Congress Should Step Up to Block the Iran Agreement
The Washington Post
As debate intensifies over the nuclear
with Iran, the Obama administration has sought to deflect criticism by arguing
that there is no alternative to the current framework, no matter what its flaws,
and that its rejection by Congress is guaranteed to produce catastrophe —
isolating the United States from its allies and destroying any prospect for a
diplomatic settlement. A
vote against its preferred policy, the administration has argued (not
for the first time), is a vote for war.
has used these same arguments before to try to stop Congress from imposing
economic sanctions on Iran. Not only did the predictions of catastrophe fail to
deter Congress from moving ahead but also, when the sanctions were adopted, the
doomsday forecasts were proven wrong — just as the current predictions will
be. And when the scare tactics failed and the vote count in Congress started to
turn heavily against its position, the White House changed course — just as it
can and should now.
I was a member of
the Senate when, between 2009 and 2012, Congress developed a series of bills
that dramatically increased pressure on Tehran for its illicit nuclear
activities, including adopting a measure in late 2011 that effectively banned
Iran from selling oil — its economic lifeblood — on international markets.
In every case, senior Obama administration officials worked to block
congressional efforts, warning that they were unnecessary, counterproductive and
Much like today, the
White House repeatedly argued that sanctions
would isolate the United States and
alienate our allies whose help we needed. In the case of the oil ban, a Cabinet
member bluntly told members that adopting the measure risked torpedoing the
global economic recovery.
proved false. In fact, it was only because of the sanctions adopted by Congress,
and ultimately signed
by President Obama, that sufficient economic pressure was put on the
Iranian government that its leaders came to the negotiating table — a truth
the Obama administration now accepts and asserts. Our allies and partners did
not always welcome new restrictions on doing business in Tehran, but in the end,
they decided it was more important to do business in the United States.
It is important for
members of Congress deciding how to vote on the current proposal to consider
this history because it reminds us of the administration’s past misguided
efforts to stop, slow or weaken sanctions bills. Equally important, recent
legislative history tells us that as bipartisan congressional support for these
bills began to snowball, the White House shifted its position.
Indeed, the same
drama played out just a few months ago, as Congress debated whether it should
review the then-impending nuclear agreement. Here too, the White House insisted
that requiring legislative review and approval of a nuclear agreement with Iran
was obstructive and damaging. But when Democrats
began to support the legislation, and it was clear that a strong
bipartisan coalition was converging around the idea, the administration withdrew
its opposition and the president signed the legislation. The current
congressional review is the result.
Congress should keep
this experience in mind as it reviews the nuclear agreement with Iran. While the
White House predictably is trying to scaremonger Capitol Hill into taking no
action, experience and common sense suggest that the reality after congressional
rejection is likely to be quite different. In the aftermath of Sen.
Charles Schumer’s (D-N.Y.) principled and courageous stand against
the proposed agreement, the prospects for such a bipartisan rejection seem
If a bipartisan
supermajority does in fact begin to cohere in criticism of the undeniable
loopholes and inadequacies of the agreement, it is likely the administration
will adjust its position. Provisions that today are impossible to change will
become subject to renegotiation and clarification.
The best chance for
a better deal, in other words, is overwhelming bipartisan pressure from Capitol
Hill about the need for one, rather than acquiescencing to the Obama
administration’s claim that this is the best agreement possible because Iran
will go no further.
overlooks two truths: First, the Iranians are historically capable of adjusting
positions they have claimed were immovable to new political realities, and,
second, Iran, because of its depleted economy, needs an agreement much more than
we do. Congress has the power now to act on these two realities.
Not so long ago,
everyone agreed that no deal with Iran was better than a bad deal. Now, the
administration has changed the standard to whether it is possible to get a
better deal than the flawed one it got in Vienna. History suggests it is — but
we will never know unless a bipartisan super-majority comes together to demand