March 4, 2015
I was in the House gallery when Israel's Prime
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a logical and compelling critique of the
deal now on the table regarding Iran's ambitions to obtain nuclear weapons. He
laid out a new fact-based proposal that has shifted the burden of persuasion to
the White House.
His new proposal is that "If the world
powers are not prepared to insist that Iran change its behavior before a
deal is signed, at the very least they should insist that Iran change its
behavior before a deal expires." His argument is that without such a
precondition, the ten-year sunset provision paves, rather than blocks, the way
to an Iranian nuclear arsenal, even if Iran were to continue to export
terrorism, to bully nations in the region and to call for the extermination of
With logic that seems unassailable, Netanyahu
has said that the alternative to this bad deal is not war, but rather "a
better deal that Israel and its neighbors might not like, but which we could
live with, literally." Netanyahu then outlined his condition for a better
deal: namely that before the sun is allowed to set on prohibiting Iran from
developing nuclear weapons, the mullahs must first meet three conditions: stop
exporting terrorism, stop intruding in the affairs of other countries, and stop
threatening the existence of Israel.
If the mullahs reject these three reasonable
conditions, it will demonstrate that they have no real interest in joining the
international community and abiding by its rules. If they accept these
conditions, then the sunset provision will not kick in automatically but will
require that Iran demonstrate a willingness to play by the rules, before the
rules allow it to develop nuclear weapons.
Instead of attacking the messenger, as the
White House has done, the Administration now has an obligation to engage with
Netanyahu in the marketplace of ideas, rather than in a cacophony of
name-calling, and to respond to Netanyahu's argument on its merit. There
may be persuasive responses, but we have not yet heard them.
The decision to accept or reject a deal with
Iran over its nuclear weapons program may be the most important foreign policy
issue of the 21st century. Many members of Congress, perhaps most,
agree with the Prime Minister of Israel, rather than with the President of the
United States on this issue. Under our system of separation of powers, Congress
is a fully co-equal branch of the government, and no major decision of the kind
involved in this deal should be made over its opposition. Perhaps the President
can persuade Congress to support this deal, but it must engage with, rather than
ignore, our duly elected representatives of the people.
The Administration and its supporters,
particularly those who boycotted the Prime Minister's speech, focus on the
so-called lack of protocol by which Netanyahu was invited by the Speaker of the
House. Imagine, however, the same protocol for a speaker who favored
rather than opposed the current deal. The White House and its supporters
would be welcoming a Prime Minister who supported the President's deal, as they
did British Prime Minister David Cameron, when he was sent in to lobby the
Senate in favor of the Administration's position. So the protocol issue is
largely a pretext. The Administration is upset more by the content of
Netanyahu's speech than by the manner in which he received the
This is too important an issue to get
sidetracked by the formalities of protocol. The speech has now been given. It
was a balanced speech that included praise for the President, for the Democrats,
for Congress and for the American people. Prime Minister Netanyahu was at his
diplomatic best. In my view, he was also at his substantive best in laying out
the case against the Administration's negotiating position with regard to Iran,
especially the unconditional sunset provision.
The Administration must now answer one
fundamental question: Why would you allow the Iranian regime to develop nuclear
weapons in ten years, if at that time they were still exporting terrorism,
bullying their Arab neighbors and threatening to exterminate Israel? Why not, at
the very least, condition any "sunset" provision on a change in the
actions of this criminal regime? The answer may be that we can't get them to
agree to this condition. If that is the case, then this is indeed a bad deal
that is worse than no deal. It would be far better to increase economic
sanctions and other pressures, rather than to end them in exchange for a mere
postponement of Iran obtaining a nuclear arsenal.
There may be better answers, but the ball is
now in Obama's court to provide them, rather than to avoid answering Netanyahu's
reasonable questions by irrelevant answers about "protocol" and
personal attacks on the messenger. Israel deserves better. The world deserves
better. The American people deserve better. And Congress deserves better.
An unconditional sunset provision is an
invitation to an Iran that continues to export terrorism, bully neighbors and
threaten Israel — but with a nuclear arsenal to terrorize the entire world.
This would be "a game changer", to quote President Obama's words from
several years ago, when he promised that he would never allow Iran to
develop nuclear weapons. Suddenly, "never" has become
"soon." Congress should insist that any provision allowing Iran to
develop nuclear weapons after ten years must at the very least be conditioned on
a significant change of behavior by the world's most dangerous regime.