A message for the US Congress from Switzerland: The Iran deal is done

They sell more than wristwatches and dairy products.
They sell more than wristwatches and dairy products.
Image: Reuters/Arnd Wiegmann
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Somebody had to go first—why not the Swiss?

News that Switzerland has become the first Western country to start lifting sanctions on Iran will no doubt be followed swiftly by reports of other nations (and corporations) seeking some of the Islamic Republic’s soon-to-be-unfrozen billions. Russia and China have already begun talking up arms sales to Tehran; over the weekend, Moscow sent a pair of warships to the port of Anzali, to display Russian naval wares.

For now, the Swiss are easing restrictions on harmless things such as precious metals. But Iran’s military procurers will have made note of recent reports that Switzerland has eased restrictions on arms exports. Swiss-made tanks (known, puzzlingly, as Piranhas) and ammunition are already used widely across the Middle East. How long before munitions makers from Switzerland join the stampede toward Tehran?

But perhaps more important than the specifics of the trade between Switzerland and Iran is the message it sends the US Congress, where a mighty—and mightily futile—bipartisan effort is under way to scuttle the deal. And it is entirely fitting that the message should come from the country that has represented American interests in Tehran for the past 35 years. The message: Move on.

It is true that the Obama administration’s defense of the deal has taken on a shrill note of panic—the president himself has suggested critics of the agreement are warmongers, and secretary of state John Kerry has warned that they could jeopardize the dollar’s status as the world’s reserve currency. Even so, the betting is that the proposal Obama and Kerry presented the legislature is a fait accompli. Even if Congress votes against it, there’s little prospect of overriding the president’s veto.

To be clear, I have argued that the deal is a bad one, mainly because it unshackles both the Islamic Republic’s hegemonic ambitions in the Middle East and its ability to export terror. But now that the United Nations Security Council has unanimously endorsed it, and America’s allies are beginning to make bilateral deals with Iran, there seems little point in Congress going through the motions and voting against it.

Rather than grandstanding for its own sake, American lawmakers should channel their energies to ensuring that Obama works with European and Middle Eastern allies to stymie Iran’s efforts to foment mischief and mayhem beyond its borders. This task is harder now, and it is an ill omen that the Obama administration is trying to restrict Congress’ ability to renew the Iran Sanctions Act—a vital tool that the next president will need, should Tehran misbehave. But this is exactly why Congress should avoid wasting its time trying to undo the deal, and instead work to limit the damage it will do.