Republicans stoke war with Russia to derail peace with Iran
A political gambit buried in the House GOP's letter to Biden threatens to escalate hostilities with both countries.
House Republicans have sent the Biden administration a letter voicing their opposition to its efforts to reach a nuclear deal with Iran. Following just ten days after a a nearly identical statement from Senate Republicans, the letter suggests significant consensus among the party and reflects a sharp partisan divide, as a new Morning Consult poll makes clear:
The House’s letter frames their opposition to the deal as opposition to a deal without Congressional approval, and my guess is that this is how it will be defended among its libertarian faction — as an innocuous attempt to return oversight power to the legislature. But repeatedly, the letter also makes it clear that the GOP also opposes “sanctions relief that will fuel the regime’s corruption” on a policy level, and without a serious effort to pass legislation limiting the executive’s power in general I do not think anyone needs to take their rhetoric seriously.
That said, since most of the coverage I’ve read seems to have overlooked it, I want to draw attention to a particularly sinister item buried near the letter’s end:
7) As part of our legislative oversight responsibility, we will investigate any connections between the negotiations in Vienna over Iran’s illicit nuclear program—in which we are relying upon the Russians as our intermediary because the Iranians refuse to negotiate with us directly—and the negotiations with the Russians regarding their invasion of Ukraine. If your dependency on the Russians to revive the JCPOA is weakening our deterrent posture with the Russians in other areas of the world, the American people deserve to know.
Translation: the United States has depended on Russia to serve as a middleman in negotiations with Iran. So Republicans are using this to suggest that if Biden manages to make a deal with Iran, it will be because he pulled his punches in Ukraine and thereby gained Russia’s assistance.
This is an absolutely monstrous gambit. The GOP is hoping to peel support off Biden’s supporters among people who are anxious about Russia by promoting a narrative where any deal he cuts with Iran implies a backchannel deal with Putin as well. And where any de-escalation in Ukraine implies the same thing. This is the familiar attempt to position themselves as the party of war by painting Democrats as weak appeasers, and they are doing it by creating costs for a peace in both arenas. And they are also, of course, stoking hostility towards Russia among Americans in order to use it as leverage.
The notion that Russia can and is likely to leverage its diplomatic position in the Vienna talks towards extracting concessions from the US in Ukraine is a reach even for our country’s famously untethered warhawks. One of the only places I’ve seen it is from Anna Borshchevskaya — a creature of the blob if ever there was one — who writes that
the West still perceives Iran as a paramount threat, so Putin can keep using this fact as leverage in other theaters, perhaps even signaling that he will be more helpful with Tehran if Washington accommodates him on Ukraine…Western policymakers may wish to believe that Russia can be helpful on Iran even if it makes harmful moves against Ukraine, but they need to see the bigger picture…
If you think the AIPAC front that published this did so out of concern for the people of Ukraine and a disinterested evaluation of Russian-US relations rather than out of rabid opposition to a deal with Tehran, I’ve got some NFTs to sell you.
This letter, in any case, should throw cold water on recent fantasies about the GOP becoming the party of peace and sane international relations. Not only are they ramping up tensions with Iran and signaling their clear support for brutal and useless sanctions, they’re also reminding us that improved diplomacy with Russia isn’t in the cards either, and that they’re more than willing to stoke the fires of war in Ukraine to win a few points with voters.