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Archive for the ‘Foreign Relations’ Category

Gas for Europe, Indigestion for Russia

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

Giving gas to Europe could give indigestion to Russia.

That’s the evident idea behind H.R. 6, the Domestic Prosperity and Global Freedom Act, introduced by Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO). It’s been given one of the first ten bill numbers reserved by House Republicans for their marquee bills. (Democrats have H.R. 11 through H.R. 20.)

Part of what positions Russia to try to snip Crimea off of Ukraine while the latter country is in political turmoil is the power Russia has to control Ukrainian and European access to natural gas. Europe has little stomach for challenging Russia. Russia would respond to any belligerence or economic sanctions by cutting off a major source of European energy.

The solution, according to Gardner’s bill, is to start shipping natural gas to Europe, and to do so quickly. The bill would push approvals to sell U.S. natural gas through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

It’s interesting how economic power equals national power, and this is a clear example. Ukraine and western Europe have given power to Russia by letting it become their major supplier of energy. Turns out Russia is willing to take advantage of that power.

Should the United States re-balance the scales? That, as always, is up to you.

Here is the current vote on H.R. 6, the Domestic Prosperity and Global Freedom Act. Click to vote, comment, learn more, or edit the wiki article about the bill.

A Nuclear Deal with Iran

Sunday, November 24th, 2013

If you’re all about the politics, the nuclear deal with Iran and the Senate’s exercise of the “nuclear option” are both meant to distract from the Obamacare debacle. It may be true with respect to the Senate reversing its long practice of requiring the approval of 60 senators to proceed with debate on appointments and bills.

The Senate has eliminated the use of the filibuster on executive branch nominees and judicial nominees other than to the Supreme Court. Maybe that was meant to take conservatives off the Obamacare scent.

But even a president of the United States can’t time a nuclear deal with Iran to move the headlines off of his floundering health care program. The deal with Iran should be considered independent of its effect on domestic U.S. politics.

The six-month deal is meant to allow further negotiations to continue.

As reported by the Guardian, the Iranians have committed to:

• stop enriching uranium above 5% and dilute its stock of 20%-enriched uranium or convert it to oxide, which makes it harder to enrich further.

• not to increase its stockpile of low-enrichment uranium.

• freeze its enrichment capacity by not installing any more centrifuges, leaving more than half of its existing 16,000 centrifuges inoperable.

• not to fuel or to commission the heavy-water reactor it is building in Arak or build a reprocessing plant that could produce plutonium from the spent fuel.

• accept more intrusive nuclear inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency, including daily visits to some facilities.

In exchange, the U.S. will release just over $4 billion in Iranian oil sales revenue that were in frozen accounts, and it will suspend restrictions on Iran’s trade in gold, petrochemicals, car parts, and plane parts. Count this a success for the United States’ sanctions efforts.

Israel doesn’t like the deal. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said of the deal, “What was concluded in Geneva last night is not a historic agreement, it’s a historic mistake.”

It will become more clear over time whether the Iran nuclear deal is an important success for U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, or if it is indeed a historic mistake.

Congress has been keenly interested in Iran, and additional sanctions were on the near horizon when the accord with Iran was struck. Here’s a look at the bills dealing with Iran introduced in Congress this year.

Justice for Iranian Hostages: A Question of Values

Sunday, October 27th, 2013

Every bill in Congress is an expression of values, one way or another. A bill to award benefits to Americans held hostage in Iran is a clear and interesting example.

If you’re old enough, you remember it well. From late 1979 to early 1981, fifty-two Americans, mostly military and diplomatic personnel, were held hostage in Tehran by Islamic revolutionaries following the revolution that toppled the U.S.-backed Shah of Iran.

The former hostages and their families received a number of benefits under various civil service laws, and each hostage received a cash payment of $50 for each day held hostage from the U.S. government. But the hostages have sought compensation from Iran in the courts for many years without success. An agreement known as the Algiers Accords, which freed the hostages, bars such lawsuits. So the former hostages have turned to Congress for relief.

S. 559, the Justice for Former American Hostages in Iran Act of 2013, is part of their effort.

The bill would establish a fund within the Department of the Treasury to make payments to Americans held hostage in Iran. The fund would be financed by a surcharge of 30 percent levied on monetary penalties assessed for undertaking prohibited activity with Iran.

Instead of Iran compensating the hostages, the U.S. government would, taking the money out of people who trade with Iran. The government would take in $77 million over the next ten years, and spend $102 million, increasing the national debt.

The questions of values swirl. Should Iran be required to pay, or should the U.S. government stick with the promises it made in the Algiers Accords?

How much is enough compensation for 444 days as a hostage?

Are the current sanctions against Iran an appropriate tool of influence, even if that causes the people, and not the rulers, to suffer?

Members of Congress make decisions that balance conflicting values like this all the time. What’s your decision?

Here’s the current vote on the Justice for Former American Hostages in Iran Act of 2013, introduced in the Senate by Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA). Click to vote, comment, learn more, or edit the wiki article about the bill.

Text of the Senate’s Syria Resolution

Sunday, September 8th, 2013

It hasn’t been made available on official online sources, but the text for S.J. Res. 21 is out there. You can compare it to the text that the president proposed, which is at the end of our recent post, Congress to Vote on Syria Action.

To authorize the limited and tailored use of the United States Armed Forces against Syria.

Whereas Syria is in material breach of the laws of war by having employed chemical weapons against its civilian population;

Whereas the abuses of the regime of Bashar al-Assad have included the brutal repression and war upon its own civilian population, resulting in more than 100,000 people killed in the past two years, and more than 2 million internally displaced people and Syrian refugees in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq, creating an unprecedented regional crisis and instability;

Whereas the Assad regime has the largest chemical weapons programs in the region and has demonstrated its capability and willingness to repeatedly use weapons of mass destruction against its own people, including the August 21, 2013 attack in the suburbs of Damascus in which the Assad regime murdered over 1,000 innocent people, including hundreds of children;

Whereas there is clear and compelling evidence of the direct involvement of Assad regime forces and senior officials in the planning, execution, and after-action attempts to cover-up the August 21 attack, and hide or destroy evidence of such attack;

Whereas the Arab League has declared with regards to the August 21 incident to hold the “Syrian regime responsible for this heinous crime”;

Whereas the United Nations Security Council, in Resolution 1540 (2004) affirmed that the proliferation of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons constitutes a threat to international peace and security;

Whereas in the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2003, Congress found that Syria’s acquisition of weapons of mass destruction threatens the security of the Middle East and the national security interests of the United States;

Whereas the actions and conduct of the Assad regime are in direct contravention of Syria’s legal obligations under the United Nations Charter, the Geneva Conventions, and the Geneva Protocol to the Hague Convention on the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare, and also violates standards set forth in the Chemical Weapons Convention;

Whereas Syria’s use of weapons of mass destruction and its conduct and actions constitute a grave threat to regional stability, world peace, and the national security interests of the United States and its allies and partners;

Whereas the objectives of the United States use of military force in connection with this authorization are to respond to the use, and deter and degrade the potential future use of weapons of mass destruction by the Syrian government;

Whereas the conflict in Syria will only be resolved through a negotiated political settlement, and Congress calls on all parties to the conflict in Syria to participate urgently and constructively in the Geneva process; and

Whereas the President has authority under the Constitution to use force in order to defend the national security interests of the United States:

Now, therefore, be it,

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.

This joint resolution may be cited as the “Authorization for the Use of Military Force Against the Government of Syria to Respond to Use of Chemical Weapons”.

SECTION 2. AUTHORIZATION FOR USE OF UNITED STATES ARMED FORCES.

(a) AUTHORIZATION-The President is authorized, subject to subsection (b), to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in a limited and tailored manner against legitimate military targets in Syria, only to: (1) respond to the use of weapons of mass destruction by the Syrian government in the conflict in Syria; (2) deter Syria’s use of such weapons in order to protect the national security interests of the United States and to protect our allies and partners against the use of such weapons; and (3) degrade Syria’s capacity to use such weapons in the future.

(b) REQUIREMENT FOR DETERMINATION THAT USE OF MILITARY FORCE IS NECESSARY- Before exercising the authority granted in subsection (a), the President shall make available to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President pro tempore of the Senate his determination that—

(1) the United States has used all appropriate diplomatic and other peaceful means to prevent the deployment and use of weapons of mass destruction by Syria;

(2) the Syrian government has conducted one or more significant chemical weapons attacks;

(3) the use of military force is necessary to respond to the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government;

(4) it is in the core national security interest of the United States to use such military force;

(5) the United States has a military plan to achieve the specific goals of responding to the use of weapons of mass destruction by the Syrian government in the conflict in Syria, to deter Syria’s use of such weapons in order to protect the national security interests of the United States and to protect our allies and partners against the use of such weapons, and to degrade Syria’s capacity to use such weapons in the future; and

(6) the use of military force is consistent with and furthers the goals of the United States strategy toward Syria, including achieving a negotiated political settlement to the conflict.

(c) WAR POWERS RESOLUTION REQUIREMENTS-

(1) SPECIFIC STATUTORY AUTHORIZATION- Consistent with section 8(a)(1) of the War Powers Resolution, 50 U.S.C. § 1541, et seq., the Congress declares that this section is intended to constitute specific statutory authorization within the meaning of section 5(b) of the War Powers Resolution, within the limits of the authorization established under this Section.

(2) APPLICABILITY OF OTHER REQUIREMENTS- Nothing in this resolution supersedes any requirement of the War Powers Resolution.

SECTION 3. LIMITATION. The authority granted in section 2 does not authorize the use of the United States Armed Forces on the ground in Syria for the purpose of combat operations.

SECTION 4. TERMINATION OF THE AUTHORIZATION FOR THE USE OF UNITED STATES ARMED FORCES.

The authorization in section 2(a) shall terminate 60 days after the date of the enactment of this joint resolution, except that the President may extend, for a single period of 30 days, such authorization if –

(1) the President determines and certifies to Congress, not later than 5 days before the date of termination of the initial authorization, that the extension is necessary to fulfill the purposes of this resolution as defined by Section 2(a) due to extraordinary circumstances and for ongoing and impending military operations against Syria under section 2(a); and

(2) Congress does not enact into law, before the extension of authorization, a joint resolution disapproving the extension of the authorization for the additional 30 day period; provided that any such joint resolution shall be considered under the expedited procedures otherwise provided for concurrent resolutions of disapproval contained in section 7 of the War Powers Resolution (50 U.S.C. 1546).

SECTION 5. SYRIA STRATEGY.

Not later than 30 days after the date of the enactment of this resolution, the President shall consult with Congress and submit to the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate and the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Representatives an integrated United States Government strategy for achieving a negotiated political settlement to the conflict in Syria, including a comprehensive review of current and planned U.S. diplomatic, political, economic, and military policy towards Syria, including: (1) the provision of all forms of assistance to the Syrian Supreme Military Council and other Syrian entities opposed to the government of Bashar Al-Assad that have been properly and fully vetted and share common values and interests with the United States; (2) the provision of all forms of assistance to the Syrian political opposition, including the Syrian Opposition Coalition; (3) efforts to isolate extremist and terrorist groups in Syria to prevent their influence on the future transitional and permanent Syrian governments; (4) coordination with allies and partners; and (5) efforts to limit support from the Government of Iran and others for the Syrian regime.

SECTION 6. CONGRESSIONAL NOTIFICATION AND REPORTING.

(a) Notification and Provision of Information. Upon his determination to use the authority set forth in section 2 of this Act, the President shall notify Congress, including the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee, of the use of such authority and shall keep Congress fully and currently informed of the use of such authority.

(b) Reports. No fewer than 10 days after the initiation of military operations under the authority provided by Section 2, and every 20 days thereafter until the completion of military operations, the President shall submit to the Congress, including the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee, a report on the status of such operations, including progress achieved toward the objectives specified in Section 2(a), the financial costs of operations to date, and an assessment of the impact of the operations on the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons capabilities and intentions.

SECTION 7. RULE OF CONSTRUCTION. The authority set forth in Section 2 of this resolution shall not constitute an authorization for the use of force or a declaration of war except to the extent that it authorizes military action under the conditions, for the specific purposes, and for the limited period of time set forth in this resolution.

Congress to Vote on Syria Action

Monday, September 2nd, 2013

The evidence appears to show that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces have used chemical weapons in waging its battle against the opposition to his regime. The most recent attack left more than 1,400 dead, according to American intelligence, and the horrors of chemical weapons use appear well documented.

President Obama has said for some time that the use of chemical weapons would cross a “red line.” And until this weekend, it appeared that, the red line having been crossed, he would unilaterally order an attack on Syria.

But a chorus of opposition to unilateral attack has grown in recent weeks. Many in the country are war-weary and acutely aware of the “Pottery Barn rule”in foreign policy: You break it, you bought it. An attack on Syria that topples the Assad regime could make the United States responsible for the unfolding humanitarian tragedy in Syria and that country’s political future.

So on Saturday, President Obama announced that he would not act unilaterally—though he insisted that he could. Instead, he has gotten pledges from leaders in the House and Senate that they would vote on whether or not to authorize military action against the Assad regime.

President Obama and congressional leaders face a daunting task convincing skeptical lawmakers to back a war against Syria, a Roll Call report states.

The president has sent draft language to Capitol Hill, and his team will push for the Congress to pass it. But it appear quite broad, placing no limits on the actions the administration may take and placing no time limit on American action.

When Congress returns next week, resolutions like this will be introduced in the House and Senate, though they may differ in important respects. The Congress will debate them, and may or may not come to agreement on action or inaction in Syria. History is unfolding.

You can form your own opinion about the president’s resolution, and we’ll let you know when the actual Syria resolutions get introduced. Let your member of Congress and senators know what you think any time by calling 202-224-3121 during the work week in D.C., asking for his or her office, and telling the nice person who answers where you stand.

Other bills in the current Congress dealing with Syria include:

The president’s resolution follows:

Whereas, on August 21, 2013, the Syrian government carried out a chemical weapons attack in the suburbs of Damascus, Syria, killing more than 1,000 innocent Syrians;

Whereas these flagrant actions were in violation of international norms and the laws of war;

Whereas the United States and 188 other countries comprising 98 percent of the world’s population are parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention, which prohibits the development, production, acquisition, stockpiling or use of chemical weapons;

Whereas, in the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2003, Congress found that Syria’s acquisition of weapons of mass destruction threatens the security of the Middle East and the national security interests of the United States;

Whereas the United Nations Security Council, in Resolution 1540 (2004), affirmed that the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons constitutes a threat to international peace and security;

Whereas, the objective of the United States’ use of military force in connection with this authorization should be to deter, disrupt, prevent, and degrade the potential for, future uses of chemical weapons or other weapons of mass destruction;

Whereas, the conflict in Syria will only be resolved through a negotiated political settlement, and Congress calls on all parties to the conflict in Syria to participate urgently and constructively in the Geneva process; and

Whereas, unified action by the legislative and executive branches will send a clear signal of American resolve.

SEC. ___ AUTHORIZATION FOR USE OF UNITED STATES ARMED FORCES

(a) Authorization. — The President is authorized to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in connection with the use of chemical weapons or other weapons of mass destruction in the conflict in Syria in order to —

(1) prevent or deter the use or proliferation (including the transfer to terrorist groups or other state or non-state actors), within, to or from Syria, of any weapons of mass destruction, including chemical or biological weapons or components of or materials used in such weapons; or

(2) protect the United States and its allies and partners against the threat posed by such weapons.

(b) War Powers Resolution Requirements.

(1) Specific Statutory Authorization. — Consistent with section 8(a)(1) of the War Powers Resolution, the Congress declares that this section is intended to constitute specific statutory authorization within the meaning of section 5(b) of the War Powers Resolution.

(2) Applicability of other requirements. — Nothing in this joint resolution supersedes any requirement of the War Powers Resolution.

“Friends of Hamas”: Life Imitates Comedy

Sunday, February 24th, 2013

With sequestration almost sure to begin this week, and some Americans fear of it matched by other Americans’ exasperation with them, let’s change the subject—to another confidence inspiring story of government and politics!

This week, the Senate will consider the nomination of former Republican senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE) to be Secretary of Defense. It’s unusual, of course, for a Democratic president to nominate a Republican, though President Obama has done it before with fellow Illinoisan Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

This nomination is unusual, though, because instead of extending the usual fawning appreciation senators give to each other, a number of Republicans are opposing his nomination.

The reason clusters around Hagel’s insufficient support for Israel. And that’s where the story gets funny.

On Feb. 6, a reporter at the New York Daily News called a Republican aide on Capitol Hill and asked him if they were looking into Hagel’s anti-Israel ties.

“I asked my source,” writes Dan Friedman, “had Hagel given a speech to, say, the ‘Junior League of Hezbollah, in France’? And: What about ‘Friends of Hamas’?”

Friedman was using ridiculous examples of relationships Hagel might have.

“The names were so over-the-top,” he writes, “so linked to terrorism in the Middle East, that it was clear I was talking hypothetically and hyperbolically. No one could take seriously the idea that organizations with those names existed — let alone that a former senator would speak to them.”

But wouldn’t you know it, before long, media provocation machine Breitbart was reporting on Hagel’s alleged connections to “Friends of Hamas.” And suddenly “Friends of Hamas” was all over then news.

This week, the Senate is likely to vote on Chuck Hagel’s nomination. We don’t know much more about his positions on Israel. But we do know that his opposition looks pretty silly.

Do We Really Want to Go Back Over This?

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

H.R. 2623 would establish a National Commission to Review the National Response Since the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001.

Banking as Statecraft

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

S. 1388 would “support private sector development, employment growth, rule of law, democratic reform, and accountable government in qualified transition countries in the Middle East and North Africa through the authorization of the participation by the United States in the general capital increase of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.”

We’re the International Jack LaLanne

Friday, June 17th, 2011

H.R. 2237 would promote the strengthening of the private sector in Egypt and Tunisia.

Let’s Fix Syria!

Sunday, June 5th, 2011

H.R. 2106 would strengthen sanctions against the Government of Syria, enhance multilateral commitment to address the Government of Syria’s threatening policies, and establish a program to support a transition to a democratically-elected government in Syria.