Secretary of State John Kerry spent some time during a Senate hearing Wednesday hammering home how upset he is about the Republican Senate letter Sen. Tom Cotton spear-headed. Even a week ago, few people were talking about the “Iran deal” outside professional policy circles. By now everyone seems to have an opinion about it and about whose fault it is if Iran and the United States go to war and the likelihood of that playing out.
If you are one of the few who haven’t read the Republican letter, you can find it here. If you’ve read articles about the “treasonous” nature of the letter, you might be pretty disappointed once you read it. No doubt it is bold—brazen, even. In it, the U.S. senators school the Iranians on one aspect of the American system of government. But that’s it. There is no attempt to negotiate the terms of an agreement, no bashing of President Obama, or even bashing of the Iran nuclear deal. It’s a letter explaining how agreements and treaties work in the United States of America.
If the Ayatollah doesn’t like the idea of the deal being only as impermanent as President Obama’s time in office, perhaps he can demand the agreement take the form of a treaty so President Obama will be forced to seek the advice and consent of the U.S. Senate. That would take care of that—it would also, of course, take care of the Iran deal. This is because no deal that leaves Iran on the cusp of a nuclear weapons capability would pass the Senate and there’s no evidence Iran is willing to give up its nuclear program.
Many Democrats Oppose Obama’s Deal
One argument against the wisdom in drafting this letter is that there may be Democratic senators who have been opposed to the deal who may now be too uncomfortable about passing a sanctions bill once the deal falls through or a bad deal is struck. But I don’t think this letter will have that effect.
After all, many Democratic senators have already been very clear about their concerns. For instance, twelve senators signed onto a letter committing to vote for the prominent Kirk-Menendez bill, which would implement tougher sanctions if and when the March 24 so-called “political framework” deadline passes without a deal that addresses “all parameters of a comprehensive agreement.”
The senators write, “Considering Iran’s history in nuclear negotiations and after two extensions of the Joint Plan of Action, we are concerned that Iran is intentionally extending the negotiations to improve its leverage at the negotiating table.” These Democratic senators are getting the same briefings on the Iran threat as their Republican counterparts and an open letter like the one written, even if the president takes offense, is unlikely to budge them. Assuming all 54 Republicans vote for the bill with these 12 Democrats, the Senate is inches from reaching the votes needed to override a presidential veto.
So, what is the big deal about Iran, anyway? Why wouldn’t everyone be on board with any sort of diplomatic solution with a regime willing to negotiate? If the White House and the Iranians are willing to “give peace a chance,” why wouldn’t Congress?
Hello, People: Iran Sponsors Terror
The last few days have certainly called for a brief refresher on who is on the other side of the negotiating table—and right on point, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave that refresher in his address to Congress. He claimed that Iran is competing with the likes of the Islamic State for the “crown of militant Islam.” As he said, “One calls itself the Islamic Republic. The other calls itself the Islamic State. Both want to impose a militant Islamic empire first on the region and then on the entire world. They just disagree among themselves who will be the ruler of that empire.”
But perhaps, for whatever reason, you don’t believe this is the intent of the regime. We can always look to Iran’s recent actions. Iran is still a State Sponsor of Terror as defined by the State Department, and for obvious reasons. A 2012 Department of Defense report says “we assess with high confidence that during the past three decades Iran has methodically cultivated a network of sponsored terrorist surrogates capable of targeting U.S. and Israeli interests; we suspect this activity continues.” The same report goes on to say that Iran “provides material support to terrorist or militant groups such as HAMAS, Lebanese Hizballah, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the Taliban, and Iraqi Shia groups.”
A 2013 government threat report explains that Iran and Lebanese Hizbollah “see the United States and Israel as their principal enemies.” This explains why Iran continues to undermine U.S. interests throughout the Middle East. For example, Iran has supplied fighters to prop up Bashir Al-Assad, its most important regional ally. Why would it provide direct help to prop up Assad, the man responsible for horrific crimes including unleashing chemical weapons on the Syrian people? Because the regime sees Syria as part of the “Islamic resistance front.”
Iran Attacks Americans and American Allies
Again, for the hard to persuade on this point, don’t take my word for it. In the words of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Commander Mohammad Ali Jafari, “Since Syria was and continues to be part of the Islamic resistance front and the Islamic Revolution, it provokes the anger of the Americans.”
It’s also directly responsible for the death of American soldiers. In 2010, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey estimated that groups backed by Iran were responsible for up to a quarter of U.S. deaths in Iraq. Iran expert Ilan Berman’s testimony on Iran’s global terrorism also details attempted attacks on U.S. soil and can be found here.
Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, is staunchly opposed to the West and to Israel. And that’s putting it lightly. He has a habit of expressing his true feelings about Israel on Twitter. This past November he even laid out a “9 point plan” to “eliminate Israel” and blasted it out to his Twitter followers.
Iran Lies about Its Nuclear Work
The current president heading the negotiations is Hassan Rouhani, whom the media loves to paint as moderate. He was Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator between 2003 and 2005. That’s not exactly calming the nerves of some who think all of these talks and extension of deadlines are actually just the Iranians biding time to work on their nuclear program. Rouhani once said, “While we were talking with the Europeans in Tehran, we were installing equipment in parts of the [uranium conversion] facility in Isfahan. . . . In fact, by creating a calm environment, we were able to complete the work in Isfahan.” This is why so few members of Congress trust the regime and why a nuclear weapon capability in its control is completely unacceptable.
Iran has a nuclear program that it, to this day, insists is a peaceful program with the purpose of providing its country with energy. There isn’t a single serious person on either side of the political aisle here in the states who believes that a country with so much oil is pursing nuclear energy at such enormous economic and political cost.
It is no wonder the Obama administration put ending Iran’s nuclear weapons program in exchange for relieving Iran sanctions on its foreign policy to-do list. Only that is not what is happening with the P5+1(this includes the United Kingdom, Russia, China, France, Germany and the United States) deal, not by a long-shot. In fact, Kerry made this striking admission, “I think it’s public knowledge today that we’re operating with a time period for a so-called breakout of about two months. Six months to twelve months is — I’m not saying that’s what we’d settle for, but even that is significantly more.”
We’ll Take Away Sanctions for…Nothing in Return
Put another way: the administration is willing to relieve the very sanctions that have squeezed the regime so much so that its willing to even talk about its illicit program, in exchange for simply lengthening the time it would take for Iran to have a nuclear weapon capability by a couple months. And that’s assuming Iran would even abide by the rules of the deal. A very useful summary of more of the major problems of the deal can be read here.
Even if the deal does significantly curb the nuclear program, it does nothing to slow, let alone stop, the missile program. This is hardly insignificant when the 2013 Worldwide Threats report said, “We judge Iran would likely choose a ballistic missile as its preferred method of delivering a nuclear weapon, if one is ever fielded.” So, while the secretary of State thinks he’s doing all of us huge favors by stalling the nuclear break-out capability by a couple months, the Iranians will be free and clear to perfect their nuclear launchers, like they are already doing.
In January, Iran successfully launched its fourth satellite, proving (again) the technology needed to launch an intercontinental ballistic missile. And, making the intent of their missile program crystal clear, just two weeks ago Iran practiced an attack against a replica of a U.S. warship in the Strait of Hormuz.
For those who insist on remaining optimistic that the Iranians are sincere about stopping their nuclear program, the international body charged with overseeing Tehran’s compliance with United Nations sanctions released a report in 2011 listing possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear program. Iran has given no explanation for them. As reported recently in the Wall Street Journal, “Yukiya Amano, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog, said Friday there has been almost no progress in resolving the outstanding allegations of weapons development, despite a year of negotiations with Iranian President Hasan Rouhani’s government.” This is hardly the behavior of a country earnestly seeking to allay concerns about its “peaceful” nuclear program.
So, just to recap, in the last couple months during the final stretch of the negotiations, Iran’s leaders have used hateful and threatening rhetoric, practiced attacking a U.S. ships in the Strait of Hormuz, launched illegal missiles into space, continue to support terrorism, continue to stonewall weapons inspectors, and continue to ratchet up demands to preserve their nuclear program. Meanwhile, our president continues negotiations apace, while an open letter from senators making claims about the Constitution is labeled “dangerous” and those who have been persistently questioning the deal are on a so-called “rush to war.”
Good judgment and the ability to put things in the appropriate perspective are necessary qualities for Obama officials as they consider the nuclear deal. As we near the deadline, their recent behavior has once again proven they possess neither.
UPDATE: When published, this article incorrectly said 11 senators signed the letter supporting the Kirk-Menendez sanctions legislation, when actually 12 did. Additionally, two senators who didn’t sign the letter were among the six who already voted in favor of the bill when it passed out of the Senate Banking Committee on January 29th. This brings the total of Democratic senators likely to vote in favor of the bill for final passage to 14.