One of the consistent refrains from the foreign policy establishment is that Congress is somehow impeding the impending Iran nuclear weapons agreement and that said impediments are a bad thing. This idea seems to be rooted in the utterly unconstitutional idea that Congress has no role to play in shaping US foreign policy and that the president has something approaching plenary powers when making agreements. The current bugabear for the foreign policy smart set is the Corker-Menendez bill that requires Obama to get Congressional approval before lifting sanctions and, if he has his way, shipping ICBMs to Iran. Via The Hill, Corker-Menendez bill hinders, not helps, a good Iran deal:
But in the name of preventing a bad deal, the Corker-Menendez bill weaves a procedural spider web for congressional review and includes a poison pill provision that hinders, rather than helps, getting a good deal. The procedural web starts with a five-day initial reporting requirement for the June comprehensive agreement, including full analysis of its components and a verification assessment. Even for less complex international agreements, it usually takes at least a month for all elements to be analyzed and the reliability of verification to be assessed by State Department, intelligence community and other experts. Quick turnaround is even harder when negotiations go up to deadlines and indeed into overtime, as did the first two rounds and as this final round almost certainly will. If Congress truly wants quality information to work with on this issue, the five-day turnaround is self-defeating.
Especially problematic is the 60-day review period. Even if a resolution of approval comes out the other end, we will have subjected our negotiating partners to the vicissitudes of American politics after asking them to follow our lead and adjust their own policies and politics accordingly, not only in the negotiations but also at the United Nations on sanctions and other measures. This would damage both our European allies’ confidence in our leadership and the credibility with which China and Russia size us up — and not just on the issue at hand.
If Congress opts for a resolution of disapproval, whatever the Obama administration had agreed to would be null and void. The president could veto it, subject to two-thirds majority overrides. But even if the veto were to stand, it would only be after politically bloody battles along Pennsylvania Avenue and on the airwaves, in the newspapers and social media, severely wounding — even if not killing — the agreement.
Either way, during these 60 days most sanctions could not even be reduced, let alone more fully waived. The sanctions lever does need to be carefully calibrated for proportionality and reciprocity in the sequencing of sanctions relief to Iranian nonproliferation compliance. Precluding any immediate sanctions relief upon signing an agreement is as much a non-starter as Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameini’s recent statement that all sanctions should be lifted upon signing.
The poison pill is the linkage to Iranian terrorism. Of course, we want to reduce and eliminate Iranian terrorism. Views vary among experts whether working out the nuclear issue can provide basis for progress on this and other aspects of relations with Iran. But linkage imposed post hoc and unilaterally by the American Congress is not the way to do it. It plays right into the hands of spoilers, like Iranian hardliners unable to block the agreement politically being handed another way of blowing things up (literally as well as figuratively). Or what if Hezbollah committed terrorism against American or Israeli targets for its own reasons that, given the Iranian support it gets, could be interpreted as tripping this clause?
This is a bad deal
There are a few facts the article refuses to acknowledge but perhaps the most salient one is that the current deal is not a good deal for anyone but the Iranian government. It is even a bad deal for the Iranian people as it virtually guarantees they will be sucked into a major war, fought on their territory, as a function of the Iranian government’s monomaniacal pursuit of nuclear weapons. The very worst reason to enter into any kind of agreement is because you are wedded to the idea of an agreement. The very worst party to enter into an agreement with is a party that has no intention of holding up their end of the bargain. We see both of these factors at play here. Obama is looking at the agreement as a legacy maker (it will be, just not in the way that he wants it to be) and the Iranians are blatant about their intent to work around the terms of the agreement. A smart man would walk away but then we are talking about Obama and Kerry…
There is no hurry
The author, (Bruce W. Jentleson — @ — a professor of public policy and political science at Duke University, and a global fellow of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars) claims that it is impossible for Congress to get a report on the agreement within five days. Jentleson creates a seemingly realistic scenario until you stop for a moment and contemplate the notion that he’s advocating having the nation sign onto an agreement when it doesn’t even know what the agreement entails. This speaks to a utterly failed and ad hoc negotiating process where no one — save the Iranians — actually know the impact of the agreement.
Iran’s terrorism makes a difference
Jentleson makes the bone-jarring and gob-smacking assertion that linking Iran’s behavior and its status as a state sponsor of terrorism to an agreement that is structured to aid Iran in developing a nuclear weapon is a “poison pill.” I suppose you actually have to be a university professor in order to take that position and not have people laugh in your face. If Iran will not forswear its penchant for using terrorism to forward its aims, why in the name of Heaven are we doing anything with Iran other than cranking on more sanctions. At least the sanctions will delay their development of a nuclear weapon and make life in Iran more unpleasant than it already is. This agreement gives them a nuke, removes sanctions, and lets them continue using terrorism as a key element of their national security strategy.
Making international agreements is a role shared by the President and Senate
Jentleson is concerned that our allies will be discomfited if the Senate is involved. I have no doubt that Iran’s agents on this deal, Russia and China, will be upset but as totalitarian regimes they run much more efficiently than we do. This is not something that we need to be concerned about.
Our system of governance makes the president the primary diplomat of the United States but it does not allow the president to unilaterally bind the United States to any agreement. The malfeasance, misfeasance, lies and deceptions of this administration on foreign policy in general and on the Iran negotiations in particular is what led Senator Tom Cotton to communicate with Iran about the dangers of negotiating with a president who is insisting on acting outside the bounds of the Constitution.
The deal, for all its “P5+1” pretensions, is actually between the US and Iran. It is Iran trying to become a nuclear power and it will fall to a future US president to un-fu** this situation. The fact that Obama has knowingly lied to Congress about what the agreement entails is a compelling case for Congress to take on a much greater role on monitoring the Iran nuclear negotiations