I watched President Obama’s speech live Wednesday at American University defending the nuclear agreement with Iran. Although he introduced no new facts or arguments, I found him persuasive. That’s not surprising because I already supported the deal and because he focused for a while on the question I’ve been asking, namely:
How do the leaders of the movement in Congress to reject the agreement believe it gets the situation to a better place when most of the nations that have been enforcing economic sanctions against Iran will relax those sanctions whatever Congress does?
I suspect I also found Obama’s remarks refreshing because they were logical and coherent, which seemed like a treat at the moment because those of us who pay too much attention to politics are living in a Bizarro world — the fabulous, very smart, very rich, screw-you world that Donald Trump made, a world in which facts and logic have no place. That’s why it was refreshing to hear a logical, coherent presentation.
Obama was mostly respectful to those who oppose the Iran deal. He didn’t call them traitors or idiots. He did say that those who oppose the deal are trapped in “a mindset characterized by a preference for military action over diplomacy, a mindset that puts a premium on unilateral U.S. action over the painstaking work of building international consensus, a mindset that exaggerated threats beyond what the intelligence supported.”
Do Mideast wars work out?
Those words actually referred to the neocons who pushed the Bush administration into bombing and invading Iraq in 2003, but Obama made clear that many of the same people who railroaded the country into that unhappy decision now (operating from the same “mindset”) want to reject the Iran deal because they apparently still believe that wars work out well in the Mideast. (Obama did manage to mention, in passing, that he had opposed the Iraq War, in advance, back when the neocons were promising that U.S. troops would be greeted as liberators with candy and flowers and that the removal of Saddam Hussein would plant the seeds of peace and democracy across the Mideast).
I may have missed it but I still haven’t heard the coherent, logical description of how congressional rejection of the Iran deal will lead to a happier situation for anyone. The rejectionists say that rejecting the deal doesn’t (necessarily) lead to bombing Iran, but I haven’t seen a realistic description of how that works where, without a war and without the multilateral sanctions, the situation improves for the United States or its allies.
As Obama explained in his remarks, U.S. economic sanctions against Iran were never enough to stop Iran from making progress toward the bomb. It was the much wider sanctions, backed by United Nations and most of the world’s great powers, including Russia and China, that pressured Iran to stop its progress toward a nuclear weapon and to come to the negotiating table in hopes of getting the sanctions lifted.
What about our allies?
That larger group, and the United Nations itself, has endorsed the deal. Congressional action (which will have to overcome Obama’s veto to take effect) might get the U.S. sanctions reimposed, but as Obama said:
“Our closest allies in Europe and Asia, much less China or Russia, certainly are not going to enforce existing sanctions for another five, 10, 15 years according to the dictates of the U.S. Congress.”
Obama noted all the talk about the funds that Iran will get when the sanctions are lifted going to Hezbollah, etc. And he didn’t dispute that Iran will use some of the money for nefarious purposes. He argued that most of the sanctions will be coming off even if Congress rejects the agreement. But if Congress does that, the agreement will be nullified and Iran can go back to full-scale nuclear weapons development activities, which might result in them having a useable weapon quite soon.
Obama says (and opponents of the deal have been saying this is not the case) it’s a choice between this deal, war with Iran or Iran getting a bomb fairly soon.
I’ve been waiting for someone on the other side of the argument to explain how congressional rejection of the deal leads to a better outcome. So far, I haven’t heard it.
P.S.: I watched the Obama speech live online and I don’t have a link to where the video might be archived, but the full text of his remarks is here.