On Iran sanctions, Clinton bowed to Israel lobby in first term and corporate lobby in his second

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Bill Clinton
Bill Clinton

Sasan Fayezmanesh is a professor of Economics at California State University. Here are excerpts of a fascinating paper he wrote on the politics of Iranian sanctions in 2001. Published by California State University. Do I hear an echo? And by the way, this is why the lobby is now so desperate to get Obama on board for attacking the Central Bank of Iran in the Defense Authorization Act; it knows it will have far less suasion in a second term.

[I]n the first half of the Clinton administration, Israel, which viewed the Iranian government as a thorn in the side of its pursuit of colonial policies, began to direct the U.S. sanctions policy, using its various lobbies, think tanks, and allies in the U.S. government. However, the sanctions advocated by Israel ultimately became so severe and irrational that many countries around the world defied them. This defiance was one factor that slowed the imposition of new sanctions in the second half of the Clinton administration. Another factor in this slowdown was the concerted effort of U.S. corporations, which by then had been almost completely cut off from Iran’s vast resources and markets. Using their lobbies, think tanks, and hired hands in the government, U.S. corporations waged a massive campaign to stop the enactment of new sanctions and to remove many of the old ones. These efforts, however, were only partially successful. The partial success resulted, at the end of the Clinton administration, in an incoherent and inconsistent U.S. policy toward Iran that tried to reconcile the irreconcilable aims and interests of Israel and U.S. corporations….

[Secy of State Warren] Christopher’s accusations and name-callings were very much in accord with those of the Israeli government. Indeed, not only did the Israeli lobby exert a direct influence over the U.S. president through Martin Indyk, but it also tried to exert a direct influence over Christopher. This is evidenced, for example, by a meeting arranged in January 1993 in the office of Senator Joseph Lieberman that included Christopher, the chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, and AIPAC’s vice president and political director. According to the [January 7, 1993] New York Times article, the purpose of the meeting was to allay the fear of Jewish organizations that some of the newly appointed members of the new administration, who were veterans of the Carter administration, “might not be inclined to carry out the pro-Israel policies Mr. Clinton espoused during the campaign” …

From here onward, there was a coordinated effort by the Israeli government and Christopher to pursue the policy of “dual containment,” with a special emphasis on Iran, using the Israeli formula of three Iranian sins: sponsoring terrorism worldwide, opposing Middle East peace efforts, and developing weapons of mass destruction ([NYT report by Elaine] Sciolino 1995)….

[In the second term, things change]

A few days after [Secretary of State Madeleine] Albright’s [1998] speech, President Clinton vetoed, for the first time, a bill sponsored by Congressman Benjamin Gilman that would have cut off “U.S. aid and exports for two years to any entity charged with helping Iran’s missile program” (Lelyveld 1998a: 3A). This veto raised the ire of the Israeli government, AIPAC, and its conduits in the U.S. Congress. To avoid “a showdown with AIPAC” and the congressional override of the veto, the Clinton administration came up with a compromise sanction of its own against some Russian institutes that were under investigation for supplying missile technology to Iran (Lelyveld 1998c: 1A). In December of the same year, in yet another attempt to appease corporate America, President Clinton made the empty gesture of removing Iran from the list of “major drug-producing countries”…

President Clinton himself showed a remarkable change of heart toward Iran in the spring of 1999. This sudden change was noted by two journalists who wrote, “At times in recent months, Mr. Clinton has seemed passionate about Iran. He has even talked in terms of reconciliation with an Islamic country that had suffered at the hands of the West” ([NYT here] Perlez and Risen 1999: A1). “At a black tie White House dinner in April,” the report went on to say, Mr. Clinton went out of his way to say he was trying to understand Iran. He said it was important to recognize that Iran “has been the subject of quite a lot of abuse from various Western nations. I think sometimes it’s quite important to tell people, look, you have a right to be angry at something my country or my culture or others that are generally allied with us today did to you 50 or 60 or 100 or 150 years ago,” the president said. (Ibid.) Even though the president did not elaborate on the “something” that the United States and its allies had done to Iran, these were still remarkable statements and a complete turnaround. Only four years earlier, the president had stated in front of the World Jewish Congress that “Iran has broadened its role as an inspiration and paymaster to terrorists” and that no “further engagement will alter that course” …

Most of the citations are to the New York Times. I’ve supplied one. You can find the rest in the paper.

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After the Bush WMD lies were so readily repeated by the MSM in the run up to the invasion of Iraq one would think that the MSM (Chris Matthews, New York Times, Diane Rehm, Wolf Blitzer and the rest) would be just a bit more likely to have individuals who were spot on about Iraq on their programs who are far more informed about Iran. But no they are not having Flynt and Hillary Mann… Read more »

Hillary Clinton more than willing to push lies about Iran

Great article. A good example of how the American FP sausage get made.

I like the bit about “removing Iran from the list of “major drug-producing countries”


The US is going to end up in a war with Iran. If the US puts sanctions on Iran’s ability to sell oil, Iran is going to do what Japan did when we cut off their oil 70 years ago–it will attack America, in this case by closing the Straits of Hormuz, which the US will regard as an armed attack. We will strike back and the result will be the same–a disastrous war which… Read more »

Good article Phil. It may seem very technical to many but it is spot on and highly relevant to the bill the senate just passed to impose even more sanctions against Iran and it appears that Obama will not veto though he most certainly should. Over the last 20 years the only thing these sanction bills have done is freeze American companies from doing business with Iran. It was really crazy. All of this lobby… Read more »