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Previewing a major fight on Iran

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, center, Head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi, left, and Hossein Fereydoon, brother and close aide to President Hassan Rouhani, meet with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Vienna on Friday. (Carlos Barria/Pool via Associated Press)
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On Sunday we got a sneak preview of what to expect as we are on the cusp of a full debate on the Iran deal.

We know the White House will treat this like a political campaign, mobilizing all manner of left-wing groups regardless of whether they have expertise or even interest in foreign policy. You’ll see everyone from Big Labor to in the fight. Their pressure will focus on Democrats hoping to deprive critics of a veto-proof majority. Think about that: They know the deal is so weak as to not gain approval; their task will be to focus on how large the vote of disapproval will be.

And there will be a huge fight. Remarkably, on Sunday, with a deal not complete, Democratic presidential candidate Jim Webb, Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez (N.J.), the GOP House speaker and Senate majority leaders all voiced profound skepticism if not downright opposition to a deal. Democratic defenders were nowhere to be seen. They will be there, but their absence is indicative of how far the ball has moved since the announcement of the framework. Successive capitulations to Iran on a host of issues and Iran’s own chiseling on the deal have fed legitimate and deep anxiety about a president so anxious for any deal he would agree to practically anything.

As Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) put it, “I mean I think we’ve been on a downward trend for some time. We really crossed the Rubicon when we went from during the beginning to dismantling their program to agreeing to enrichment. We’ve moved towards management their proliferation.” Former senator Jim Webb (D-Va.), now a presidential candidate, largely agreed with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s harsh critique. Webb added that “we do not want to do at this point is to send a signal to the region that we are accepting the notion that eventually Iran would be acquiring nuclear weapons.” If we want to do some sort of deal, Webb suggested that there are “confidence-building gestures as we did with the Soviet Union over many years” and stressed that “you don’t have to have this deal in order to move forward with them.”

In essence, critics of the deal have laid down markers for an acceptable deal (e.g., go anywhere/anytime inspections, revelation of possible military dimensions, dismantlement of a nuclear weapons-producing infrastructure, and waiting to relieve sanctions until Iran demonstrates compliance). It is hard to quibble with these elements as they come straight from the administration. Added to this is heightened scrutiny caused by Iran’s demand for lifting of sanctions on conventional weapons and ICBMs. In essence, we are giving Iran $150 billion to spread around to Hamas, Hezbollah and Syria and to move forward on its missile program, the purpose of which can only be delivery of a nuclear weapon. Taking a step back for a moment, this is nuts.

But we know the administration will argue, just as it did when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did, that it is not a perfect deal but the only other option is war. It is worth noting this is not true because enhanced sanctions, a new more credible president and a real threat of military action could be tried.

Moreover, there is a good argument that a deal this bad will increase violence, instability and outright war. We know for starters that Sunni states will move forward with their own programs. And we know that Iran will use some of its billions to finance Hezbollah and Hamas, which in turn are anxious to step up aggression toward Israel. And we know at some point either by cheating or by following the rules meticulously Iran will be nuclear weapons-ready. At that point, having removed sanctions and left the Islamic fanatics with a nuclear weapons infrastructure, the only option for the United States and/or Israel will be military action.

We also know there will be a full-court press on the Hill and with the public from pro-defense, pro-Israel and even pro-Non-Proliferation Treaty forces (the deal kills NPT by rewarding an NPT violator with $150 billion and a ticket to the nuclear weapons club) and many foreign policy experts and former officials of both parties.

The deal should have a sobering effect on the public and the GOP race. At stake is the risk of Iran getting a nuclear bomb. The next president will have the difficult task of either undoing the deal or managing the fallout from a president who, for the sake of his legacy, empowered, emboldened and encouraged Iran’s aggression and quest for a nuclear weapon. If that does not require a grown-up as commander in chief, I am not sure what will.