Arguably more incompetent than the Obamacare rollout and certainly more dangerous, President Obama’s Iran policy — namely, his attempt to ease up on sanctions for empty promises — is taking a beating. In his Senate briefing on Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry forgot he was on a charm offensive. He said additional sanctions would be “a march to war” and told lawmakers to “stop listening to the Israelis” (well, he certainly has).
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), appearing on CNN, decried the effort to weaken sanctions: “I find it astounding that the White House would say that a deal that would allow enrichment of uranium and building a plutonium reactor is not a march to war. That’s the march to war. The deal that was in the works would frankly allow Iran to continue its pursuit of nuclear weapons capability.” He reminded the audience that the House had already acted and awaited the Senate Banking Committee to pass its bill. He added, “What’s very odd right now in the Middle East is, you have the Arabs and the Israelis join together in their sense that American foreign policy, as is played out in that potential interim agreement, is something that is not helpful to the stability of the region, and … [allowing] Iran the ability to continue to enrich or to build a plutonium factory is a sure way to spawn nuclear proliferation — and, God forbid, face a nuclear Iran.”
Senate Republicans ripped the White House and Kerry. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) told reporters that Kerry dismissed Israel’s analysis, asking senators to “disbelieve everything that the Israelis had just told [us].” He asserted that the briefing was vague and unpersuasive. His mind plainly wasn’t changed. “This administration, like Neville Chamberlain, is yielding a large and bloody conflict in the Middle East involving Iranian nuclear weapons that will now be part of our children’s future. And the best way to prevent that from happening is to continue sanctions which Secretary Kerry goes on and on about how effective.”
In statements released by his staff, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) was similarly dismissive of Kerry’s appearance. “I was hoping for an articulation of what the end game is and specifics about where we are on this so-called interim discussion, and it just wasn’t particularly forthcoming. I’ve read more in the media than I felt was forthcoming in this meeting. I just found it unsatisfying.” He thinks the fix is in: “I think their real end game is to convince Democratic leadership to not give any opportunity for any legislation to pass between now and the end of the year that might have sanctions.”
Democrats were largely mute until today. However, it doesn’t appear Kerry made much of an impression on them, either. The Hill quoted Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) as saying: “I just don’t think there was enough specificity to know whether what they’re pursuing is a good deal or not.” He indicated that he is pressing forward with sanctions. Sanctions may come through the Senate Banking Committee, but increasingly outside pro-Israel groups and Hill staffers are indicating interest in attaching sanctions to the defense authorization bill, making it more difficult for the Dems to stall or the president to veto.
It would be foolish to disregard the president’s domestic travails in assessing how Senate Democrats will react. The conservative Emergency Committee for Israel is out with an unsubtle TV ad essentially saying that if you can’t trust his health-care promises, you can’t trust him on Iran. Whether that is persuasive with Dems is unclear, but his pathetic performance on Syria, his reversal on sanctions on Iran and lawmakers’ wariness of his second-term meltdown certainly weigh in favor of moving ahead on their own with sanctions, even in the face of White House objections.