Well, this saga is just getting worse and worse. I reported earlier this week that H.R. 1327, the Iran Sanctions Enabling Act of 2009 had been put on Congress' suspension calendar (fast track voting) for Tuesday - a move that puzzled many since imposing new sanctions on Iran four days before Iran's elections would likely help Ahmadinejad get re-elected.
Turned out that the item had been put on the agenda by the Republicans, and that the Democrats opposed it precisely because they didn't want to do anything to help Ahmadinejad get re-elected. So it was pulled off of the agenda sometime on Monday.
The White House had also made it clear that new sanctions would undermine diplomacy. Secretary of State Clinton told lawmakers earlier in May that "Until we have tested, within the time period set forth by the president, where we think this engagement is going, I am not sure that adding new unilateral sanctions is really that helpful."
But last night, Republican lawmakers moved to replace the State Authorization bill with another Iran sanctions act - the Iran Refine Petroleum Sanctions Act. This took almost everyone by surprise. The motion failed since lawmakers voted along party lines, but it showed two things:
First, those who wish to undermine President Obama's efforts to pursue diplomacy with Iran and other states, are not just wishing that Obama fails, they are trying to ensure that he fails. Securing Ahmadinejad's re-election by imposing new sanctions right before the elections is useful, they argue, since mobilizing people and nations against Ahmadinejad is relatively easy. If he gets thrown out of office by the Iranian electorate, it will be more difficult to stage a confrontation.
Secondly, realizing that sanctions legislation will be put on the backburner if Ahmadinejad's loses, supporters of these political obstacles to diplomacy are seeking to pass them before the window closes, so to say. The added plus of undermining Obama is just the icing on the cake.
The larger issue, however is this: If additional sanctions on Iran right before the elections will help strengthen radicals and weaken moderates in Iran, then won't that be true also after the elections? Even the sponsors of the sanctions bill agree that imposing sanctions now would undermine Ahmadinejad's opponents - in fact, it was explained to be the precise reason why they originally took the vote off the calendar.
But if these sanctions strengthen radicals - why not simply shelve the bill and give Obama a fair chance to pursue diplomacy?