Originally published under the title, "Why We Should Be Wary of the Obama Administration's No-Alternatives Racket on Iran."
Tune into a debate on the Iran nuclear threat in the United States and you'll be sure to hear proponents of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) gleefully bemoan the lack of alternatives.
|President Barack Obama addresses American University's School of International Service in Washington, DC, on August 5.|
A congressional vote to block the deal (and override a White House veto) will encounter the "objection of the vast majority of the world," U.S. President Barack Obama said in an Aug. 5 speech, thus making it harder to maintain the international sanctions that brought Iran to its knees. A vote to reject is therefore a "vote to allow Iran to get off scot-free, and to get all the sanctions relief" without "having to give up anything," according to White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest.
They have a point. It will surely be more difficult for us to rally international support for continued sanctions after rejecting the agreement than it would have been had Obama just walked away when it became clear the Iranians would not settle for a low-proliferation-risk civilian nuclear program. And our collective display of schizophrenia won't make it any easier to convince them we mean business next time around.
The White House has worked to undermine the viability of the alternatives it now insists are unviable.
But the Obama administration deliberately put us in this no-win situation. Like a general burning bridges behind his retreating army, it has been working to undermine the viability of the very alternatives it now insists are unviable.
After telling us for a year and a half to withhold judgment on the evolving train wreck because we haven't yet seen the terms being negotiated, the White House proceeded in short order to sign the JCPOA in July and rush its key provisions through the UN Security Council in a resolution calling on member states to refrain "from actions that undermine implementation of commitments under the JCPOA." Ignoring entreaties from senior House and Senate leaders within his own party not to take so extreme a step to defeat his opponents, the president effectively made congressional rejection of the Iran deal a violation of international law. Afterward, he boasted that the UN vote sent a "clear message" to congressional critics of the JCPOA.
Obama's message to skeptics is that the collapse of international sanctions is now inescapable.
Furthermore, the White House and its supporters have publicly accused the JCPOA's critics of such nefarious sins as making "common cause" with Iranian hardliners, gunning for war, being in the pocket of big money, and dual loyalties. If the presidency is a bully pulpit in American politics, it is a blaring loudspeaker in international affairs. Once a sitting U.S. president declares to the world that demanding a substantial rollback of Iran's nuclear breakout capacity is tantamount to warmongering, the legitimacy of the idea is forever compromised.
Obama's message to JCPOA skeptics, put charitably, is that the collapse of international sanctions is now inescapable. Put less charitably by the conservative commentary website Hot Air, the message is that "he's willing to make sure an enemy power benefits lavishly if Congress tries to defy him."
Letting the JCPOA sail through Congress will set a dangerous precedent.
Had the White House been willing to stand firm on core international demands from the start, we might well be debating an accord that decisively reduces the Iranian nuclear threat. That ship hasn't sailed; it's been sabotaged in the harbour. But has it been too thoroughly wrecked for congressional rejection of the JCPOA to be the best path forward?
Perhaps. But there is more at stake here than optimizing counterproliferation strategy. Letting the JCPOA sail through Congress will validate the Obama administration's questionable tactics and make it easier for future presidents to profoundly alter our foreign policy and security posture over the objections of substantial congressional majorities. That's a scary proposition when you look at who's leading the race to replace Obama.
Gary C. Gambill is a research fellow at the Middle East Forum.