How does congressional rejection of Obama’s Iran deal improve anything?

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
President Barack Obama delivering remarks on a nuclear deal with Iran at American University in Washington on Wednesday.

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.

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Comments (7)

  1. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 08/06/2015 - 10:42 am.

    Maybe this will be a topic

    …of tonight’s “debate” (read: talking points) among the various Republican contenders for the Party’s nomination, but since that hasn’t happened yet, Eric is preaching to the choir at my house. No credible alternative has yet been presented – at least, not one I’m aware of – that doesn’t involve either unilateral U.S. military action, or an abandonment of the diplomatic process altogether, giving Iran free rein to pursue whatever nuclear ends it chooses.

    Those leaning much farther to the right will disagree, of course, and I would read that argument with interest, but I don’t personally believe Iran presents a credible threat to the U.S., and I’m not willing to sacrifice my grandson or granddaughter – or the children of other parents and grandparents who might be members of our armed forces – on the altar of a geopolitical strategy emphasizing unilateral military action, a strategy that has proven itself to be an abject and total failure over more than a decade.

    One of the definitions of stupidity involves repeating the same unsuccessful action, but expecting different results. It’s a fair characterization of our geopolitical approach to the Middle East.

  2. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 08/06/2015 - 11:06 am.

    The fact is that the best agreement could have been made a decade or so ago when Iran was just starting down this path. As every year passed, Iran has gained more and more capability, resulting in less time remaining to complete a bomb every year. We are at one of the last, if not the last, turn-off on the “highway to hell” that certain conservative elements around the seem so eager complete.

    Time is running out, simply because the opposition want it to.

    How else can you prove that you are the toughest one in the room.

    After all, we’ve shown we know how to fight and win in the middle east.

  3. Submitted by Roy Everson on 08/06/2015 - 12:00 pm.

    Fear shortage ahead?

    A few months ago some right-wing elites were suggesting foreign policy issues would dominate the campaign next year. Just get Rand Paul on board and the whole gang would be on the same neocon page. He jumped on the caboose.

    As recent history teaches us only a heavy dose of fearmongering will help Republicans in a foreign policy debate. The prospect of that old reliable mushroom cloud looked to be a mighty good fearball to toss the voters’ way. If the Iran deal goes through the issue fades away by Christmas. Count on the loyal opposition will come up with new things to fear that haven’t even been thought of yet.

  4. Submitted by Rodgers Adams on 08/06/2015 - 01:23 pm.

    The counter-argument

    It seems obvious that the opposition to the Iran deal consists mostly of decrying alleged faults in the deal, or failures to negotiate better. I, too, kept waiting for some suggestion of what opponents think might happen that would justify rejecting the current deal. What I finally heard recently was basically this argument: None of the parties to negotiation, for various reasons, want it to fail. So, if Congress rejects it, they will angrily protest, but eventually return to the negotiating table to find a solution that the United States can accept (and the others can endure). I doubt that that hope is realistic, but that’s the only even slightly-plausible scenario I’ve heard from the opponents.

  5. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 08/06/2015 - 03:08 pm.

    Congressional rejection not a problem….

    Obama already has the votes. Obama needs 146 Democrats in the House or 34 in the Senate to sustain a veto.

    The question is what Democrats will support Obama and this agreement and what Democrats will vote against this agreement? Their decision will probably be based more of politics (engineering a politically “safe” vote) rather than the strength or weakness of the agreement itself.

  6. Submitted by Peder DeFor on 08/10/2015 - 07:21 am.

    ‘Mostly Respectful’

    “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.”

    I guess that the ‘mostly respectful’ part is true. After all, it wasn’t the entire speech where he said those who oppose the deal are in league with Iran’s hardliners. It’s very important for him to say that people who disagree with him are doing so for nefarious reasons. Frankly, that’s been true for some time now, and that’s one of the big things that have so poisoned our debate during the Obama period.

    To the broader question, about the alternative to this deal, I offer Sen. Schumer:

    Of course, he must secretly be in league with those hard-liners. Or maybe, like the line that’s been pushed over the weekend by some on the Dem side, Schumer is just controlled by his donors. Because his opposition couldn’t possibly be honest, right?

  7. Submitted by Peder DeFor on 08/10/2015 - 07:39 am.

    Senator Webb too

    This seems on point too:

    “It troubles me when I see all this debate about whether this is disloyalty to the president or the Democratic Party, particularly with what Chuck Schumer has gone.”


    “I think those are false choices and in that respect, it’s more like the issues that we had with the Soviet Union during the time I was in the Pentagon in the 1980s, we needed confidence builders in order to move forward on relations with the Soviet Union, this was a different situation and both sides already had nuclear weapons, but it’s much more profoundly dangerous in terms of Iran because at the end of this, what we see is that they could have the capability to basically move forward with our tacit approval to nuclear weapons, and also the impact on the region itself, we are in danger of upsetting a very fragile balance of power with Israel, the Saudis and Israel.”

    I wonder what reason will be given to question Webb’s loyalty or integrity?

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