Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.) kicked off the first session at the annual AIPAC policy conference this morning. As the saying goes — or used to go between Israel and the United States — there was no daylight between them on Israel and Iran.
They both genuflected in favor of a “good deal” from the P5+1 negotiations that resolves the Iran problem. But we all know a bad deal or no deal are the only options in sight. For Graham, the best tactic is requiring Congress to approve any deal, a bill for which AIPAC delegates will lobby this week. (This marks the second time this year — the first involving a Menendez-Kirk sanctions bill — that AIPAC is lobbying for a bill the White House is threatening to veto.)
What is a good deal? Graham defines it as one that allows a “peaceful” nuclear program but no breakout. A bad deal is one that is going to “lock in” Iran’s nuclear weapons capability. The only thing standing in the way of a nuclear-armed Iran, he explained, would be inspectors from the United Nations, something he rhetorically asked the crowd whether that made them comfortable. Cardin termed a good deal to be one that “prevents breakout and where inspectors can go everywhere.”
They brought the audience back to the essence of the problem, namely a radical regime bent on destroying Israel and dominating the region. Graham observed, “As we negotiate with the Iranians they have toppled 4 Arab capitals. … [T]his is what they are doing without a nuclear weapon.” He made the cogent point that with sanctions relief Iran is not going to be building schools and hospitals but on its military and political campaign against its neighbors.
While AIPAC focuses on the U.S.-Israel relationship, Cardin reminded the crowd that when the Iranian nuclear threat affects “not just Israel. Every moderate Arab country is talking about it.” Graham concurred, “A bad deal that leads to nuclear proliferation is a nightmare for the world.”
The joint appearance highlighted a political reality: Congress on a bipartisan basis, moderate Arab states and Israel oppose the sort of deal President Obama is negotiating. As AIPAC chief executive Howard Kohr said in a later discussion, the president has shifted from dismantling Iran’s nuclear weapons program to delaying its breakout. It is almost inconceivable that Obama would deliver a deal that accomplishes the former, for if that were in the works he would not be threatening to veto legislation empowering Congress to weigh in on a final deal.
If Cardin speaks honestly and for his party, he is confirming that the president is entirely isolated on a “delayed breakout” scheme. If so — and I have doubts about Democrats’ will to resist White House pressure and propaganda — Obama can make a deal but he cannot deliver on it. When he leaves office, any suspension of sanctions expires and a new president will need to decide whether to impose new sanctions and/or to use military force if need be, although the nuclear arms race in the region may be underway by then. Republican presidential hopefuls say publicly they will not honor a bad deal not approved by Congress. Hillary Clinton must answer whether she is with Cardin and a bipartisan majority or with the president. A future commander in chief should not be afraid to speak her mind.