At a time President Obama’s approval ratings are spiraling downward and Americans regard him as the worst post-World War II president, the United States nevertheless is stuck with an increasingly whiny, irrelevant and weakened chief executive. For the next 2 1/2 years. That’s a real problem on the international stage, especially when it comes to the confrontation with an implacable foe.

We are less than three weeks from the deadline for a final nuclear deal between the P5+1. It is not encouraging when the secretary of state writes a vapid op-ed pleading with Iran to “choose wisely.” A more effective tactic, one unfortunately no longer credible, is to issue a stern warning that failure to fully comply with existing United Nations resolutions will result in heightened sanctions and potentially U.S. military action. Unfortunately, even if John Kerry said such a thing, the mullahs — especially after the Syria red-line fiasco — are unlikely to believe him.

More troublesome is the prospect of business flooding back into Iran if the United States continues to ease up on sanctions. The Wall Street Journal reports:

As talks between Iran and six major powers on limiting its nuclear program enter the final stages of diplomacy this week in Vienna ahead of a July 20 deadline, global companies are fact-finding, meeting with potential Iranian partners and jockeying for position should an end to sanctions open the isolated economy.
They are drawn by what could become the largest market in the Middle East, with nearly 80 million people, the majority of whom are under 30, well-educated and tech-savvy, and by the country’s energy potential—it has the fourth-largest proven oil reserves and second-largest proven gas reserves in the world.

And it doesn’t appear that Iran is ready to “choose wisely.” (“Diplomats say Iran isn’t yet prepared to dismantle its nuclear infrastructure to the levels demanded for a deal, and companies say plans are on hold until sanctions are lifted.”)

Democrats and Republicans alike, Israel, our Sunni allies and even former Obama administration officials are nervous — and for good reason. Precisely because the president is so weak and his administration is on life support, he may, they fear, in an effort to revive his presidency enter into a foolish deal that continues sanctions relief without dismantling of the Iranian program. Some fear that Obama has already given away the store by including a provision that future enrichment will be subject to mutual agreement and a sunset clause (i.e. a time when Iran will be free of all sanctions, and therefore able to pursue its nuclear ambitions, maybe just more slowly than originally planned.)

To prevent this result — or another six months of stalling when the Iranians continue to make progress on advanced centrifuges and ballistic missile research, Congress must act. Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, who is a key player in devising sanctions, and Richard Goldberg, former deputy chief of staff and foreign policy adviser to Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), write:

If a final nuclear agreement between the P5+1 and Iran does not meet a series of parameters that already has strong bipartisan support in Congress, the House and Senate should defend American sanctions against Iran and resist pressure to trade sanctions relief for a bad deal. However, should an acceptable agreement be reached that fully addresses Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, Congress must play a role, in cooperation with the Obama administration, to construct and oversee a smart sanctions architecture of effective enforcement and relief. This architecture should deter and punish Iranian non-compliance with such an agreement; provide a vital enforcement mechanism to support a monitoring, verification, and inspection regime; and curb Iran’s support for terrorism and its abuse of human rights.
This flexible and limited sanctions relief framework should be based on: (1) the final agreement meeting a series of parameters that already has strong bipartisan Congressional support; (2) the careful sequencing of sanctions relief tied to Iran meeting its obligations under an agreement; (3) the creation of a permissible financial channel through which trade and financial transactions can occur; (4) temporary suspension of only those sanctions which can quickly be “snapped-back” should Iran fail to comply with the agreement; (5) the maintenance of all conduct-based sanctions until Treasury can certify that the behavior which prompted the designation has ceased; and, (6) a series of Presidential certifications that Iran has changed its behavior in critical areas of concern.

This is overly generous. Frankly, with international support for sanctions relief slipping way and the pervasive impression that Obama can be lured into a bad deal, any sanctions relief absent full compliance with conditions the administration itself has laid out and which enjoy bipartisan support would be foolish. Sanctions relief is unlikely to be reversible given the thirst for Iranian markets. Any relief will simply induce Iranian leaders to drag their feet and cheat. Moreover, Iran’s support for terrorism in the region and indeed globally continues unabated; until that is addressed, sanctions relief would be a great victory and encouragement for jihadists.

Indeed, in the authors’ conclusion they insist, “This plan should be adopted and implemented only if a final agreement between the P5+1 and Iran fully addresses Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs in a way that permanently removes this threat to global peace and security.” The only way to fully address the programs and assure relief is to have sanctions relief follow compliance. Sequencing, I fear, is simply another means of obtaining sanctions relief with uncertain gains. This president — let us be honest — will never certify that Iran has failed to comply with the deal’s requirements, and we will wind up with no sanctions and a still-nuclear capable Iran.

The alternative is to pass the sanctions bill introduced at the beginning of the year (and bottled up by the White House via the Senate majority leader). In other words, the sanctions increase and do not lift until compliance is achieved. Given the potential for a GOP takeover of the Senate and a weakened president, such a vote is possible and a veto could well be overridden.

In short, Congress needs to hold the line, or the consequences will be severe and likely irreversible. Now is not the time to start negotiating with the administration on the terms of surrender.

UPDATE: In what will surely be a preview of the fights ahead, Dubowitz and Goldberg are already being attacked for being too strict in their adherence to sanctions. One can imagine that is precisely the tactic Democrats in and out of the White House will take as they whittle down the deal bit by bit, leaving us with a hobbled sanctioned regime and an Islamist state that then has the stamp of good approval to continue its program to one degree or another.