As we draw closer to the July 20 deadline for a final deal between the P5+1 and Iran, you’re going to see a great number of pronouncements and plenty of letters, statements and petitions. A bipartisan letter to President Obama is going around in the Senate that is co-authored by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), calling for Iran to “dismantle its illicit nuclear infrastructure, including the Fordow enrichment facility and the Arak heavy water reactor, such that Iran does not retain a uranium or plutonium path to a weapon. Any deal must also fully resolve concerns about military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program; provide a long-term and intrusive inspection and verification regime and a vigorous enforcement mechanism, that includes the snapback of sanctions should Iran fail to keep its commitments.” The letter itemizes the sorts of protections an acceptable deal must contain, including a minimum 20-year inspection arrangement, full disclosure of Iran’s military program and agreed-upon sanctions in the event of a breach.
Like many agreements, letters and statements, this one is fine, I suppose, but doesn’t get to the heart of the matter. There are three obvious gaps between this kind of document and what is required.
First, Menendez can say whatever he wants, but until he and Democrats agree to allow a vote on sanctions and other measures, this is background noise. This requires Democrats to explicitly repudiate the administration and its flunky, Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid, or there will be a replay of the sanctions standoff we saw in January. Get Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Carl Levin (D- Mich.) and others on record as pledging to ignore their Senate leadership, if necessary, and force a vote. Then we will take this seriously.
Second, the problem with all these sorts of deals is that it relies on the administration’s willingness to cite violations and then do something serious and substantial in response. After a year, when Iran begins to, say, close off inspectors, is this president going to re-impose sanctions? Even if the agreement says he should do so, the administration will quibble over whether such a violation is really a big deal. Moreover, considering how our intelligence community failed to figure out in advance the Islamic State invasion, the invasion of Ukraine and the jihadist threat in Libya, I’m not at all confident that it could detect cheating (e.g. construction of a new reactor somewhere). Without virtual elimination of centrifuges, enriched material, Fordow and Arak, the guarantee of inspections and renewal of sanctions is ephemeral. The administration –and even more so the Europeans — will be insistent on lessening sanctions and reluctant to call out violations.
And third, the potential for military action must be increased. We’re getting late in the game for new sanctions, as even Menendez has said. Although this administration has convinced everyone that it will never act militarily, there is Israel, whose military credibility is high these days. Congress should push the administration with an authorization for use of force and, perhaps more effectively, create a laundry list of weapons that Israel will need for an effective strike and propose a regional alliance for reduction and elimination of the Iranian force.
Fourth, Congress must be crystal clear that significant sanctions relief will not occur until Iran ceases sponsorship of terror and cuts off arms transfers to terror groups such as Hamas. Given the latest Gaza war, allowing Iran to keep its terror empire intact would be a grave error.
Congress has an important to role to play, as do candidates and outside voices. But it is a mistake to aim too low and to let the administration hide behind Harry Reid’s skirts. Congress should aim for virtual elimination of Iran’s enrichment program — no freezing and keeping the proceeds from years of illegal enrichment — and a credible military threat. What Congress does is far more important than what it says it wants.