President Barack Obama and the Republican-led Congress are heading toward a standoff over additional sanctions on Iran.
The two sides disagree on an appropriate response to Russia’s continued threats against Ukraine.
And even the decision to have Congress authorize force against the ISIL terrorist group — something both Republicans and Democrats agree should happen — is fraught with tension, with Republicans wondering why Obama has not yet sent them a request to authorize force.
With an increasing flurry of instability around the world, Congress and Obama are seemingly at odds on how to deal with even the most minor international incidents. Obama’s sixth State of the Union address last Tuesday only seemed to underscore those divisions.
“He says we’re safer — we’re not,” said Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee.
Their disagreement on foreign policy matters came to a head last week when House Speaker John Boehner, R-West Chester Twp., invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a very vocal critic of Iran, to address Congress on the threat of radical Islam and Iran even as Obama pushes ahead on negotiations aimed at spurring Iran to dismantle parts of its nuclear program.
The invite — Netanyahu has agreed to address Congress on Feb. 11, on the 36th anniversary of the Iranian Revolution — came one day after Obama warned Congress that he would veto any sanctions legislation on Iran. He said imposing such sanctions would derail the negotiations.
“New sanctions passed by this Congress, at this moment in time, will all but guarantee that diplomacy fails — alienating America from its allies; and ensuring that Iran starts up its nuclear program again,” Obama said Tuesday, saying he’s made progress dismantling the country’s nuclear program. “It doesn’t make sense. That is why I will veto any new sanctions bill that threatens to undo this progress. The American people expect us to only go to war as a last resort, and I intend to stay true to that wisdom.”
The administration has tried for a year to reach a deal with Iran that would spur Iran to dismantle parts of its nuclear program. The U.S. moved towards easing some sanctions when the negotiations began, but the deal stalled in November, and the U.S. and allies extended the negotiations by seven months. Republicans in Congress were infuriated by the extension and many would like to see new sanctions placed on Iran.
They also have little faith that Iran is negotiating in good faith.
“He expects us to stand idly by and do nothing while he cuts a bad deal with Iran,” Boehner said. “Two words: ‘Hell no!’ We’re going to do no such thing. “
Boehner said he did not consult with the White House before inviting the Israeli prime minister to address Congress, which is the normal protocol for a visiting head of state. The White House, meanwhile, says the president will not meet with Netanyahu during the visit.
While the shadowboxing between Obama and Congress embroiled the capital, it’s not clear how much Americans are paying attention, said Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute, a think tank focused on military issues.
In Ukraine, “we’re in a potential face off with another nuclear power, and that nuclear power really worries about us attacking them,” he said. And in the Middle East, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and now Yemen are failing “and ISIS is potentially filling the vacuum.”
“There are overseas threats today that could greatly damage the United States,” Thompson said. “But they are not a top political issue.”
he’s skeptical that the negotiations with Iran will yield a deal. Iran “is able to expand its sphere of influence in Yemen, Lebanon and Iraq — throughout the Middle East — at the same time they continue to pursue nuclear capability and more important, ICBM capability that would reach the United States,” he said.
Turner, too, is attempting to put pressure on the administration over Russian President Vladimir Putin’s threats to deploy nuclear weapons in Crimea. Turner and Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., wrote letters to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Secretary of State John Kerry last week urging a strong response to the threats.
“Such provocative and illegal use of its nuclear forces signals a dangerous escalation in Russia’s recent aggression and poses a new military threat to U.S. allies and deployed forces in Europe,” they wrote. “We believe it is well past time for the U.S. to respond assertively to defend its interests.”
Even on issues both Obama and Republicans agree on — the need for Congress to authorize military force against ISIL — the GOP is frustrated. They say Obama has called for an authorization of force as far back as last fall, but he has yet to send them a formal request.
“Typically what happens is the president would send to Congress a resolution and then campaign to get it passed,” Boehner said in an interview last week. “But I do think there’s going to be a resolution at some point in the Senate, I think we’ll have hearings and we’re going to have a good debate.”
Columbus area Rep. Joyce Beatty, D-Jefferson Twp., said she looks forward to that dialogue.
“We need to proceed with a lot of caution,” she said. “We don’t want a nuclear armed Iran with the capacity to launch a strike against Israel or any other country.”
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