Raising awareness on Iran or enjoying losing dismally?

What is the point of calling a second, dramatic public vote in less than two weeks if the US knows it will lose and lose badly?

The United Nations Security Council, February 28, 2020 (photo credit: CARLO ALLEGRI/REUTERS)
The United Nations Security Council, February 28, 2020
The Trump administration’s announcement that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo would go back to the United Nations to demand snapback UN sanctions on Thursday and Friday, fresh after coming away with pie on its face from an embarrassing and overwhelming defeat at the UN Security Council last week, raises some alarming questions.
Has the Trump administration decided that it now likes to lose publicly – and dismally – when it comes to Iran?
Last Friday, the only country on the UNSC to support the US vote to extend the conventional-arms embargo on Iran, set to expire in October, was the largely geopolitically irrelevant Dominican Republic. China and Russia were loudly against it.
Traditional US allies such as England, France and Germany, who do not want Iran to be able to buy and sell arms, all abstained. They had previously and clearly explained that they believe the Islamic Republic would have kicked out IAEA inspectors if the vote had passed.
All of the remaining members of the 15-member Security Council also abstained, despite a range of views on the dangers presented by Iran.
In theory, this vote was Washington’s best chance because it did not need to have special status as a party to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal to ask the council to pass an extension.
One of the reasons it was important for the US to extend the embargo was to maintain pressure on Tehran. Another was to create a historical record that the world could look back on – if and when new Iranian weapons start increasing the ayatollahs’ ability to promote terrorism in the Middle East, Europe and elsewhere.
The US undoubtedly could have done better garnering votes if it were attempting more serious multilateral diplomacy on other issues that matter to countries on the UNSC.
Unconnected US fights with key countries could undermine isolating the Islamic Republic, top Israeli officials such as Yuval Steinitz had previously told The Jerusalem Post.
But risking losing on that UNSC vote was arguably a brave move. In contrast, this next move seems to simply disregard reality.
FOR BETTER or for worse – and there are certainly many supporters of Israel who think it was for the better – the US left the Iran nuclear deal in May 2018.
Pompeo previewed some interesting arguments a few months ago for how the US could argue it still has some kind of status in the agreement to call for UN snapback sanctions against Iran for violating the nuclear deal, which it admits it is violating.
But it does not seem that anyone – besides the US, Israel and some of the Gulf states – is buying these legal arguments.
Leaving the deal in May 2018 enabled America’s “maximum pressure” campaign.
However, according to US adversaries Russia and China, as well as traditional US allies England, France and Germany, when Washington left the deal, it ceased to have any rights to call for a vote.
Without calling for a second vote, the US can and has repeatedly upped its maximum-pressure campaign with new unilateral sanctions. It can try to do that again in October to block arms sales to Iran, even if the arms embargo expires, as it is expected to do. That could be the answer even if America cannot call for a second vote.
What is the point of calling a second, dramatic public vote in less than two weeks if the US knows it will lose and lose badly? Some say another scenario is a technical procedure that allows the US to invoke snapback without a vote. But everyone agrees that a snapback lacking majority support would be uniformly ignored.
The first vote arguably raised public awareness and maybe even embarrassed US allies to stand up for their opposition to Tehran’s terrorism, as well as putting a principled stand into the historical record.
A second overwhelming vote of defeat will make the US look like a repeat loser with no pull, leverage or allies. It will also make it look like Iran has more support than it actually does, amid the complex calculations the Europeans are making.
So, as it barrels toward a second unambiguous losing vote on snapback sanctions, the question must be asked: Has the Trump administration suddenly gotten fond of losing?