The Iran Deal: Oppose, Obstruct, Delay . . . Defeat

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Hillary Rodham Clinton, quondam secretary of state and presumptive heir to the presidency of the United States, spent Monday, April 13, in her Secret Service van heading out to Iowa. She was undoubtedly preparing diligently for several hours of arduous mixing and mingling with “everyday Americans.” We don’t know whether she had time that morning to take a look at the Wall Street Journal, with its report that “the Kremlin has formally lifted its own ban on the delivery of S-300 missiles to Iran, setting the legal groundwork for the possible Russian sale of a powerful air-defense system to Tehran.”

We do know that the delivery of the S-300s had been suspended under pressure, first from the Bush and then from the Obama administration. And we do know that, as Foreign Policy magazine reported in 2010, the S-300 success was being “touted by the White House as a new dawn in the U.S.-Russia relationship.” As Elliott Abrams put it last week in recounting this history, “Oh well: That was then and this is now.”

Today we know that the Obama administration is in the process of striking a deal with Iran. And we know that the Russian sale of the S-300—a system that would make a strike against Iran’s nuclear weapons program considerably more difficult—is perhaps the first concrete consequence of the Iran deal. If the deal is allowed to go forward, it won’t be the last. As Abrams puts it, “As sanctions are removed, and as funds flow to Iran, it will strengthen its military posture. Iran with an operational S-300 system will feel more immune from attack and is likely therefore to become even more aggressive in its behavior throughout the Middle East.”

After all, the West will have agreed to provisions that leave Iran’s nuclear weapons infrastructure in place, with an inspections regime that will be manifestly incapable of detecting Iranian nuclear weapons efforts. And Iran will therefore have no real incentive to moderate its behavior at home or abroad in any important way. 

The S-300 sale is a fire bell in the night, signaling what a post-Iran deal Middle East would look like. However dangerous that region already is, it will be far more dangerous after Iran has pocketed all the concessions on offer, and everyone has seen the West sign on the dotted line of retreat.

One is reminded—as one so often is these days—of Churchill’s great speech in Commons after Munich: The British people, Churchill said, “should know that there has been gross neglect and deficiency in our defences; they should know that we have sustained a defeat without a war, the consequences of which will travel far with us along our road.” He continued: “And do not suppose that this is the end. This is only the beginning of the reckoning. This is only the first sip, the first foretaste of a bitter cup which will be proffered to us year by year unless by a supreme recovery of moral health and martial vigour, we arise again and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time.”

Which brings us back to Hillary Rodham Clinton. She supports the Iran deal. She has been a crucial part of an administration that has been weighed in the balance and found wanting. She would not be a president who summons us to “a supreme recovery of moral health and martial vigor.”

But even if we avert the prospect of a Hillary presidency, as I expect we will, we have a Barack Obama presidency to reckon with for 21 more months. Fortunately, we also have a Congress that need not acquiesce in the defeat without war that he wishes to impose on the nation.

This week, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee reported out legislation—sponsored by Bob Corker of Tennessee and Ben Cardin of Maryland—that would ensure Congress has a role in approving or disapproving a deal. Unfortunately, the fact that only 34 senators or 146 members of the House can prevent disapproval of the deal makes the legislation of limited utility. And the fact that the legislation allows action only after the deal is signed, and then for a short period of time, makes it of questionable effectiveness.

But there are many other avenues of opposition, obstruction, and delay that Congress can take. All should be explored. Congress can seek to pass bills and amendments retaining U.S. sanctions and removing the president’s waiver authority if certain conditions aren’t met in the nuclear deal, and if certain conditions aren’t met in terms of Iranian behavior with respect to terror and other issues. Congress could insist on no waiver of sanctions until the International Atomic Energy Agency certifies full Iranian cooperation in resolving questions about past efforts to develop nuclear weapons. Congress could require all manner of reports from the administration or from outside groups on, e.g., the implications of the S-300 sale to Iran, on Iranian terror-sponsorship, or many other aspects of Iranian behavior—and Congress could block waiver or removal of sanctions until it has had time to consider those reports. Imaginative patriots will think of other ways and means for Congress to intervene.

President Obama will resist such efforts and threaten to veto them. Perhaps Senate Democrats will block them from even getting to his desk. But one doesn’t know how Senate and House Democrats will actually vote on such measures, or how much public pressure could be brought to bear, until members of Congress try seriously to advance them.

What we do know is that the Corker-Cardin legislation is unlikely to be enough. In fact, it can be a trap, if it encourages Congress to otherwise back off until a deal is signed—and then sets up a process arranged to make it difficult to disapprove a bad deal once signed. The key is to work to stop the deal from being signed. This requires putting pressure on the weak points of the framework agreement and introducing into the legislative equation other unacceptable aspects of Iranian behavior.

Some will say this isn’t the way everyday business is done in Congress. And what party wants to look as if it is opposing and obstructing and delaying?

But these aren’t everyday times. The prospect of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons isn’t an everyday moment for America or the world. Congress is designed to be, most of the time, an everyday institution engaging in everyday business in an everyday way. But it has to summon the spirit to address the challenge of the Obama presidency and the threat of a nuclear Iran with urgency. In such circumstances, a great political party has to have the courage to oppose, to obstruct, to delay .  .  . and defeat the deal.

Let us leave Hillary Clinton alone as she seeks—inauthentically, to be sure—to be seen doing everyday things with everyday Americans. The question of the moment is whether the Republican party, in Congress and in the country, has the nerve to rise above everyday concerns and, at this extraordinary moment, do what is best for America.

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