The long saga of global bodies negotiating over Iran’s nuclear program ended a significant phase on July 14, 2015, when the parties concluded a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in Vienna, Austria. The negotiation has now entered the “approval” phase by various bodies including the US Congress. The initial reviews and comments of the JCPOA have been heated and ugly.
On August 7, 2015, David Brooks of the New York Times wrote an op-ed piece entitled “3 U.S. Defeats: Vietnam, Iraq and Now Iran”. Brooks enumerated the various points that make many Americans angry about the terms of the JCPOA, specifically, the failure to realize the stated goals set out by the Obama administration:
- Prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power
- Dismantle the nuclear infrastructure
- Remove their ability to enrich uranium
- Close the Fordow Heavy water reactor enrichment facility
- Force Iran to disclose all past nuclear activities
- Anywhere, anytime inspections
- No sanctions relief until all of the above have been accomplished
Brooks concluded that none of Obama’s stated objectives were realized. He referred to the agreement as a “partial surrender” to Iran that came about because of the poor tactics of team Obama.
However, that is not the question before Congress. If Congress were to vote on whether the JCPOA produced a disappointing result, the vote would be nearly unanimous (with the exception of a few Obama puppets). But Congress is not being asked to opine if this was the best deal that could have been achieved, but whether the deal is good enough.
On August 10, 2015, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg spoke out against the president’s tactics in aggressively trying to sell the JCPOA. In “White House Should Leave Politics Out of Iran Deal,” Bloomberg admonished Obama for name-calling opponents of the deal war-mongers and for threatening payback against any politician who dared to vote against the deal. For his part, Bloomberg concluded that the JCPOA was extremely marginal at best, and that Obama’s forceful defense of the deal was “grossly overstating” his case.
The “especially disappointing” behavior by the White House was politics at its worst, particularly when so much is on the line, according to Bloomberg. Politicians should not vote on this significant agreement based on politics or party loyalty; they must vote based on the deal’s merits.
On August 7, 2015, New York Senator Charles Schumer detailed his rationale for not supporting the JCPOA. He analyzed the deal based on three criteria:
- Preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons over the next ten years
- The position of Iran’s nuclear capabilities at the sunset of the deal
- The cost of the agreement in terms of giving Iran sanctions relief
In terms of the negotiating team’s primary mission of preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons, Schumer stated that there “are serious weaknesses in the agreement,” including the lack of anytime-anywhere inspections and that the US would need approval of a majority of China, Russia and the Europeans to enforce inspections. Overall, he thought the deal’s terms were not compelling.
On the second point, Schumer was even more negative and stated “we will be worse off with this agreement than without it.”
Regarding the non-nuclear components of the deal, Schumer was extremely clear in opposing the enablement of a state-sponsor of terrorism to obtain billions in funds and access to ballistic missiles: “When it comes to the non-nuclear aspects of the deal, I think there is a strong case that we are better off without an agreement than with one.”
Senator Schumer analyzed and articulated his assessment of the deal. He avoided voting based on the deal’s disappointment, and based on his president’s rhetoric.
President Obama has stated that the only alternative to this deal is war. Secretary of State John Kerry stated that there is no “better deal” out there nor is there an opportunity to renegotiate this one.
Yet, those claims are far from clear. Based on behavior of both Obama and Kerry, it would be easy to conclude that these are just their opinions dressed as facts as they attempt to forcefully push through the JCPOA.
There is no clear answer as to the impact of the US voting down the JCPOA. While procedurally, it is understood that Obama outmaneuvered Congress in only needing one-third instead of a two-thirds vote to secure his deal, what happens if Congress does manage to have the votes? Obama claims that Iran gets the best of all worlds and gets sanctions relief from the rest of the world while it moves forward with a nuclear program. That is hard to imagine. That inherently implies that the rest of the world doesn’t care if Iran has nuclear weapons and it is only the USA that is applying the pressure. If Obama really believes that, then a negative US vote is an opportunity to renegotiate.
Disappointment: The JCPOA is clearly a disappointing result, especially considering the many years that tough sanctions were imposed on Iran as well as the severely depressed recent price of oil applied intense pressure on the regime that will be hard to ever replicate. Together with significant American troops next door in Afghanistan, the P5+1 had tremendous leverage to force complete capitulation by Iran.
The President: Obama is overselling his weak deal as a “strong deal” (in his words) and is bullying his fellow Democrats into submission. If the deal is as strong as he claims, it should be able to stand on its own merits.
The Deal: The deal by itself seems borderline at best. Perhaps it is better than nothing- but only if it costs nothing. The significant sanctions relief and various deal terms make the marginal deal appear unacceptable.
Ramifications: Congress must vote on the deal based on its merits and not based on the disappointing terms nor Obama’s threats. But it must also better understand the ramifications of rejecting the deal. Kerry’s losing face is not a reason to alter one’s vote on something so important.
Congress and the American people must understand the actual ramifications of turning down the JCPOA without the aggressive salesmanship of the White House.
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