Now that a final agreement with Iran has been reached, Congress will be given 60 days within which to debate and accept or reject it. This, however, would not be the end in the long-simmering fight between Congress and the president over his foreign policy legacy and its long-term threat to American and Israeli national security interests. Let me explain.
The administration’s strategy from the start had been to use “executive prerogative”, the ability of the president to assert his power unilaterally and cut Congress out of the process. Usually, a president submits a negotiated agreement with a foreign power to the Senate as a treaty. With a Republican controlled Congress, the president’s strategists realized he would have a difficult time mustering the Constitutionally required two-thirds of the Senate to approve a treaty, imperiling not only the Iran deal, but his foreign policy legacy. Therefore, the president’s Iran deal was much more likely to pass using “executive prerogative.”
This year a bipartisan group of senators demanded to have a say. The president compromised, not by agreeing to sign a treaty that would weaken his hand, but by agreeing to an up or down vote, which the president could then veto. This still put the onus on Congress, requiring 66 senators and two-thirds of the House to override a presidential veto, a highly unlikely prospect.
The administration has tried to bypass Congress from the start. During a highly charged senate hearing in March, Secretary of State Kerry said, “We’ve been clear from the beginning: We’re not negotiating a, quote, legally binding plan, so it doesn’t have to be submitted for approval to Congress.”
It is likely 53 of the 54 Republicans will vote to override the veto. That means 13 or 14 Democratic senators would have to part ways with the president to block his foreign policy legacy. This is something any partisan member of Congress is loath to do against the leader of his or her own party.
This brings us to Senators Schumer, Menendez, Gillibrand, Booker, Blumenthal, and Murphy, all Democrats from blue states. In our hyperpolarized world, voting against even a lame duck president from your own party takes Herculean effort. Yet what if they independently conclude that the president’s deal with Iran would endanger long-term American national security interests, and would be an existential danger to America’s one reliable ally in Middle East? Would they have the courage to vote to override the president’s veto?
The Senators know the president has conceded an unprecedented sunset provision, allowing the Iranian nuclear deal to expire in 10 to 15 years, even if Iran continues to be the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorists. The final deal allows Iran to purchase or sell missiles to its terrorist allies in five years or sooner. It is curious that the President had sold the deal as one exclusively about the nuclear program, but at the eleventh hour capitulated to the Iranians demands, and conceded to end an arms embargo begun in 2006. Even more troubling, the so-called “snapback” sanctions will only will only kick in if an eight-member panel agrees, which includes Iran, Russia and China, the U.S. having only one vote among eight.
The President’s former Iran czar Dennis Ross, writing in Politico last week, said the “fact is that an agreement consistent with the framework understanding offers Iran a lot.” And five of the president’s former leading experts on Iran penned an Op-Ed in the Washington Post listing the sine qua non of any deal not to “fall short of the administration’s own standard, citing “anywhere, anytime inspections, including military sites; disclosure of past atomic military work before sanctions are suspended; and an effective mechanism to re-impose sanctions (snapback) in the event of an Iranian violation.
The president’s claim that the deal will end all paths to a nuclear weapon doesn’t stand up to any serious scrutiny, especially with a sunset provision. Many members of Congress are troubled that the deal does not address Iran’s support for terrorism, its egregious human rights abuses, or repeated vows to wipe Israel off the face of the earth.
Congress knows that the deal is already suspect at best, and the Washington Post recently published an editorial titled, “Obama’s Deal Falls Far Short of His Own Goals.”
Which brings us back to our local senators.
Will Chuck Schumer, the new leader of the Democratic senators, have the mettle to face the wrath of the president and his fellow Democratic senators, perhaps even risking his rise to the leadership position, and vote against a bad deal with Iran? Even if he votes against the deal but chooses not to use his political capital to persuade undecided Democratic Senate colleagues, he will, in effect, bring about its passage.
If Schumer does lead, will Kirsten Gillibrand follow? If Bob Menendez, a vocal critic of the president’s policy on Iran, votes to override the President’s veto, will Senator Cory Booker join him? If Senator Richard Blumenthal decides to part ways with the president on Iran, could he convince fellow Democratic Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy to unite with him?
Democratic and Republican Senators should vote to override this deal because American national security and strategic interests will be profoundly damaged over the long-term. At least $150 Billion in sanction relief will lead to a massive increase in financial support for Iranian-sponsored terrorists of Hezbollah, Hamas, and Syria. This deal will raise the stakes of the primary conflict in the Middle East, the war between the Sunnis and Shiites, as other regional powers look to buy nukes to match Iran’s.
With this deal, the chances for a new Middle East war dramatically increase, with the increased likelihood that America will be dragged into another Middle East conflict. This deal would also threaten the world’s supply of fossil fuels, as an empowered Iran already controls the two most vital chokepoints for transportation of fossil fuels from the Middle East. An emboldened Iran threatening Asia’s and Europe’s supply of energy could threaten the worldwide economy and empower them to extort from needy nations whatever the Iranian mullahs care to demand.
Imagine Syrian president Assad will billions of dollars more in Iranian to target civilians, or the Iranian proxy Hezbollah with massive inflows of funds to increase the quantity and range of it’s 100,000 missiles aimed at Israel. How about the Iranian support of Hamas, which is now supporting ISIS in the Sinai, and threatening Egypt? Most ominous, however, is the inevitable massive nuclear proliferation in the Sunni world in response to the Iran’s status as a threshold nuclear weapons nation. Are any of these consequences remotely in America’s interests?
This should not be a partisan issue – the debate in Congress should be on the merits of the deal. In other words, “Does this deal increase regional stability, promote American security interests, and those of our allies?” If you want to welcome into the nuclear weapons club the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism and a leading human rights abuser, then this deal is for you.
It’s time to call your senator and congressperson and let them know how your feel.
Eric Mandel is director of MEPIN (Middle East Political and Information Network), and a regular contributor to the Jerusalem Post.