Chalk up a win for former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg and for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.). Both attacked the Obama administration for the Federal Aviation Administration ban on flights to Israel, Bloomberg by flying there himself and proclaiming it perfectly safe to fly into Ben Gurion and Cruz from the Senate floor in labeling it an economic boycott of Israel and demanding details about the FAA’s action. AIPAC, which is becoming increasingly vocal in its objections to U.S. policy on Gaza and on the Iran nuclear talks, went public as well, releasing a statement that called the ban “overly harsh and excessive.” The statement argued that the ban “could have the unintended effect of encouraging terrorists to become even more committed to make civil aviation a target.”
The administration bristled at the suggestion that it was, as was widely perceived, using the ban as a means of pressuring Israel. In any event, by quickly pulling the ban just hours after it was announced and the backlash ensued, the administration wound up reinforcing the conclusion that this had been a strong-arm maneuver. An administration now infamous for its passive-aggressive behavior once again was left looking feckless.
That wasn’t the only revolt against Obama’s foreign policy shenanigans. In the Senate, a group of GOP senators announced: “Senators Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and James Risch (R-Idaho) introduced legislation today requiring congressional review of any final agreement with Iran. The bill also would prevent further extensions of the negotiations, strictly enforce Iran’s compliance, and prevent implementation of a final agreement if a veto-proof majority of Congress disapproves of the deal.” The bill contains the following:
Congressional Review: The president must submit any comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran to Congress within three days of concluding such an agreement. After a 15-day review period, Congress has another 15 days to introduce a joint resolution of disapproval, which would have expedited consideration in both the House and Senate. If the president fails to submit any final agreement to Congress or a joint resolution of disapproval is enacted into law, any sanctions that had been temporarily lifted would be re-imposed
Making Sure Iran Doesn’t Cheat: Within 10 days of the intelligence community receiving evidence that Iran has failed to comply with the terms of an agreement or cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Director of National Intelligence must determine whether the information is credible and accurate and notify Congress. A determination that Iran has cheated would re-impose all sanctions that had been temporarily lifted.
No More Extensions: If the president does not submit a comprehensive final agreement to Congress, all sanctions relieved under the interim agreement would be immediately restored on November 28, 2014, four days after the end of the extension period. This allows the president to negotiate while ensuring the Iranians do not use the negotiations as a delaying tactic or a cover for advancing their program.
While the bill is relatively modest in its aims and embraces positions many Democrats have embraced, it remains to be seen whether any of them will join the effort. If they won’t, it will only highlight the degree to which the Senate majority leader has become the White House’s puppet and obstructionist when it comes to bipartisan actions to toughen the administration and exert pressure on Iran.
Taken together, the backlash on the flight ban and the reaction to the extension of the Iran interim deal (with another $2.8 billion in sanctions relief) can be seen as a reflection of the complete loss of credibility the administration is undergoing. Time and again, its foreign policy moves have proved insincere and its judgment entirely wrong; now it earns no deference. To the contrary, each move is seen as political and/or part of the president’s efforts to appease enemies, even at the expense of close allies and U.S. security.
Meanwhile, one has to wonder what Hillary Clinton thinks of all this. She is hiding behind a phalanx of handlers, so we don’t really know. Is she outraged by the FAA ban, as Bloomberg is? Does she see the folly in extending the interim deal, or does she think “gaps are narrowing” (the telltale John Kerry description of a situation in which he has been played by the other side)? She has not been a profile in courage during the Gaza war and controversy over the Iran interim deal extension.
The president commands little respect in an arena in which the commander in chief is usually given free rein. Experience now tells members of both parties that Congress needs to engage strenuously and regularly to keep him from going off the rails. These days, that’s a full-time job.