Iran sanctions: It was executive prerogative, stupid


There’s been a lot of speculation about why President Obama attached an "I can ignore this if I want to" caveat when he signed the Defense Authorization Act, which included an amendment targeting Iran’s Central Bank for sanctions.

Congress members — mostly Republicans — questioned the president’s commitment to the sanctions.

The administration countered that it was all about executive prerogative. They noted the many other instances in the Act in which Obama added the "would interfere with my constitutional authority to conduct foreign relations" caveat.

As of today, we can safely say it was about executive prerogative. Obama kicked in the sanctions over the weekend — but through an executive order.

The "stupid" in the hed to this item is me, among others: In a blog post, I wondered whether this was a matter of executive prerogative, or if there was a shorter-term political calculus.

The order yesterday nods toward the Act’s amendment, but Obama makes it clear that he is sanctioning the bank on the authority of the presidency, citing his predecessors’ executive orders as precedent.

It’s not the first time that the age-old battle between Congress and the presidency over foreign policy supremacy has been cast as a partisan back and forth — there are plenty of examples of Democrats giving George W. Bush the same heartburn when they ran Congress in the last two years of his presidency.

But casting it purely as a partisan game of chicken obscures a more complex — and potentially more consequential — argument over who controls what the United States does overseas.

One person — or 535?

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