New Year's Lesson for Congress: Get Smart About Iran

Imposing more sanctions against the country will do more harm than good.

After finally "getting to 60" and securing a Christmas Eve vote for health-care reform legislation, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid should have been heading home to celebrate.

Instead, the Senate's top Democrat took time to tee up a new foreign-policy fight with Iran.

Within hours of securing passage of his version of health-care reform, Reid was announcing that he wants he to bring legislation imposing sanction on Iran to a vote when senators return from their holiday break in January.

"This important piece of legislation... would impose new sanctions on Iran's refined petroleum sector and tighten existing U.S. sanctions in an effort to create new pressure on the Iranian regime and help stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon," Reid said of the bill, which the Nevada Democrat wants to put on the legislative fast-track now that Iranian officials have indicated that they are unwilling to meet an end-of-the-year deadline to address fears that the country might seek to produce nuclear warheads.

Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are busy sending signals that they are ready to ramp up the wrangling with Iran. But their ill-thought and ill-timed sanctions initiatives -- which have raised concerns inside the Obama White House and across the international community -- are unlikely to further the legitimate cause of disarmament and could end up strengthening the hand of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

John Nichols writes about politics for The Nation magazine as its Washington correspondent.
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