When Congress passed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act last month that mandated a ban on all transactions with Iran’s Central Bank, it gave the administration the tool it needed to allow President Obama to make good on his promise to prevent Tehran from ever obtaining nuclear weapons. Restrictions on dealing with the bank would make it possible to put into place an oil embargo on Iran, the one type of sanction that could bring the Islamist regime to its knees. But the inclusion of waivers in the bill at the White House’s request also made it possible that nothing would be done. Though the president signed the Act into law during the holiday weekend, the release of his signing statement confirms our doubts about his intentions.
As the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday, the statement explicitly noted the sanctions were passed over his objections and might interfere “with my constitutional authority to conduct foreign relations.” Obama’s statement bluntly warned Congress that if he was so inclined, “I will treat the provisions as nonbinding.” While administration officials said in spite of this, Obama still intended to pursue sanctions on the bank, the statement is a clear signal he has no such intentions.
The stated motive for Obama’s reluctance to try to stop the flow of oil income to the ayatollahs’ coffers is that it would disrupt the global economy and raise oil prices. That is a real danger and one that ought to worry everyone, not just a weak incumbent desperate not to worsen the nation’s financial situation. But given that such an embargo is the only measure short of war that would halt Iran’s nuclear program, there is no other choice. If Obama continues to waste more time by engaging in feckless diplomacy to assemble an anti-Iran coalition that has no chance of coming into existence, an Iranian bomb will be the inevitable result. If Obama thinks an oil embargo would be disruptive, what does he think the impact of an Iranian bomb on the global economy or gas prices would be?
One of the co-authors of the bill, Sen. Mark Kirk, warned if the president fails to enforce these sanctions (as, in fact, the administration has not done with even the weaker existing sanctions already in place), then he would face serious political consequences. But it may be that, despite the 100-0 vote in favor of the amendment, Obama believes some in Congress were hoping he would do just that. The inclusion of the presidential waiver was an open invitation to inaction on the president’s part. He may think many members of both the House and the Senate are like him: big talkers about Iran but reluctant to do anything about this terrible threat that would require action or sacrifice.
Earlier today, Michael Rubin noted Turkey had already requested the administration grant its biggest refinery a waiver on dealing with the Iranian bank so as to continue the lucrative trade between the two nations and said Obama’s willingness to grant the quest would answer the question about whether he was serious about stopping Iran. Unfortunately, the answer may have already been given with the president’s effort to stop the bill’s passage and a signing statement that all but promised it would never be enforced.