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House Passes Symbolic Iran Sanctions Bill

Why nothing has happened and everybody has won

Allison Hoffman
December 16, 2009

Last night, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 412-12 in favor of legislation intended to punish Iran for pursuing its nuclear program. But the bill, introduced by Rep. Howard Berman, a California Democrat (and, yes, Jewish), would not directly impose sanctions on Iran itself; rather, it would bar the mostly European oil companies that do business with Iran from doing business in the United States. Which may be why the White House, anxious about alienating countries whose support is needed for more direct sanctions proposals at the United Nations, has been pushing hard to slow the progress of companion legislation in the Senate. That leaves the broad array of Jewish groups that backed the Berman bill—everyone from AIPAC to J Street—at loggerheads with President Barack Obama and Sen. John Kerry (D-Massachusetts), who controls the bill’s fate in the Senate, as JTA’s Ron Kampeas noted yesterday.

Except … it doesn’t, really. Since the whole effort is merely an exercise in political saber-rattling anyway, everyone is both having and eating their respective cakes: hawks—Jewish or not—can say Congress is willing to move against Iran, with or without help from other countries; and Obama can still go to prospective allies and say he’d like their help, and actually, hey, could they please get on board sooner rather than later, because Congress is getting a little restive, you know? “The administration did not say, ‘Go ahead,’ and they did not tell me not to go ahead,” Berman told reporters yesterday. And what did Israel—whose security is a key part of why everyone’s so worried about Iran getting nuclear weapons—say? Ambassador Michael Oren “deeply appreciates” the U.S. effort to stop Iran from getting the bomb. Win-win-win.

Allison Hoffman is the executive editor of CNN Politics.