bother.
Steelman’s myopic view that Iran sanctions were all about terrorism
If you read Steelman’s op-ed, you might think that the only reason most of the world put sanctions on Iran was their sponsorship of terrorism. The essay never even mentions the main reason for the Iran nuclear deal — the extremely important goal of preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon for at least another decade. Nor does she even dip her toe into discussing the other potentially important benefits of engaging with regional powerhouse Iran, such as cooperation in Iraq and Syria and maybe even reducing their sponsorship of some terrorist organizations.
Her refusal to consider the big picture makes it clear Steelman is still stuck in the “neo-con mindset” of the Bush years and the failed War on Terrorism. The tautological characteristics of her closing comments expose her monomania: “No taxpayer wants his tax dollars to help those who have killed our soldiers, as Iran has. This agreement undermines the will of the people in the states that adopted these policies and will allow billions of dollars of taxpayer money to flow to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps.”