June 11, 2019


The Biggest Barrier to a Leftist Foreign Policy: Democrats: When it comes to Iran, Israel, and Latin America, Democratic leaders are closer in mindset to the Trump administration than you might think. (TYLER BELLSTROM, June 11, 2019, New Republic)

Democratic leadership on foreign relations is symbolized in no small part by Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, as the ranking Democratic member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, and Representative Eliot Engel of New York, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. And both of these individuals, while they have opposed the Trump administration's arms sales to Saudi Arabia, are closer to the Trump administration on some matters of foreign policy than one might expect. Menendez was against the Iran Deal when it was announced, believing the coordinated sanctions that were used to get Iran to the table could still coerce more concessions. Engel was also against the Iran Deal, claiming that it would not stop Iran's "destabilizing influence" in the region.

After Donald Trump, who campaigned on repealing the Iran Deal, was elected, the sanctions bill that in fact reinstituted sanctions on Iran was the "Countering Iran's Destabilizing Activities Act of 2017," which instituted sanctions on Iran and Russia at the same time, and was pushed through the House with only three Republicans voting against it based on Constitutional issues. (In the Senate then Republicans tacked on further sanctions on North Korea.) The writer of that bill was Representative Engel. On the Senate floor, Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, the temporary ranking member for the Democrats credited Senator Menendez as the "leader on Iran sanctions," and Menendez said this was about sending a message to Iran about "violating the international order."

This wide-ranging piece of legislation put sanctions on North Koreans and their state-run businesses, Russian government officials and affiliated oligarchs for their activity in Ukraine, and Iranian nationals involved in the ballistic missile program and fighting in Syria. Every Democratic representative in the House voted for the bill. The only Democratic lawmaker to vote against it was Senator Bernie Sanders, who spoke on the floor of his fear that sanctioning Iran would lead Iran to exit JCPOA. While many media figures understandably, in the wake of the election, focused on the Russia sanctions the bill included, the Iranian sanctions furthered undermined Iranian-American relations. One year later Trump unilaterally pulled out of the Iran Deal, saying the deal did not address Iranian ballistic missiles or its destabilizing behavior in the region. On this subject, Democratic lawmakers were closer to the current administration's views than Obama's: In fact, the twelve conditions Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that Iran would have to meet before the United States is willing to withdraw sanctions bore remarkable resemblance to those mentioned in the Countering Iran's Destabilizing Activities Act, including withdrawal from Syria and ceasing the ballistic missile program.

Senator Menendez also opposed President Obama's "Cuban Thaw," something he called naïve. "There is no reason that Cuba will reform just because the American president believes that, if he extends his hand in peace, the Castro brothers will suddenly unclench their fists," he wrote in USA Today in 2014. He applauded Trump's rollback of Obama's diplomatic achievement in 2017 but even claimed it didn't go far enough in punishing the "Castro regime": The United States, he argued, "was enriching a dictator at the expense of democracy and basic human rights."

This Cold War view of Latin America seems to extend to Venezuela as well. Both Menendez and Engel have sided with the Trump administration in backing of Juan Guiado as the rightful president of Venezuela. Neither have objected to the choice of Elliot Abrams--who helped coordinate right-wing, human rights-violating paramilitaries in Latin America in the Reagan administration--as new special envoy to Venezuela. They have stopped short of allowing an authorization for military force, and have spoken "with concern" about new extreme sanctions that Trump administration have put on Venezuela's oil companies. But they have also called for Maduro's resignation, and have not backed Bernie Sanders' or Representative Ro Khanna's proposals for a negotiated settlement and new elections. Menendez has criticized Sanders' refusal to call Maduro a dictator, a label in that in the establishment thinking allows for forced regime change.

Posted by at June 11, 2019 4:00 AM