The Not Quite Done Iran Deal
Clifford D. May
The Washington Times
The debate over the deal President Obama has cut with Iran’s
rulers is supposed to end this week. The New York Times, the AP and others in
the media are reporting that the White House has achieved a “victory.” On
Polls show most Americans – 55% in the most recent Quinnipiac
poll – oppose the agreement. Only 25% support it. A bipartisan majority in
Congress – 60% percent – disapproves the deal as well.
Not for the first time, Mr. Obama is playing by his own rules. The
Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is a nuclear arms control agreement
with the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism. Common sense and perhaps the
Constitution dictate that it should have been presented as a treaty. But as a
treaty, it would need to garner a two-thirds vote in the Senate, reflecting a
solid national consensus.
Mr. Obama knew he couldn’t achieve that level of support. In the
end, he won’t even get a simple majority. So he marginalized Congress,
creatively framing the deal as a “non-binding political agreement.” That
way, he can veto a congressional vote of no confidence. A supermajority would be
required to overcome his veto. Perhaps that’s a victory for the president but
it’s surely a loss for such principles as separation of powers, checks and
balances and majority rule.
Mr. Obama is hoping for one more “victory.” If he can get
Senate Democrats to filibuster, no votes will be cast in the Senate and he
won’t need to bother exercising his veto.
Think about that: Every Democratic senator voted for the Iran
Nuclear Agreement Review Act. Its sole purpose: to ensure that members of
Congress would at least have an opportunity to express their opinions. Those
supporting a filibuster will be declaring that, upon reflection, they prefer to
muzzle themselves and play no role whatsoever on an issue vital to the security
of America and its allies. Perhaps they have more important things to do.
It was always a myth, albeit one widely circulated on both the left
and the right, that congressional disapproval, even if it were veto-proof, would
“kill” the deal. As my colleague Mark Dubowitz has said for months,
President Obama could have plowed ahead regardless using executive powers that
Congress would be unlikely to successfully challenge.
He would have reiterated that the JCPOA was endorsed by the U.N.
Security Council. He would have ignored the fact that the UNSC includes Russia
and China, adversaries of the U.S., and Venezuela, a self-declared enemy of the
U.S. serving a term as a non-permanent member. He would have contended that
Congress cannot overrule the “international community.” He would have been
wrong – the UN is not a global government – but here again I’m not
confident that Congress would have found a way to meaningfully contradict him.
Last week, Sen. Ben Cardin, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign
Relations Committee, declared his disapproval of the deal. On Tuesday, Sen. Joe
Manchin did as well. That makes four Democrats in the Senate and, so far, 15
Democrats in the House opposing the agreement. Among the reasons Mr. Cardin
gave: “It would provide Iran with international endorsement of an
industrial-scale nuclear program. Worse, Iran would be economically strengthened
by frighteningly quick relief from sanctions and international economic
He added: “The agreement talks about normalization of economic
relations with Iran and states that the parties shall ‘implement this JCPOA in
good faith . . . based on mutual respect.’ But there cannot be respect for a
country that actively foments regional instability, advocates for Israel's
destruction, kills the innocent and shouts ‘Death to America.’”
Sen. Cardin was speaking truth to power. Former New York City Mayor
Michael Bloomberg, who has belonged to both parties, wrote last month that “if
you are a Democrat who opposes the agreement, you are also risking your
political career. That's the message the White House and some liberal leaders
It’s telling that many Democrats who approve the deal are doing
so with less-than-ringing endorsements. Sen. Cory Booker last week called the
agreement “dangerous” and “deeply flawed.” The U.S., he recalled, began
the talks with the “stated intention of preventing Iran from having the
capability to get a nuclear weapon. Unfortunately, it’s clear we didn’t
achieve that objective and have only delayed — not
blocked — Iran’s potential nuclear breakout.”
There are several ways this deal could still be undone. Even as Mr.
Obama was sidelining the U.S. Congress, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei was
announcing that the Majlis, Iran’s faux-parliament, “should not be sidelined
on the nuclear deal issue.” He said he would not tell those officials whether
to register their “approval or disapproval” of the agreement. So their
votes will count but not those of U.S. senators? And would you be surprised if
they demanded a few more concessions from the Great Satan?
Meanwhile, Rep. Mike Pompeo and several other members of Congress
are arguing that Mr. Obama has failed to comply with the Iran Nuclear Agreement
Review Act. That law requires the president to give Congress access to the
entire agreement, specifically including “side agreements.” The side
agreement between Iran and UN inspectors – which contains significant
inspection and verification provisions vital to the success of Obama’s deal --
-- remains secret.
This Friday happens to be the anniversary of an attack that should have awakened us all to the threat posed by those whose goal is to destroy America. In a saner world, that would concentrate political minds on the wisdom of a deal that will enrich, empower, embolden and re-legitimize the self-proclaimed anti-Western revolutionaries who rule Iran.