July 21, 2015
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani delivers a speech following the nuclear agreement, 14 July 2015 | EPA
Washington Post columnist David Ignatius is a reasonable man. After hearing back to back interviews with US Secretary of State John Kerry and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the Obama administration’s pact with Iran’s ayatollahs, he tried to balance them out.
Speaking Sunday on CBS’s Face the Nation, Ignatius equivocated that on the one hand, “My takeaway [from Kerry] is that the details of this deal are pretty solid, that it’s been carefully negotiated, that it will hold up for 10 years or more.”
On the other hand, he said, “Netanyahu is right. Iran is a dangerous destabilizing force in the Middle East. So somehow good policy seems to me to use the deal to cap the nuclear threat that Iran would pose for 10 years but work on that other problem.”
Ignatius’s remarks serve to justify supporting the deal. After all, if Obama’s agreement caps Iran’s nuclear program for 10 years, then it’s a good thing. As for the other stuff, it can be dealt with separately.
Unfortunately, while eminently reasonable sounding, Ignatius’s analysis is incorrect. Kerry’s details of the deal are beside the point. The big picture is the only thing that matters. That picture has two main points.
First, the deal guarantees that Iran will develop nuclear weapons. Second, it gives $150 billion to the mullahs.
The details of the deal – the number of centrifuges that keep spinning, the verification mechanisms, the dispute resolution procedures, etc. – are all debatable, and largely irrelevant, at least when compared to the two irrefutable aspects of the big picture.
According to the administration, today Iran needs a year to use the nuclear materials it is known to possess to make a nuclear bomb. Other sources claim that Iran requires several months to accomplish the task.
Since these materials will remain in Iran’s possession under the deal, if Iran abandons the agreement, it will need at most a year to build nuclear weapons.
Then there are the unknown aspects of Iran’s nuclear program. We must assume that Iran has ongoing covert nuclear operations in unknown installations through which it has acquired unknown capabilities.
These capabilities will likely reduce the time Iran requires to make bombs.
Under the deal, the US and its negotiating partners are required to protect Iran’s nuclear assets from sabotage and other forms of attack. They are required as well to teach Iran how to develop and use more advanced centrifuges. As a consequence, when the agreement expires, Iran will be able to build nuclear bombs at will.
If Iran remains a threat, the deal bars the US from taking any steps to counter it aside from all-out war.
The agreement ends the international sanctions regime against Iran. With the sanctions goes any prospect of an international coalition joining forces to take military action against Iran, if Iran does walk away from the deal. So sanctions are gone, deterrence is gone. And that leaves only war.
In other words, far from diminishing the chance of war, the deal makes it inevitable that Iran will get the bomb or there will be a full scale war, or both.
Then there is the jackpot payback.
Who knows? Maybe the mullahs will use their $150b. to finance new women’s universities in Tehran and Mashhad, and a seminary for Islamic liberalism in Qom.
Or maybe the money will be used to fund insurgencies and proxy wars and terror campaigns throughout the region and the world.
The extraordinary thing about the deal is that the only person who gets a say in how that money is spent is Iran’s dictator Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. And Khamenei has been pretty clear about how he intends to use the cash.
In back to back anti-American rants on Friday and Saturday, Khamenei repeatedly threatened the US and extolled calls for its destruction. Speaking in front of a banner at Friday prayers which declared “We will trample America,” Khamenei praised calls for “Death to America.”
Saturday he promised to continue to fund and sponsor terrorism and proxy wars. Just as notably, he refused to commit to upholding the nuclear deal with the US and the other five powers.
As far as the Obama administration is concerned, now that the UN Security Council has anchored the agreement in a binding resolution and so given the force of international law to a deal that guarantees Iran will receives the bomb and $150b., the deal is done. It cannot be walked back.
But this is not necessarily true. Congress may have more power than it realizes to kill the deal before Iran gets the money and before its other provisions are implemented.
Over the months leading up to the conclusion of negotiations last Tuesday, Obama refused to acknowledge that he was negotiating a treaty. Rather he said it was nothing more than an executive agreement.
Consequently, he argued, the US Senate’s sole authority to ratify treaties by two-thirds majority would be inapplicable to the deal with Iran.
Obama also said he would further sideline Congress by anchoring the deal in a binding UN Security Council resolution. This resolution would force Obama’s successor to uphold the deal after he leaves office.
Obama mitigated his position slightly when Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, drafted the Corker-Cardin bill with veto-proof majorities in both houses. The bill, which Obama reluctantly signed into law, requires Obama to submit the deal to an up or down vote in both houses. If more than two thirds of Senators and Congressmen oppose it, then the US will not abrogate its unilateral sanctions against Iran.
In other words, Obama agreed that if Congress turned the Constitution on its head by replacing the two-thirds Senate majority required to approve a treaty with a two-thirds bicameral majority necessary to disapprove his executive agreement – then he wouldn’t go to the Security Council until after Congress voted.
When Obama betrayed his pledge and went to the Security Council on Monday, he gave Congress an opening to reconsider its position, ditch the restrictive Corker-Cardin law and reassert the Senate’s treaty approving authority.
As former US federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy argued in National Review last week, by among other things canceling the weapons and missile embargoes on Iran, the six-power deal with Iran went well beyond the scope of the Corker-Cardin law, which dealt only with nuclear sanctions relief. As a consequence, Congress can claim that there is no reason to invoke it.
Rather than invoke Corker-Cardin, Congress can pass a joint resolution determining that the deal with Iran is a treaty and announce that pursuant to the US Constitution, the Senate will schedule a vote on it within 30 days. Alternatively, Congress can condition the Iran deal’s legal stature on the passage of enabling legislation – that requires simple majorities in both houses.
Dan Darling, foreign policy adviser to Republican Senator and presidential hopeful Rand Paul wrote Monday that senators can use Senate procedure to force the Foreign Relations Committee to act in this manner. Darling argued that House Speaker John Boehner can either refuse to consider the deal since it is a treaty, or insist on passing enabling legislation under normal legislative procedures.
Monday Netanyahu explained that by keeping US sanctions in force, Congress can limit Iran’s capacity to move beyond the current sanctions regime even after it is canceled. Every state and firm considering business opportunities with Tehran will have to weigh them against the opportunity cost of being barred from doing business with the US.
Iran for its part may walk away from the deal entirely if Congress acts in this manner. If it does, then the US will not be obligated by any of the deal’s requirements. The continued viability of the Security Council resolution will be something for the lawyers to argue over.
The devil in Obama’s deal with Iran is not in the mind-numbing details, but in the big picture. The deal guarantees Iran will get the bomb. It gives the Iranian regime $150b.
To secure these concessions, Obama has trampled congressional authority.
If the American people think this doesn’t advance their national interest, they should encourage their congressional representatives to ditch Corker-Cardin and use their full authority, as a co-equal branch of the government, to scupper it.