Opinion writer

Secretary of State John Kerry appears before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on July 23. (REUTERS/Gary Cameron)

The hysterical and vicious attacks on Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) in the wake of his opposition to the Iran deal undermine the White House talking point that this was merely disappointing but “not particularly surprising.” The Hill reports:

[Schumer] left many liberals furious, and stunned at how the presumptive next Senate Democratic leader could break with virtually every other leader of their party.

Even though the No. 3 Senate Democrat released his statement in the middle of the first GOP presidential debate — practically ensuring it would be buried in the media — activist groups including MoveOn and Credo pounced within moments.

“No real Democratic leader does this,” MoveOn.org political action executive director Ilya Sheyman declared less than 30 minutes after Schumer’s statement was posted online. “If this is what counts as ‘leadership’ among Democrats in the Senate, Senate Democrats should be prepared to find a new leader or few followers.” . . . Bloggers at the liberal website Daily Kos called Schumer a “warmonger” who would “be a disaster” as the top Senate Democrat.

Ex-Obama aides including Dan Pfeiffer, Tommy Vietor and Ben LaBolt similarly condemned the stance, questioning whether Schumer would be able to lead Democrats in the upper chamber after so publicly breaking with the leader of their party.

Secretary of State John Kerry, who personally has briefed and cajoled lawmakers, was stung by the announcement, lashing out at Schumer by name. Conservatives’ suspicion that he tried to blunt the impact by announcing his decision just as the first GOP debate was about to begin miss the point. Schumer was trying to minimize the left’s ferocity.

Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran, a group opposing the deal and backed by AIPAC, issued a statement, which read, “Senator Schumer has made a courageous stand in opposition to a weak Iran deal that is not in America’s national interest. After careful consideration and close examination, the Senator made a decision of conscience. His opposition is a sign of growing bipartisan concern about this deal amid increasing public disapproval. Members of Congress of both parties should ignore partisan pressure and make a decision on the merits. We also agree with Senator Schumer that there is a diplomatic alternative to this bad deal.”

The president at this point is unable to stop himself and insisted his comparison of deal opponents to Iranian hardliners was “absolutely true, factually.” It’s this sort of bizarrely misdirected venom at fellow Democrats that is proving to be unhelpful to him, if not counterproductive.

The problem, of course, is that lots and lots of people, including Iranian enemies in the Arab world, view the deal as calamitous. As the Washington Times observed:

Mideast analysts say most Arabs are worried about the implications of the deal and whether Iran will ramp up its involvement in regional conflicts, particularly in Syria, Yemen and Lebanon. They are concerned about the billions of dollars that are expected to be unleashed into Iran’s economy as a result of the sanctions relief and are wary of how Tehran would use those funds.

The most common Arab reaction is to say good, but we want to see how Iran is going to behave in the future,” said Hussein Ibish, a senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institutes in Washington. “Most people in the Arab world are very skeptical about Iran and mistrustful, especially along sectarian lines. Iran is not popular these days in the Sunni-Arab world.”

“I think this is one instance in which public opinion and the opinion of the governments, which often do diverge, are actually fairly closely in sync,” Mr. Ibish added.

The administration’s actions from ignoring Iranian aggression to turning a blind eye to violations of sanctions has convinced Arab leaders and commentators that the president is in fact capitulating to Iranian domination of the region. (“The nuclear deal coming six and a half years after President Obama extended his hand to the Ayatollah’s clenched fist and loosening it a bit, is seen by many Arabs as signifying the beginning of an American strategic shift towards Iran as the regional influential, at a time when they are locked in what they and the Iranians see as an epochal geo-political struggle with its attendant ugly sectarian overtone.”)

The White House decision to treat this as a partisan food fight rather than the most consequential foreign policy decision of our time was forced upon it by the weakness of the deal. Numerous experts and members of Congress have shredded the deal, pointing to its deficiencies in the nuclear arena and its dangerous consequences in the regional balance of power. In the administration’s panic to reach a deal it threw concession after concession at the Iranians, going well beyond the nuclear aspects of Iran’s hegemonic conduct (e.g., tossing Iran concessions on the arms and missile embargoes). That has proved to be a huge problem for Democrats.

“If you think its radicalism is going to be softened by a few global trade opportunities, you really haven’t been paying attention to the Middle East over the past four decades,” David Brooks writes, “Iran will use its $150 billion windfall to spread terror around the region and exert its power. It will incrementally but dangerously cheat on the accord. Armed with money, ballistic weapons and an eventual nuclear breakout, it will become more aggressive. . . . Sometimes when you surrender to a tyranny you lay the groundwork for a more cataclysmic conflict to come.” In response, the administration offers fear-mongering and ad hominem attacks. That is cold comfort to responsible Democrats who understand that “in voting for this deal they may be affixing their names to an arrangement that will increase the chance of more comprehensive war further down the road.”

Liberal activists and left-wing political pundits underestimate the degree to which substance matters. In this case, the administration fell so short of its stated goals and made the deal so much worse by its non-nuclear concessions that the deal no longer passes the smell test even for Democrats who would like to be helpful to the White House. Michael Singh notes, the key elements of a nuclear deal — fabrication of weapons, weaponization of nuclear technology and delivery — fall short of an acceptable deal:

When it comes to fuel fabrication, the nuclear agreement leaves Iran in possession of a full nuclear supply chain from uranium mining to enrichment, and also leaves in place the heavy water reactor at Arak. . . . Iran is permitted to continue research and development on advanced centrifuges and to begin deploying such centrifuges after just eight and a half years. Because such centrifuges are designed to enrich uranium much more efficiently than Iran’s existing “IR-1” centrifuges, they are far better suited to a covert weapons-development effort — far fewer of them, operating for less time, would be required to produce weapons-grade fuel. Second, the restrictions described above phase out ten to fifteen years from now, meaning that at that time Iran would face few technical impediments to reducing its breakout time substantially.

When it comes to weaponization, the agreement commits Iran not to “engage in activities, including at the R&D level, which could contribute to the development of a nuclear explosive device.” But the question is how Iran’s adherence to this commitment can be verified, especially since such activities tend to be secretive by their very nature. Indeed, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reporting suggests that Iran has already engaged in various “activities related to the development of a nuclear explosive device,” part of what the IAEA terms the “possible military dimensions” (PMD) of Iran’s nuclear program. . .

In the area of delivery vehicles, the agreement contains no limitations whatsoever as far as I can tell.

As he concludes, “Taken together, these weaknesses suggest that the agreement will permit Iran to retain the option to build a nuclear weapon in the future. Indeed, the agreement could be seen as a means by which Iran buys time to perfect, in some cases with international assistance, the technologies — advanced centrifuges, weaponization, and long-range ballistic missiles — required to build a nuclear weapon in the future. In my view, this is not by accident — Iran’s ‘redlines’ seem to have been designed to shape this outcome, implying again that Iran’s purpose in the talks has been to obtain sanctions relief while retaining or even improving its nuclear weapons capability.”

Obama’s cringe-worthy and personalized attacks on Democrats are poor substitutes for a reasoned defense of the deal. But given there are fewer and fewer respected figures willing to defend the deal on substance, it is all he has left. In that regard he has already lost the fight, leaving the deal discredited and lacking intellectual credibility. It will be that much easier for the next president to get rid of it if Congress doesn’t do it first.