Corker-Cardin’s Good Compromise

Killing this oversight would only give Obama more Iran running room.

WSJ Staff

Wall Street Journal

May 1, 2015   

In the matter of the Corker-Cardin bill giving Congress a voice in the Iranian nuclear deal, allow us to adapt Churchill’s dictum on democracy: It’s the worst form of legislation, except for all the others that have been proposed.

We write this as the bill—named for Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker (R., Tenn.) and ranking Democrat Ben Cardin (Maryland)—is being assailed by some of our conservative friends as a damp squib that won’t stop President Obama from striking a bad deal with Tehran while giving the agreement an implicit seal of Congressional approval. Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz have proposed amendments that, while defensible on their merits, would give Democrats the political excuse many of them seek to vote against the bill.

In a better world—one in which Mr. Obama were not President—we’d be inclined to agree with the critics. A nuclear deal with Tehran is the most significant international agreement of the past decade and should be handled as a treaty, requiring two-thirds support from the Senate. By contrast under Corker-Cardin Democrats need only 41 votes to filibuster a resolution of disapproval of a deal, and only 34 to sustain a near-certain presidential veto.

In other words, the legislation effectively inverts the Founders’ intentions by allowing the President to get his way with one-third of the Senate on his side. There is also no good reason why Mr. Cruz’s amendment, which would require an Iran deal to get a simple majority from the Senate and House to go into effect, or Mr. Rubio’s demanding that Iran accept Israel’s right to exist, should be deal-breakers for Democrats.

But then we step back to reality. Critics of Corker-Cardin insist the bill is a gift to the Administration, but you wouldn’t know it given how hard the President and Secretary of State John Kerry lobbied against the bill before it was voted out of committee on a 19-0 bipartisan vote.

What the Administration most fears is that the bill will require Mr. Obama to submit a nuclear deal, in all of its detail, to a public debate, in which supporters may have to explain its various giveaways. Why, for instance, should Iran get tens of billions of dollars in immediate sanctions relief, which (money being fungible) will immediately be put to use funding missiles for Hezbollah, rockets for Hamas, and barrel bombs for Bashar Assad?

Similar questions will be raised about “snap-back” sanctions that probably won’t snap back without permission from Moscow and Beijing, or an inspections process that allows the Iranians to play the cat-and-mouse games they’ve used for years to deceive U.N. nuclear inspectors. Democrats will also have to reckon with Mr. Obama’s admission that, when the deal expires in 10 or 15 years, Iran’s “nuclear breakout” will be shortened to weeks—far too short to detect, much less prevent by sanctions or military means.

That debate will be an education that will inform voters going into the next election. It will also make a filibuster uncomfortable for Senate Democrats, most of whom have political careers to think about after Mr. Obama leaves office. This may not defeat an Iran deal, but that was always unlikely once Mr. Obama chose to submit it as an executive agreement and go to the United Nations first.

The Corker bill nonetheless does offer the potential of putting a bipartisan majority’s stamp of disapproval on Mr. Obama’s dangerous diplomacy. That’s more than Republicans could hope for if they give Democrats the easy political out of stuffing the bill with amendments that can be dismissed as diplomatic nonstarters, unjustified interventions in presidential power, or any other excuse to support a filibuster.

Corker-Cardin also contains a proviso requiring the President to certify every 90 days that Iran is in compliance with a deal. The Administration has already shown itself willing to overlook Tehran’s violations of its nuclear commitments, and it would probably take a nuclear test in the Iranian desert for Mr. Obama or Mr. Kerry to acknowledge diplomatic failure.

But the certification requirement does give Mr. Obama’s successor an opportunity to walk away from the deal should Iran cheat, much as George W. Bush did in 2002 after North Korea admitted to violating Bill Clinton’s Agreed Framework on its nuclear programs. Mr. Bush and Condoleezza Rice got suckered into renewed rounds of diplomacy with Pyongyang, but perhaps the next President might learn something from history.

We have long been skeptical of Mr. Obama’s Iran project, and the deal so far looks like a strategic blunder that will unleash a new age of nuclear proliferation. Until the U.S. elects a President who is serious about stopping Iran’s nuclear bid, Corker-Cardin is the best bet for censuring Mr. Obama’s misbegotten diplomacy, and giving his successor a fighting chance to reverse it.