You may have missed it, but on Friday afternoon the American Israel Public Affairs Committee issued a remarkable letter, saying it was not giving up on sanctions against Iran and was still deeply concerned about (i.e. opposed to) the interim nuclear deal and the negotiating track the administration is heading down.
In a rare public move, AIPAC’s president, Michael Kassen, sent out a letter to troubled supporters, claiming that AIPAC’s position was being mischaracterized:
Some have suggested that by not calling for an immediate vote on the legislation, we have abandoned our support for the bill. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, we remain strongly committed to the passage of the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act. This legislation is one important part of a broad strategy that we have pursued over many years to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability. As negotiations for a final agreement with Iran begin, we must — and will — continue our efforts on every front to ensure that any deal with Iran guarantees the dismantlement of its nuclear infrastructure and blocks its path to a bomb.
Yesterday, Senator Menendez — who along with Senator Kirk is the lead sponsor of the legislation — delivered a forceful speech on the Senate floor, in which he outlined what such a deal must include. In response, we issued a statement applauding Chairman Menendez’s leadership. We strongly support his assessment of the threat, his commitment to the critical role Congress must play, and his path to passage of the legislation, which includes building broad bipartisan support.
Translation: Yes, the administration browbeat Democratic senators, but both on sanctions and broader matters, AIPAC remains very much at loggerheads with the White House on Iran. Both Democrats and Republicans in Congress and in the country at large think the president has been too weak and that we should be using sanctions to squeeze Iran further.
In fact, if Menendez’s speech (which AIPAC praised right after it was given and again in Kassen’s letter) is correct, then the administration is about to deliver a Hobson’s choice between war and a nuclear-capable Iran. To be clear: The big news last week was that Menendez, elected Republicans and the pro-Israel community believe it will be too late to enact sanctions at the end of the six months allowed by the interim deal.
Even the president and Secretary of State John Kerry think there is less than a 50-50 chance of a final deal that meets with the West’s minimal requirements. That means: In all likelihood, either the White House relents and uses sanctions to prod more concessions; we accept Iran as a threshold nuclear state; or the U.S. and/or Israel will use military force. (Really, no one thinks Obama will use force, so cross that off the list.) If Kerry is right and we will not reach a final deal, what is the alternative for those celebrating the White House’s blocking a sanctions vote? Do they favor containment or war? Do they plan on assisting an Israeli strike? I’m curious to find out.
It will be hard to fudge the result. The president either disarms Iran or not; if not, what follows (either war or a nuclear-capable Iran) will be his most lasting legacy. (The good news, I suppose, is that Obamacare will only be the second-worst disaster.) Whatever glee his critics might derive from a blunder of this magnitude and the return of the “weak on defense” label to every Dems’ forehead will be muted by the grave consequences that follow. Schadenfreude is not a cure-all for what will lay in Obama’s wake.
The president, we can expect, will plead for more time at the end of the six months, but at that point it will be hard to stop a vote. The political chips will fall where they may. More important, Israel need not wait a day past the six-month deadline. The world will harangue Israel whenever it acts; but having given Obama 5 1/2 years, the Jewish state wouldn’t honestly be said to be “premature” if it acted militarily. The U.S. Congress and American people certainly would be supportive.
AIPAC, having recognized reality in the Senate, may now turn to a House measure or a public education effort. In any event, its annual policy conference opens March 2, which concludes with a mass lobbying day on Capitol Hill. This will likely be the first, and maybe only, issue discussed with lawmakers.
The problem for the White House and for those on the left fighting against sanctions is that they now own a losing strategy. (The same can be said of Hillary Clinton, who wrapped herself tightly around the White House’s position.) From the beginning of the administration, Obama and liberal supporters conceived of engagement as the means to keeping Iran from going nuclear. Then they were dragged, kicking and screaming, to employ sanctions. Then came the interim deal. That eased sanctions and allowed Iran to crow that it had not dismantled and would never dismantle its program. It could point to language saying that enrichment would be mutually agreed upon, in essence recognizing its claimed “right to enrichment.” Now the administration is laying odds that it will fail to obtain a satisfactory deal.
If not sanctions, what is the White House’s backup plan?