The Iran debate is in full swing, as it should be. The potential for a nuclear breakout by a radical Islamist state and for a deal that might cement its status as such is worth robust debate. But one reason the debate seems disjointed is that the defenders of the Obama administration and the administration itself seem unaware or unwilling to recognize certain facts.
First, there is the letter from Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and 46 other senators. It stated that under our constitutional system Congress plays a key role. “Anything not approved by Congress is a mere executive agreement . . . The next president could revoke such an agreement with a stroke of the pen.” Secretary of State John Kerry, after saying he couldn’t believe someone sent a letter, agreed, “We’ve been clear from the beginning: We’re not negotiating a, quote, legally binding plan.” So what’s the problem — don’t they agree the administration’s executive agreement won’t bind the next president? I think honest critics of the letter need to read it and explain why it is an abomination for 47 senators to say this but not for the secretary of state. Instead, the left-wing punditocracy ignores a startling turn of events — Kerry confirmed Cotton’s point.
Moving on, I wonder if it is possible the left really thinks the only choice is this deal or war. That is what the White House keeps saying, even though it previously insisted that a bad deal was worse than no deal. That is what it insisted even after a speech in which the prime minister of Israel specifically gave an alternative (increase sanctions, keep them in place until the Iranians’ international behavior changes). If sanctions brought Iran to the table — as the administration says — wouldn’t an increase in pressure, including sanctions, possibly bring about a change? That is what Obama’s former Iran adviser Dennis Ross has been arguing for a couple of years. It is almost as if the left now does not believe Hillary Clinton’s argument for crippling sanctions to force Iran to give up its nukes. It is as if the administration and its defenders are entirely ignorant of coercive diplomacy.
Along these lines, one has to ask whether the administration and its spinners understand that in 2003 Iran stopped its nuclear weapons program. It was no coincidence that its show of restraint came just after the removal of Saddam Hussein. Presented with what it thought was the choice between regime survival and its nuclear program, Iran chose the former. (As Jonathan Ruhe wrote last year: “Iran executed a similarly momentous about-face in late 2003, when it agreed to verifiably suspend key aspects of its uranium enrichment program. This occurred in the wake of U.S. military campaigns that collapsed two neighboring regimes in less than two years. Saddam Hussein and the Afghan Taliban had long stymied Iran, but the demonstrable ease with which the United States deposed the regimes gave pause to leaders in Tehran. In Iraq, the United States and its allies had accomplished in three weeks what Iran could not do in six years, which pressured Iran to come to the negotiating table.”) Has Obama lost the leverage or the will to compel Iran to choose between survival and its nuclear program? If so, it has been a colossal strategic failure and we should examine whether a new president could be more successful.
And finally, the left cries that Republicans only want regime change! Well, doesn’t the left want a government in Tehran that does not oppress its people, sponsor terror, prop up dictators such as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and subvert its neighbors? Doesn’t the left, too, want a government that does not threaten to wipe Israel off the map? Regime change does not mean we must resort to force. Indeed, in retrospect, none other than Hillary Clinton wrote about her regret that the administration did not do more to support the Green Revolution. Obama obviously thought regime change and getting rid of Iran’s nukes were mutually exclusive, but in fact they could have been pursued simultaneously. That is what Ronald Reagan did. His solution to the Cold War was “We win, they lose.” He supported dissidents and freedom fighters against Soviet-backed forces and governments. He kept up unending pressure by rebuilding our military. But he also negotiated with the Soviets. One can of course pursue both. Obama’s choice between negotiations or regime choice is a false one.
I get the sense the White House and its spinners would rather ignore arguments on the merits and instead smear those telling unpleasant truths. Despite its manufactured fusses, we now know about two huge concessions (Iran gets thousands of nukes and a sunset clause) and the legal status of what is being negotiated (a non-binding agreement). Why not discuss the merits of those concessions and the ramifications of a non-binding deal? It is almost as if the left does not have the confidence to confront these issues or the honesty to acknowledge reality.