Unprecedented: two posts from me in one day! But this one is really important.
A détente with Iran would be one of the Obama administration’s major foreign policy achievements—reducing the danger of war in the Middle East and opening up the possibility of US-Iranian cooperation on a range of common interests, including combating Al Qaeda. Unfortunately, this prospective achievement faces serious, determined obstructionism in Congress.
Sounds familiar? Sure, we’re used to knee-jerk Congressional obstructionism of anything Obama does, but in this case the obstructionism includes a novel twist: the support of a significant number of Democrats. No fewer than 16 Democrats, including both sets of senators from New York and New Jersey, have joined in co-sponsoring a bill that threatens to scuttle the provisional international agreement restricting Iran’s nuclear program in return for an easing of sanctions on Iran.
The bill provides for a dramatic escalation of sanctions should further negotiations fail, but “failure” would include an agreement that would allow any Iranian nuclear enrichment activities at all. In other words, the bill’s sponsors demand a complete shutdown of Iran’s nuclear program, even for peaceful purposes. That demand is unrealistic and blatantly unfair: it is rejected by the great majority of Iranians, including, for example, the reformist presidential candidate whose threatened electoral victory in 2009 was effectively canceled by Iran’s theocrats. The bill’s sponsors claim that it would strengthen the administration’s hand in further negotiations with the Iranians, but that claim is disingenuous; the bill is intended to end diplomatic engagement with Iran.
Why are Democrats joining in the sabotage of this important initiative by their president? Politics is seldom simple, but the answer to this question really is quite simple: the power of the Israel lobby, headed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). The Netanyahu government doesn’t want to see an agreement with Iran, and AIPAC always follows the lead of Tel Aviv. AIPAC, in turn, has long been cited alongside the NRA as one of the most fearsome lobbies on Capitol Hill.
As of now, with overwhelming Republican and significant Democratic support, the bill appears to have very good chances of passage. (The only obstacle would be Harry Reid’s refusal to bring up the bill for a vote in the Senate. Reid might find it difficult , however, to continue his resistance to the pressure to allow a vote. ) Congress might even override a threatened presidential veto. Passage of the bill, especially over a veto, would be a terrible blow to the Obama administration and to America’s international standing. It would be an embarrassing demonstration of the ability of the Israeli tail to wag the American dog. It would immeasurably strengthen the Netanyahu government’s resistance to John Kerry’s efforts to forge an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.
We all need to do what we can. We need to e-mail, or, better, call our senators and representatives and make clear our opposition to the bill, sponsored by Sens. Kirk and Menendez and known as the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act. I have e-mailed Gillibrand to tell her of my disappointment with her co-sponsorship of the legislation. I haven’t bothered with Schumer, who is hopeless, as are most of the Republicans. But Democrats in Congresss should hear from their constituents that this is an issue on which they need to support their president.
PS–This just in: an excellent analysis in Haaretz by Peter Beinart of the intent and implications of the proposed legislation.