Return to the table with Iran
President Biden made the idea of rejoining the nuclear agreement with Iran (JCPOA) a part of his early agenda. But Biden has been hedging somewhat, and reality has so far not matched the idea. Nearly two months into his administration, the fate of the Iran deal remains uncertain. Rather than abide by his campaign promise to return the U.S. to the nuclear deal, the Biden team has done nothing to reverse Trump’s failed “maximum pressure” policy that imposed crushing sanctions on a nation of 83 million people amidst a global pandemic. The longer Iran and the U.S. remain in a political deadlock, the greater the risk of escalating tensions in the Middle East, of bringing Iran closer to having nuclear weapons capability, and of irreparably harming the road to diplomacy.
In response to the deadlock, On February 24 Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey re-introduced the Iran Diplomacy Act from the previous Congress, meant “To seek a diplomatic resolution to Iran's nuclear program…” This year’s bill number is S.434. It calls on both the U.S. and Iran (as well as the other five nations involved) to resume efforts to implement and hopefully strengthen the deal, and for the U.S. to become pro-active about relieving the sanctions on Iran that Trump leveled, and aiding Iran in its struggle against COVID. Senator Dianne Feinstein is a co-sponsor of the measure, Sen. Alex Padilla is not yet.
It is important for Congress – beginning with the Senate – to put pressure on the Biden administration for a prompt and decisive return to the JCPOA…especially in light of a recent bipartisan and bicameral letter from Congress calling for Biden to toughen his stance on Iran and exact agreements on other issues regarding Iran. The strength of the JCPOA was its narrow focus on nuclear weapons issues, the resolution of which could be followed by other matters that divide our two nations. We need to resolve this one first.
Action: Contact Sen. Padilla and tell him to co-sponsor S.434, the Iran Diplomacy Act. Remind him of the limited window of opportunity to de-escalate tensions with Iran, and that he should be part of the Senate’s effort to weigh in on our countries’ relations. (If you have time, thank Senator Feinstein for her support of the bill.) Then, call on Biden himself to take steps to restore and rejoin the deal.
Vaccine, yes – nuclear missiles, no
The first step this year in an unfathomable $1.7 trillion nuclear weapons modernization effort is the proposal for an initial $100 billion, for the Ground-based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) – projected to cost a total of $264 billion by the time it’s completed. The program’s goal is an upgrade of missile systems in silos around the U.S., mostly in the northern Midwest.
The systems and silos mostly exist to be a vulnerable “nuclear sponge” in case of an enemy attack, to which we might respond with air- and sea- based nuclear weapons. In short, the ground-based silos exist to help “win” a nuclear war – a relative term considering the resulting destruction likely done to the earth and much of its population. The possibility of a false attack warning, which has already happened more times than publicly known, would make GBSD a typically dangerous and expensive part of the nuclear “triad”. It also makes populations subject to sacrifice in areas where the silos exist.
Enter once again Sen. Markey, along with South Bay Rep. Ro Khanna, who at the end of March introduced respective versions of the “Investing in Cures Before Missiles” (ICBM) Act. Too new at press time to have bill numbers, the measure first diverts $1 billion from the proposed program to funding for a universal COVID vaccine…“a vaccine of mass prevention before another new land-based weapon of mass destruction on” as Markey put it. It redirects additional GBSD funding to prevention of future bio-threats. And it would launch an independent study to “explore viable technical solutions to extend the Minuteman III” intercontinental ballistic missile to 2050. While we would prefer no such missiles exist, that provision would stop extra money for anything new like them.
Overall, the ICBM Act takes steps to redirect funding from arms-contractors’ needs to human needs. “With all of the global challenges we face,” said Khanna, “the last thing we should be doing is giving billions to defense contractors to build missiles we don’t need to keep as a strong nuclear deterrence.”
Action: Contact Sens. Feinstein and Padilla and urge their co-sponsorship of the Senate version of the Investing in Cures Before Missiles Act. Likewise tell Rep. Jackie Speier or Anna Eshoo, or whomever represents you, to co-sponsor the House version. Suggest that getting rid of COVID and other possible diseases would be far better for our national security than a new $100 billion missile system.
War – A Legislative, Not an Executive Decision
Two generations of Bush presidents have started wars in Iraq, and in both cases Congress ceded that authority, through an Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF). Since then, we saw the privilege abused when Donald Trump used the 2002 version to justify the killing of Iran Gen. Qassem Soleimani – an act that heightened tensions between the U.S. and Iran. Other such military actions have also been subjects for AUMF-related debate.
In early March, Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.) led a bipartisan group of senators in introducing S.J. Res 10, a bill to repeal the 1991 and 2002 AUMFs. There is also a 2001 AUMF relating to the war on terrorism, but that is currently not a target of Senate legislation, with the emphasis remaining on the Iraq wars. Rep. Barbara Lee in January re-introduced bills in the House to repeal both AUMFs (and both are co-sponsored by both Reps. Speier and Eshoo), but it is the one focusing on the Iraq wars that will get more attention.
Last year Lee’s bill passed the House, but got nowhere in the Republican-controlled Senate. This year, with the Democrats in control of at least the Senate agenda, the AUMF repeal will gain more traction and, perhaps with enough push, passage. President Biden has said he is willing to work with Congress on crafting a more narrow overall war authorization; for now Congress will work with the one on Iraq.
Action: Contact Sens. Feinstein and Padilla to urge their support for Senator Kaine’s S.J. Res 10, repealing the Iraq-based AUMFs. Suggest that it is time for Congress to be a counterbalance to the White House when it comes to war authority.
Capitol Switchboard: 202-224-3121
Senator Dianne Feinstein
One Post St., Ste 2450 San Francisco, CA 94104
(202) 224-3841 fax: (202) 228-3954
(415) 393-0707 fax (415)393-0710
Senator Alex Padilla
333 Bush Street, Ste. 3225 San Francisco, CA 94104
(202) 224-3553 fax: (202) 224-2200
Representative Jackie Speier
155 Bovet Rd., Ste 780 San Mateo, CA 94402
(202) 225-3531 fax: (202) 226-4183
(650) 342-0300 (650) 375-8270
Representative Anna Eshoo
698 Emerson Street Palo Alto, CA 94301
(202) 225-8104 fax: (202) 225-8890
(650) 323-2984 (650) 323-3498
President Joe Biden
The White House
(202)456-1111: fax: (202)456-2461
Find out who your Representative is: www.house.gov
If you are not in California, identify your senators here: www.senate.gov