It is hard to go against the overwhelming majority of members of Congress, even when the overwhelming majority is wrong.
But eight House members did just that last week, when they opposed the ill-thought "Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act."
Six Democrats — Washington’s Brian Baird, Wisconsin’s Tammy Baldwin, Oregon’s Earl Blumenauer, Michigan’s John Conyers, Ohio’s Dennis Kucinich and California’s Pete Stark — were joined by two Republicans, Arizona’s Jeff Flake and Texan Ron Paul.
California Democrat Maxine Waters voted "present."
Several of the eight "no" voters had records of wise, if frequently lonely, opposition to kneejerk policymaking in the region.
Kucinich, for instance, has argued in voting against several sanctions proposals that congressional showboating regarding Iran "obstructs the Obama Administration’s ongoing negotiations with Iran, amounts to economic warfare against the Iranian people and brings us closer to an unnecessary and possibly military confrontation with Iran."
Baldwin has long been critical of moves that she correctly fears "will impair the United States’ ability to work with our allies in pursuit of a diplomatic solution in dealing with Iran’s nuclear ambitions."
She has also pointed out, correctly, that members of Congress should be wary of moves that "will not have any effect on changing the Iranian government’s behavior" but tha are likely to "hurt the Iranian people" and potentially "engender a backlash by Iranians against the U.S. – not the Iranian regime."
These are the words of a member of Congress who takes seriously her duties when it comes to providing advice and consent on U.S. foreign policy.
Baldwin’s advice is sound.
Unfortunately, it is nwas not ot taken by the vast majority of her colleagues.
Also dismissed were the warnings from diplomats, arms-control specialists and proponents of democratic reform in Iran, all of whom argued that this legislation would do harm to prospects for peaceful resolution of disputes between that country and the U.S. and its allies.
There is no question that Iran is on a dangerous and misguided course. The current president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is an unsettling character who has treated his own people brutally while threatening neighboring countries and developing a nuclear program that western nation’s, at the very least, fear could ultimately engage in the development of weapons.
The world has a stake in making sure that Iran does not develop those weapons and in encouraging the democratic turn that so many young Iranians want to make, as United Nations actions to isolate and penalize the Iranians indicate.
But over-the-top and unilateral sanctions schemes, like those outlined in the "Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act" do not push Iran in the right direction. Rather, they push Iran into closer relationships with Russian and Pakistan, countries that have unstable nuclear arsenals or that appear to be in the process of developing them.
Savvy analysts argued against the legislation that was being rushed through the House and Senate for symbolic political reasons, rather than as part of a serious move to promote disarmament, democracy and stability in the Middle East and southern Asia.
Members of the Obama administration tried to encourage the Congress to craft smarter legislation and, to some extent, they have improved the sanctions bill. But when it got to the floors of the House and Senate, it remained unsound.
The Senate vote for the measure was 99-0.
The House passed it by a 408-8 vote.
It is singificant to note that there was no partisan or ideological pattern to the "no" votes.
Most of the Democratic "no" votes came from progressives, including senior members Conyers and Stark. But Baird is a long-standing member of the centrist New Democrat Caucus. Republican Paul is the chamber’s steadiest libertarian member, while Flake is a passionate free-market conservative who has often been critical of sanctions schemes as simplistic and ineffectual. Additionally, Flake has for a number of years argued that "unilateral sanctions may undermine the (ability of U.S. administrations) to act in concert with our allies with regard to Iran."
So the "no" voters were not entirely isolated — as least not as isolated as, for instance, Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold was when he cast that solo Senate vote against the U.S. Patriot Act back in the fall of 2001, or when California Congresswoman Barbara Lee opposed the first "war on terror" resolution.
But they were lonely.
And, of course, right.