10 Questions for President Obama About Iran
It appears likely, as of this writing, that Barack Obama will be victorious in his fight to implement the Iran nuclear deal negotiated by his secretary of state, John Kerry. Republicans in Congress don’t appear to have the votes necessary to void the agreement, and Benjamin Netanyahu’s campaign to subvert Obama may be remembered as one of the more counterproductive and shortsighted acts of an Israeli prime minister since the rebirth of the Jewish state 67 years ago.
Things could change, of course, and the Iranian regime, which is populated in good part by extremists, fundamentalist theocrats, and supporters of terrorism, could do something monumentally stupid in the coming weeks that could force on-the-fence Democrats to side with their Republican adversaries (remember the Café Milano fiasco, anyone?). But, generally speaking, the Obama administration, and its European allies, seem to have a clearer path to implementation than they had at the beginning of the month.
Which is a good thing. I remain in the camp of people who are not happy that Iran will be strengthened economically by this deal—much of this money will be flowing to such horrifying Iranian clients as Bashar al-Assad in Syria and Hassan Nasrallah in Lebanon—but who also believe that there is no reasonable alternative to the deal, and believe, by the way, that Israel, among other parties, might actually benefit from it.
I’ve read various arguments advancing the line that the U.S. could, in the absence of an agreement, unilaterally prevent Iran from crossing the nuclear threshold without going to war, and there is some merit to these arguments. I don’t like the surety of those who argue that congressional rejection of the deal axiomatically means armed conflict between the U.S. and Iran (and I certainly don’t like the malevolent attempt by some to label Jewish critics of the deal as traitors), but ultimately these formulas aren’t convincing. The deal places real constraints—not perfect constraints, but meaningful constraints nonetheless—on Iran’s nuclear ambitions. No deal means no constraints. I find myself more or less in agreement with Brent Scowcroft, the former U.S. national security adviser, who wrote in The Washington Post last week that if the U.S. walks away from the deal, it walks away alone:
The world’s leading powers worked together effectively because of U.S. leadership. To turn our back on this accomplishment would be an abdication of the United States’ unique role and responsibility, incurring justified dismay among our allies and friends. We would lose all leverage over Iran’s nuclear activities. The international sanctions regime would dissolve. And no member of Congress should be under the illusion that another U.S. invasion of the Middle East would be helpful.
The partisan polarization of this issue, and Netanyahu’s self-destructive all-or-nothing approach, have made it more difficult to discuss matters that actually need discussing right now: ways in which the deal could be strengthened, and ways in which Iran’s regional ambitions—non-nuclear but still nefarious ambitions—could be checked.
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