This week, when the Senate voted 98-2 to pass new sanctions against Russia, Iran, and North Korea, the only senators to vote against the measure were Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rand Paul (R-KY). While the Russia sanctions were the focus of nearly every big media outlet’s headlines, it is the Iran sanctions that are likely to be the most consequential due to their impact on the Iran nuclear deal, or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
The Trump Administration has been sending strong signals that they intend to unravel the JCPOA and even pursue Iraq-style regime change against Iran. Yet this did not stop Democrats from joining with Republicans to give Trump new tools to unravel the Iran deal. Some Democrats, including former Clinton campaign staffers, even deceptively attacked Senator Sanders and accused him of refusing to punish Russia over election meddling because of his no vote.
Adam Parkhomenko, former Clinton aide and founder of the Ready for Hillary PAC, tweeted: “Feel the Bern? Bernie Sanders voted against Russian sanctions today. 98 Senators voted for Russian sanctions today. Sanders voted the same way anyone with the last name Trump would vote if they were in the Senate. No excuses ― stop making them for him.”
Peter Daou, another Clinton adviser, also took to Twitter, writing, “So Bernie Sanders was 1 of 2 (out of 100) senators to vote against Russia sanctions. And 1 of 4 to vote against the Magnitsky Act.” Daou’s reference to the 2012 Magnitsky Act, another bill leveling sanctions against Russia, suggests he believes Sanders’ vote indicates he is tied to Putin.
These narratives that Senator Sanders is working to benefit Russia, perhaps because of resentment for his loss to Clinton, are nothing short of absurd. In fact, Sanders was the only progressive lawmaker to approach this bill responsibly.
In response to the criticism, Sanders tweeted: “I am strongly supportive of sanctions on Russia and North Korea. However, I worry very much about President Trump’s approach to Iran. Following Trump’s comments that he won’t re-certify Iran’s compliance with the nuclear agreement I worry new sanctions could endanger it.”
H.R. 3364 lumps Russia and Iran sanctions together, giving both parties incentive to ensure its passage. With Democrats eager to punish Russia for its election interference in order to put Trump in a bind, and Republicans unhappy with Obama’s Iran deal wanting to crack down on Iran, politicians on both sides had incentive to overlook potential problems with the bill.
However, lawmakers must be cautious of supporting politically expedient legislation at the cost of destroying one of today’s most important international agreements. Although there is ambiguity regarding whether or not the Iran sanctions violate the JCPOA, it is evident that they undermine the spirit of the deal and remove the incentive for Iran to comply. Without actual sanction relief, Iran has no reason to abide by the agreement and continue to pull back its nuclear program. It is very concerning that the same Democrats who previously fought for and voted in support of the JCPOA are willing to accept the risks of this legislation with little thought as to how Trump could exploit it to fulfill his campaign promise of tearing up the nuclear deal. This is especially pressing in today’s political climate, in which President Trump has said he will likely not re-certify Iran’s compliance with the deal in October, despite all the evidence.
It is imperative that lawmakers join Sanders in protecting the nuclear deal. Without the JCPOA, the escalating tensions could undo all the diplomatic progress made in the Obama era and result in another needless war in the Middle East.