Sanctioning Evil

President Obama did something recently that no president had done since Bill Clinton in 1995: he allowed a bill to become law without his signature.

According to the “presentment clause” in article I, section, 7, clause 2 of the Constitution:

Every Bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it become a Law, be presented to the President of the United States; If he approve he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it, with his Objections to that House in which it shall have originated, who shall enter the Objections at large on their Journal, and proceed to reconsider it. If after such Reconsideration two thirds of that House shall agree to pass the Bill, it shall be sent, together with the Objections, to the other House, by which it shall likewise be reconsidered, and if approved by two thirds of that House, it shall become a Law. But in all such Cases the Votes of both Houses shall be determined by yeas and Nays, and the Names of the Persons voting for and against the Bill shall be entered on the Journal of each House respectively. If any Bill shall not be returned by the President within ten Days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to him, the Same shall be a Law, in like Manner as if he had signed it, unless the Congress by their Adjournment prevent its Return, in which Case it shall not be a Law.

The Iran Sanctions Extension Act (H.R.6297) became Public Law No. 114-277 on December 15 after the president neglected to sign or veto the bill presented to him by Congress on December 2. According to White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest: “We find ourselves in a situation that I’m not sure that we’ve encountered in eight years, which is that the bill doesn’t meet the standard of something that we would veto, but it’s also not something that the administration believes is necessary.” A bill becoming law without the president’s signature has only happened twenty-eight times since 1951.

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Contrary to Obama’s reservations about the bill, the members of the House and Senate, with just one exception, wholeheartedly endorsed it. The bill was introduced in the House on November 14 by Rep. Edward Royce (R-CA), and had both Democratic and Republican cosponsors. It passed the very next day by a vote of 419-1. Fourteen representatives didn’t vote. Only Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) voted against sanctioning evil. The bill then passed the Senate on December 1 by a vote of 99-0. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) did not vote. All the Shahu2019s Men... Stephen Kinzer Best Price: $0.93 Buy New $11.21 (as of 02:05 EDT - Details)

The Iran Sanctions Extension Act is actually one of the shortest bills that Congress has ever passed. The text of the bill simply reads:

Section 13(b) of the Iran Sanctions Act of 1996 (Public Law 104–172; 50 U.S.C. 1701 note) is amended by striking “December 31, 2016” and inserting “December 31, 2026”.

That’s it. It merely reauthorizes the Iran Sanctions Act for another ten years. The Iran Sanctions Act was enacted in 1996 (H.R.3107, PL 104-172) as the Iran and Libya Sanctions Act. It was reauthorized for another five years in 2001 (H.R.1954, PL 107-24), renamed the Iran Sanctions Act and reauthorized for another five years in 2006 (H.R. 6198, PL 109-293), and reauthorized again for another five years in 2010 (H.R.2194, PL 111-195).

The original bill and the first three reauthorizations passed the Senate by unanimous consent. The third reauthorization also had a roll call vote on the final passage of the bill. The vote was 99-0. In the House, the original bill passed with no opposition, the 2001 reauthorization received only six “no” votes, the 2006 reauthorization passed by voice vote, and the 2010 reauthorization received only twelve “no” votes when it was initially voted on and eight on the final passage of the bill. The heroic Ron Paul, who cast the sole Republican “no” vote in 2001 and was among the handful of Republicans who voted “no” in 2010, consistently and steadfastly throughout his tenure in Congress called efforts to impose sanctions on Iran an act of war.

Sanctions are administered and enforced by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the Department of the Treasury “based on US foreign policy and national security goals against targeted foreign countries and regimes, terrorists, international narcotics traffickers, those engaged in activities related to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and other threats to the national security, foreign policy or economy of the United States.”

To understand the provisions of the Iran Sanctions Act in light of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the “Iran Deal”) and the effects of sanctions on Iran, you can read this new report by the Congressional Research Service.

But rather than concentrating on how U.S. sanctions have negatively impacted Iranians, I want to point out how these, and all other U.S. government-imposed sanctions, harm Americans.

Sanctions are anti-American. They are an assault on Americans’ personal liberty, economic liberty, and property rights. They are also an insult to their intelligence. King James, His Bible,... Laurence M. Vance Best Price: $15.36 Buy New $19.95 (as of 07:20 EDT - Details)

All Americans, individually or collectively as businesses, have the natural right, for any reason, to engage in commerce with, export to, import from, invest in, travel to, have cultural exchanges with, or spend money in any other country, irrespective of that country’s government or government policies, without permission from or regulation by the U.S. government.

In a free society they do. America is the “land of the free,” is it not?

But what about the Iran Hostage Crisis in 1979-1981? Yeah, what about the U.S. government overthrowing the government of Iran in 1953 (see Stephen Kinzer, All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror, 2003) and supporting the brutal Shah of Iran for twenty-five years?

But what about Iran’s attempt to acquire nuclear weapons? You mean the attempt that

U.S. intelligence agencies told us, with high confidence, in 2007 and 2011, did not exist. Iran is a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, a treaty that Israel has refused to sign.

But what about the way the government of Iran treats its people? The U.S. government doesn’t seem to have much of a problem with the way that its ally Saudi Arabia—a repressive and theocratic dictatorship—treats its people. Why should Americans have their freedom infringed or destroyed because the government of Iran infringes or destroys the freedom of its citizenry? One can trade and be friendly with other countries without endorsing every single thing about their economic or political systems.

It is up to Americans and American businesses to decide whether to interact with the people, businesses, or government of Iran or any other country. It is not the job of the U.S. government to decide these things for them.

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