There’s a lot of chatter out there about how foreign policy is really going to matter for 2016. There’s also a lot of chatter about how the next president will need to restore America’s standing in the world, because U.S. relations with every country except Myanmar have worsened since Obama took office.

One could question both premises, but for the purposes of this column, let’s take them as true. If that’s the case, which recent presidential election does this most resemble?

If you answered 2008, you get a gold star. Back then, America’s standing in the world was the number one concern of voters, displacing even protecting American jobs. And I think it’s safe to say that relations with most of America’s partners and friends were not great in early 2008. The subprime mortgage crisis did not help matters.

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The hard-working staff here at Spoiler Alerts has been thinking about the 2008 campaign, because while the major Democratic presidential candidates agreed with this diagnosis, their fiercest debate revolved around … how to renegotiate NAFTA. Which was a guaranteed way to not win more friends and allies:

I’ve said it before and I will say it again: Democrats cannot simultaneously talk about improving America’s standing abroad while acting like a belligerent unilateralist when it comes to trade policy.

Of course, in the end, the NAFTA renegotiation debate proved to be nothing more than campaign rhetoric, an exercise in cheap talk. Which must have frustrated protectionists while calming our trade partners.

I’m dredging up this ancient history because the current Iran framework has some interesting parallels to the NAFTA debate. As previously noted, the GOP candidates are simultaneously pledging to restore America’s standing in the world. … right after they stick it to American allies in any P5+1 agreement with Iran.

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As Greg Sargent notes, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) — whose comparative advantage in this GOP field will be foreign policy — is the most prominent domino to fall. Rubio said the following to NPR:

RUBIO: Yes, it wouldn’t be as effective, obviously … the Europeans are going to have a test anyway because the Iranians are going to violate the sanctions at some point. They’re going to evade it either by trying to take advantage of loopholes in the deal, or they’ll just flat-out evade it because they’ve always had a secret component to their program. And at that point, they’re going to have a huge test on their hands, which is, are they willing to live by the agreement that they even signed on to?
But from the United States’ perspective, while we want our allies to join us in this endeavor, and certainly sanctions against Iran would be more effective were they in conjunction with our allies around the world, we have to look out for our own national security concerns. 

This doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Snapping back unilateral U.S. sanctions might hurt the Iranians a bit, but without U.N. Security Council buy-in, said sanctions will not accomplish much beyond riling European allies. Reimposing the sanctions would simply give the Iranians a convenient out on any agreement.

As Daniel Larison noted last month, this is consistent with Rubio’s past statements on Iran:

“The United States, although it’s less than ideal, could unilaterally reimpose more crushing and additional sanctions,” Rubio said. He said he would also “use the standing of the United States on the global stage to try to encourage other nations to do so.”

This. Makes. No. Sense. You can pledge to unilaterally reverse the Iran deal. You can pledge that you’ll restore America’s standing with our allies and partners. You can’t do both and not be lying about one of your pledges.

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So which is it? Is the Iran deal the new NAFTA or not? One the one hand, a big difference between NAFTA and any Iran agreement is that the former, as a congressional-executive agreement, is more durable than any executive agreement that the administration will sign on Iran. So legally, an Iran framework is much easier to reverse.

On the other hand, last month, I was  pretty confident that no incoming GOP president would actually reverse a completed deal. Now, with a deal in place for congressional review, I should be even more confident. While it’s easy to paint this as capitulation by the Obama administration, it also addresses the strongest critique the GOP can muster about the process. Now Congress has some buy-in. This still isn’t a treaty, but politically, it looks like it is more than just a simple executive agreement.

In the end, I think this is still the 2016 equivalent of renegotiating NAFTA, for a very simple reason. No Republican thinks that the Iranians will honor the terms of any deal. Therefore, any current debate will be overtaken by negative events come January 2017. Therefore, Rubio et al can say any damn thing they want about Iran now without any policy consequences.

So here’s the fun thought exercise to consider: If the Iran framework surmounts the obstacles to become an actual deal, and there is no evidence as of early 2017 that Iran has violated the terms of the deal, what would a GOP president do?

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