One Utah legislator has decided the state is ready to get off the sidelines and join the rumble against global terror by prohibiting the Utah Retirement System (URS) from investing in companies doing business in Iran.
While the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Julia Fisher, R-Fruit Heights, thinks it’s time for Utah to flex its muscle with Iran, some experts think Utah doesn’t have muscle worth flexing on the issue and shouldn’t try even if it did.
“The bill is intended to help undermine the economy of Iran, which has provided weapons to insurgents and al Qaeda operatives in Iraq and Afghanistan for use against our forces,” Fisher says of the proposed bill, which recently passed a legislative interim committee.
News broke earlier this month of a national intelligence report that Iran had abandoned its nuclear weapons program four years ago. The findings directly contradicted President George W. Bush’s repeated statements that Iran was ramping up its nuclear capabilities and ignoring U.S. warnings to stop. But Fisher still agrees with the Bush administration that Iran supports terrorist organizations.
At the November interim meeting, Fisher invited Utah Highway Patrolman Chamberlain Neff to describe his service in Afghanistan. Neff, then a U.S. soldier, described routinely encountering Iranian weaponry in the hands of al Qaeda combatants during his tour of duty. “My friend Dustin Allison was five days in country when he got IED’d [injured by an improvised explosive device],” Neff said.
The bomb was made in Iran, Neff said, and not only injured his friend but killed the soldier who was training Allison to be his replacement. The trainer had been in Afghanistan for two years and, had he lived, would have returned home the following week.
By having URS divest from any foreign companies with Iranian connections, Fisher hopes to strike an economic blow to Iran. Some fear, however, that the legislation will merely contribute to the Bush administration’s bellicose posturing against Iran.
“It’s disturbing that people in our Legislature are focusing on questionable ‘outside’ enemies,” says Tom King, of Utah’s People for Peace and Justice. King worries this bill just puts Utah in lockstep with national war hawks readying for conflict with Iran.
Fisher doesn’t see it that way. In fact, she sees her legislation as a peaceful means of influencing Iran to change its policies. “Putting pressure on the government of Iran through economic pressure makes military conflict less likely, not more,” Fisher says.
While it seems a stretch to imagine Utah forcefully becoming a power player in the international diplomatic showdown between the United States and Iran, Fisher argues Utah’s role is crucial as part of a larger multistate campaign. Last October, California passed a similar divestment bill.
“As a smaller state alone, we cannot make a huge impact. However, we can contribute to a unified effort with the other states,” Fisher says.
Still, some experts doubt Utah will have much impact on Iran even as part of a larger coalition.
“In many cases all over the world, such economic boycotts have not produced any definitive results,” says Ibrahim Karawan, director of the University of Utah’s Middle East studies program. “I doubt the punitive actions of Utah will make Iran tremble.”
This concern was echoed by Dan Andersen, counsel for URS. “There’s just a question of this being pragmatically effective,” Andersen says. “If there is money to be made in Iran, then there is an endless reserve of global capital out there. If we pull our investments out, there will be plenty of willing investors who will buy up those interests.”
The fact that other foreign interests will pick up the slack of any investments Utah yanks out of Iran applies equally whether Utah acts alone or with larger states like California, Andersen says. He notes that implementing the bill would also be too costly for URS in trying to determine which companies invest in Iran.
Andersen says the exact cost of implementation hasn’t been determined. But he doubts the costs of implementation are worthwhile. “Of course, no one wants to promote terrorism, but if you’re not accomplishing anything, why are you spending so much?”