Today’s Vote by the UN Security Council: A Dark Day for US Democracy

I have not decided definitively on the merits of the Iran Deal but am inclined to support it despite its manifest shortcomings. This being said, I am flabbergasted that Team Obama permitted the deal to be submitted to, and voted upon by, the UN Security Council before the US Congress has had a chance to express its opinion of the deal.

How dare the White House permit this vote to take place and order UN Ambassador Samantha Power to vote in favor of this resolution before Congress votes on the deal. This is to present the Congress with a fait accompli and to permit the UN’s sanctions against Iran to lapse irrespective of the eventual judgment of the Congress. Not only does this put pressure on Congress to vote for the deal, but it also guts the sanctions regime against Iran without regard for the workings of the democratic process in the US.

Should the Congress now decide against the deal, the US vote in the Security Council today would have already ended the international sanctions against Iran. Sure, the US Congress could vote against the deal and decide to continue US economic sanctions against Iran, but this would have relatively little effect on Iran if the rest of the world has already begun trading again with Iran without any restriction.

To have proceeded in this way is utterly outrageous behavior on the part of the administration, and should be seen as such irrespective of whether one favors or opposes the deal. It is contemptibly imperious and politically far more highhanded than Boehner’s decision to invite Bibi to speak to the Congress last spring. Democratic and Republican members of Congress should be outraged at this executive trampling upon the democratic branch of the federal government, and should indeed treat this as worthy of censure. Not that I expect they will do so.

Finally, on a positive note, there is one good thing to report about the UN Security Council vote. It does specify a plausible mechanism for “snapping back” the sanctions if there is a dispute between Iran and the p5+1. An unresolved inspection issue will automatically trigger snapback unless there is a Security Council vote to stop the snapback of sanctions from taking place.

But the larger point is that the Obama Administration should not have permitted this vote before Congress has its say on the deal. Indeed it should be clear to all that this is a very dark day for American democracy.

About the Author
Trained as a political theorist at Columbia University and in Religious Studies at Harvard, Michael Gottsegen (Ph.D., 1989) has worked in and out of academia since the early 1990s, having taught at Columbia and Brandeis before coming to Brown. A book based on his thesis, "The Political Thought of Hannah Arendt," was published in 1994.