By Mark D. Wallace
Recently, both California and Florida enacted laws barring companies that do business in Iran from receiving state contracts. They follow last year’s passage of sweeping sanctions at the federal level.
The logic underpinning all of these laws is straightforward: lucrative state and federal contracts funded by American taxpayer dollars should not be awarded to companies doing business with a regime that is aggressively pursuing a nuclear weapons program, training and supplying weapons to terrorists who are killing U.S. troops, and engaging in egregious human rights abuses inside its own borders.
United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) believes it is time for America’s other 48 states to join California and Florida in their support of U.S. foreign policy and security interests by adopting similar legislation. Recently, UANI sent model legislation to state Governors and lawmakers, and urged them to passing laws that would force companies to end their business in Iran, and in turn economically pressure Iran’s regime.
The stakes are high-the threat of Iran succeeding in its quest to acquire nuclear weapons is as destabilizing and frightening of a possibility as the world has dealt with in decades. Iran’s history of funding terrorism throughout the world is also well-known, and U.S. troops on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan are increasingly being killed by high-tech Iranian weapons.
For the first time, the U.S. government has also formally detailed Iran’s alliance with al-Qaeda. The Treasury Department recently reported that Iran continues to harbor senior al-Qaeda operatives and is facilitating the transfer of large amounts of cash to al-Qaeda’s top leadership in Pakistan. Commenting on this insidious relationship, David Cohen, the Treasury Department’s Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, said “By exposing Iran’s secret deal with al-Qaeda, allowing it to funnel funds and operatives through its territory, we are illuminating yet another aspect of Iran’s unmatched support for terrorism.”
Americans have traditionally understood that the conduct of foreign policy is primarily the responsibility of the President and the U.S. Congress. This does not mean, however, that individual states have no role to play in foreign policy, particularly when action at the state level can bolster and reinforce the goals already supported by the president and enacted into legislation by Congress.
Clarifying the role that states can and should play in U.S. foreign policy on Iran is precisely what the U.S. Congress and President Obama have done. Section 202 of the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act of 2010, passed last year with overwhelming bipartisan support, specifically grants state and local governments the authority to take action against those persons that engage in business activity in Iran. By passing debarment laws like California and Florida have, the other 48 states can now send a strong message to the Iranian regime and force companies to make a choice between Iran and the American people.
When presented with the choice of doing business with the United States or with Iran most companies will ultimately make the right decision. California passed its law earlier this summer, and has already seen numerous multinational corporations end their business activities in Iran after being warned that they would lose their state contracts. The truth is that contract debarment has proven to be incredibly effective at pressuring companies to pull out of Iran.
Companies should not need, of course, any pressure to pull out of Iran. As President Obama recently noted, “International companies are increasingly recognizing the risks of doing business with Iran and are abandoning existing business opportunities, declining to take advantage of new ones, and scaling back any existing relationships.” Sadly, though, some have chosen to pursue short-term profits at the expense of U.S. national interests. While it may not be politically expedient to say, the business these companies do in Iran increasingly is tantamount to trading with the enemy.
The U.S. Congress, President Obama, and now California and Florida have taken a stand. It is time for the other 48 states to make their voices heard and stop supporting companies that support a regime with American blood on its hands. If common sense, morality, and reason will not lead companies to voluntarily end their irresponsible business dealings in Iran, then perhaps denying them lucrative contracts funded by our taxpayer dollars will make them see the light.
Mark D. Wallace is president of United Against Nuclear Iran. He served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, as representative for U.N. management and reform.