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War with Iran? Sherrod Brown Is the Firewall

By Robert Naiman

December 21, 2013 "Information Clearing House - In the halcyon days of your misspent youth, you happily wasted hours reading Sherlock Holmes mysteries instead of doing boring homework. And thus, you remember this famous passage from Silver Blaze:

Gregory (Scotland Yard detective): "Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"
Holmes: "To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."
Gregory: "The dog did nothing in the night-time."
Holmes: "That was the curious incident."

The curious incident of Senator Menendez' war with Iran bill is that Ohio Democrat Sherrod Brown hasn't agreed to co-sponsor it.

On December 19, New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez introduced new sanctions on Iran in open defiance of the Obama Administration's demand that Congress hold off on new sanctions on Iran while the Administration works to negotiate a comprehensive final agreement restricting Iran's nuclear program to transparently peaceful purposes. The Administration has argued that new sanctions now would tank diplomatic negotiations with Iran and leave military force as the only option for restricting Iran's nuclear program. Thus, the Menendez bill is a recipe for war.

The following 12 Democratic Senators are original co-sponsors of the anti-Obama Menendez-AIPAC war with Iran bill: Menendez, Schumer, Cardin, Casey, Coons, Blumenthal, Begich, Pryor, Landrieu, Gillibrand, Hagan, and Donnelly.

Note that Ohio Democrat Sherrod Brown was not among the signers.

Well, suppose that you don't closely follow these issues. You might think: of course not! Sherrod Brown is a progressive champion! Why would he sign Menendez' war with Iran bill?

On February 28, Republican Senator and AIPAC champion Lindsey Graham introduced a bill "pre-endorsing" an Israeli attack on Iran, known at the time as the "back door to war" bill, because it's widely believed in Washington that if Israel were to attack Iran with U.S. approval, the U.S. would be extremely likely to be drawn in to direct military conflict with Iran.

The following 11 Democrats still serving in the Senate were original co-sponsors of Graham's "back door to war" bill (which was subsequently watered down and then passed overwhelmingly): Menendez, Schumer, Boxer, Casey, Gillibrand, Blumenthal, Cardin, Begich, Sherrod Brown, Wyden, and Manchin.

Note the significant overlap. The following 7 Democrats were original co-sponsors of both bills: Menendez, Schumer, Cardin, Casey, Blumenthal, Begich, and Gillibrand. Note that two of these seven Democrats are from New York. For the purposes of the present discussion, let's place all seven of these Democrats in the "lost cause," AIPAC-uber-alles category.

Four Democratic Senators who were original co-sponsors of the earlier Graham bill have not signed the Menendez bill: Boxer, Sherrod Brown, Wyden, and Manchin.

Two of these, Boxer and Wyden, have recently come out strongly in support of the Obama Administration's diplomacy with Iran and against new sanctions, specifically criticizing the Menendez bill. They were among ten Senate committee chairs who just sent a letter to Majority Leader Reid warning that the Menendez bill could blow up negotiations with Iran: Banking Chair Tim Johnson, Intelligence Chair Dianne Feinstein, Armed Services Chair Carl Levin, Appropriations Chair Barbara Mikulski, Commerce Chair John Rockefeller, Environment and Public Works Chair Barbara Boxer, Homeland Security and Government Affairs Chair Thomas Carper, Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy, Energy and Natural Resources Chair Ron Wyden, and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chair Tom Harkin.

So, for the purposes of this discussion, we can say that Boxer and Wyden are now firmly in the pro-Obama diplomacy camp.

That leaves us to consider Sherrod Brown and Joe Manchin as not necessarily totally nailed down in the pro-Obama diplomacy camp.

Both have made moderately pro-diplomacy statements since the interim deal was announced. Here's how the Dayton Daily News reported Sherrod Brown's reaction to the interim nuclear deal:

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, however, argued that the deal will allow weapons inspectors to do their work while the Obama administration negotiates a permanent agreement.

"It's critical that we continue to make progress in addressing Iran's nuclear program," he said. "The next six months will be critical, and if real progress is not made Congress stands prepared to act."

 

Here's how the Charleston Gazette reported Joe Manchin's reaction to the interim deal:

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., told the Charleston Gazette that he "will never support a nuclear Iran, but I am optimistic about the diplomatic agreement over Iran's nuclear program.

"I fully understand and appreciate the skepticism of many of my colleagues and world leaders. I have always said that being a superpower means more than super military might; it means super diplomacy and super restraint," Manchin said.

"When a possibility for peace presents itself, no matter how distant or unlikely, we have an obligation to pursue it. Strong international sanctions brought Iran to the negotiating table, and the resulting interim agreement is an important first step that could make our world more secure.

"However, Iran must know that the United States stands by Israel in their commitment to prevent Iran from ever acquiring a nuclear weapon and threatening the safety of the region and world," Manchin added.

But, as far as I have been able to establish, neither one has explicitly ruled out voting for a new sanctions bill now; neither one has pledged not to co-sponsor the Menendez bill.

At this point, if you don't follow these issues, your natural inclination might be to say: well, if they haven't done anything bad yet, let's give them the benefit of the doubt; innocent until proven guilty.

The problem with that view in this context that once a Member of Congress co-sponsors a bad bill, it's almost impossible to get them off of it. If you wait for the crime to be committed to take action, there's little realistic prospect of undoing the crime. And this one is for all the marbles.

You can bet your bottom dollar that I am not the first person to compare the Democrats who were original co-sponsors of the Graham bill to the Democrats who were original co-sponsors of the Menendez bill. You can bet your bottom dollar that someone who works for AIPAC has made the same analysis. And thus, you can bet your bottom dollar that AIPAC has Sherrod Brown and Joe Manchin in its sights, and is going to be trying to put the heavy hurt on them to sign the Menendez bill.

With all due respect to the good people of West Virginia, Sherrod Brown is more important, for two reasons.

First, Sherrod Brown has a significant national progressive profile. If you ask the average progressive Democratic activist who Sherrod Brown is, they'll say: Sherrod Brown stands tall for America's working families. Sherrod Brown stands up to the banks. Sherrod Brown stands up to the corporate trade agenda. So, if AIPAC flips Sherrod Brown against the President's Iran diplomacy, it's a devastating blow to the pro-peace forces. If Republicans attack the President's Iran diplomacy, you can dismiss it as partisan sniping. If an acknowledged champion of America's working families attacks the President's Iran diplomacy, we're in deep trouble.

Second, while West Virginia has many virtues, it is not known as a stronghold of the peace movement. Obama got clobbered there by Hillary.

Ohio is a different story. Kent State is in Ohio. In Ohio, you have peace advocates who humiliate warmongering government officials on global TV.

Buckeyes, you know what to do. Sherrod Brown is the firewall to prevent war with Iran. Tell Senator Brown: pledge to oppose new sanctions on Iran, including the Menendez bill.

Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy. Mr. Naiman edits the Just Foreign Policy daily news summary and writes on U.S. foreign policy at Huffington Post. Naiman has worked as a policy analyst and researcher at the Center for Economic and Policy Research and Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch. He has masters degrees in economics and mathematics from the University of Illinois and has studied and worked in the Middle East.

Follow Robert Naiman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/naiman

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