November 25, 2013

As Republicans decide how to respond to the new agreement between the West and Iran, it is right to remain skeptical of both Iran’s intentions and Presidents Obama’s instincts and abilities.

The usual suspects are lining up in opposition to the deal, but when an agreement draws criticism from those as informed and diverse as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Saudi Arabia’s Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, you have to take notice. These two even appear to be working as a tag team. Alwaleed can say things that Netanyahu cannot — specifically, that no one trusts President Obama to do the right thing. Netanyahu is pretty plainspoken himself. He said the deal reached in Geneva on Saturday night is “not a historic agreement, but a historic mistake.”

Whether or not they say so publicly, everyone agrees that as the plan takes effect, part of what will need to be verified is President Obama’s almost-certain claim that the deal is a great success, regardless of what transpires in the months ahead. No one has any reason to believe this president will admit mistakes once he starts taking credit. President Obama doesn’t appear to have been closely involved in the construction of the deal and at least so far, the agreement isn’t all about Obama. Some very good, able people shaped this deal and they deserve some deference, even if the president does not. Republicans should think of effective ways to police the terms of this agreement rather than rush to cable news studios with shrill hyperbole that only contributes noise.

Puneet Talwar is currently serving as special assistant to the president and senior director for Iran, Iraq and the Gulf States on the White House National Security Staff. According to the Wall Street Journal, Mr. Talwar, among others, had been involved with secret negotiations with the Iranians that produced the agreement. By all accounts, Mr. Talwar is a real pro with no agenda other than a safer America. He isn’t trying to create a smokescreen to hide Obamacare, and he isn’t driven by egotistical anxieties about his personal legacy or what thanks and praise he will receive.

Republicans can and should be cautious. They have every right to criticize the agreement, but it would be more useful if they state their concerns with specifics and define with clarity what results they will be looking for over the next six months. It is also wise for Congress to continue to build on the sanctions they already put in place. Republicans should ignore the White House opposition to more sanctions. It’s no surprise the White House is against further sanctions — remember that this administration was against the previous sanctions, which have proven to be effective.

Also, the GOP doesn’t need to maneuver for partisan advantage. Foreign policy won’t drive any votes in 2014 unless war breaks out. For Republicans, the future is tied to health care and the economy, not how many centrifuges Iran has. When Americans gather around their Thanksgiving dinner tables, they won’t be talking about Iranian uranium enrichment. They will be sharing their Obamacare horror stories and bemoaning the bleak economy.

The bottom line is, the GOP should give this deal a chance to work. Iran was never going to suddenly and completely capitulate, so any agreement had to have a first step. And this first step seems reasonable, verifiable and worth trying.

Side note: The economy may be in for a lift. The booming stock market could soon be accompanied by lower fuel prices. The trickle-down of stock market wealth and cheaper gasoline prices might combine to give some real-time relief to the working class. This could have some interesting political consequences.  More about this later.

 

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