With corporate media focused almost exclusively on the war in Ukraine, the country is largely ignoring another impending foreign policy disaster with consequences that are potentially as great, if not greater, than what’s happening in Eastern Europe. The United States is on the verge of cutting another nuclear deal with Iran that is, if anything, even more wrongheaded than the one that was the signature foreign policy accomplishment of the Obama administration.
The poor performance of American negotiators isn’t the only similarity between what’s happening now and the original deal that former President Barack Obama struck with Tehran’s theocrats. The Republican establishment in Congress appears to be just as unwilling to take effective action to try to stop the Biden administration’s appeasement of Iran as they were in 2015.
While the details haven’t been officially released and last-minute disputes have caused delays, multiple legacy media outlets have been reporting for weeks that the United States and their P5+1 diplomatic partners (China, France, the United Kingdom, Russia, and Germany) are close to reviving the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) that former President Donald Trump withdrew from in 2018.
Trump’s goals were to strengthen Obama’s deal by eliminating the sunset clauses that give Iran a path to a legal nuclear weapon by 2030, and to rein in Iran’s illegal missile building and support for international terrorism. There’s no way to know if his “maximum pressure” campaign of re-imposed sanctions could have succeeded had he been re-elected.
Dangerous New Deal
Former Secretary of State and current climate czar John Kerry advised the Iranians to simply sit tight and wait for Democrats to win in 2020. Now the Iranians have exhibited the same tough negotiating tactics that led to Obama and Kerry giving away their store in the 2015 deal.
The problem is that all of the restrictions the JCPOA imposed on Iran came with sunset clauses. At best, it kicked the nuclear can down the road to the following decade. The West was going to have to try to renegotiate it or face up to the fact that Obama had guaranteed that Iran would get a bomb.
But the U.S. team, led by special envoy and veteran Iran appeaser Robert Malley, not only failed to get Iran to give up the sunset clauses, reports from the negotiations indicate Malley has made further concessions. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps — an organization that controls a significant portion of the country’s economy and guides its efforts as the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism — would be delisted as an officially designated terror group by the U.S. government under one of the concessions that Malley offered in order to entice the Iranians to consent to rejoining the accord.
On top of that, in a development that has similarly attracted little corporate media attention, Biden has undermined his stand against Russian President Vladimir Putin by agreeing to demands that the new accord exempt Moscow’s business with Iran from the sanctions that Western nations have imposed on it as punishment for its invasion of Ukraine.
The question then is what, if anything, Republicans will do about this. The answer is that they are as helpless to stop Biden as they were to halt Obama’s efforts.
Since the Obama administration didn’t go through the constitutional process of submitting the Iran deal to the Senate as a treaty where the Constitution would have required the assent of two-thirds of the Senate, they say that, regrettably, Biden also can’t be stopped. The subterfuge employed by Kerry, who openly mocked the GOP by boasting of evading the treaty ratification process as well as the executive branch’s control of foreign policy, will be the excuse in 2022 just as it was in 2015. But this preemptive surrender is just as indefensible now as it was then.
Demonstrating the appalling weakness in dealing with the Democrats that would lead a year later to the GOP electorate choosing Trump as their presidential nominee, both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and then Foreign Relations Committee Chair Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., allowed themselves to be bamboozled into accepting a process by which the pact would theoretically be given congressional oversight.
The GOP leaders should have thrown down the gauntlet to Obama and told him that they would defund the State Department and refuse to confirm any diplomatic appointments until he respected the Constitution and submitted the deal for a treaty confirmation. But instead they agreed to pass the Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015 that allowed the deal to go into effect so long as one-third plus one member of either house of Congress approved it.
Like so much of what the GOP establishment has done on a variety of issues that are important to the conservative base but not a priority for officeholders solely interested in retaining power, that act was a sham intended to make voters think congressional Republicans were doing something while, in fact, they were doing nothing.
Republicans Must Act
But now that Democrats are back appeasing Iran again, the response from congressional leaders is just as ineffective. Even though, unlike the case in 2015, the GOP doesn’t control the Congress, Republicans can still make a lot of trouble for Biden if they want to.
They can use their leverage in a 50-50 Senate to undermine funding for the State Department and to put a hold on all diplomatic appointments so long as Biden is flouting the Constitution by concluding a treaty without submitting it to the Senate.
But as they have at virtually every point when Obama or Biden stood their ground, Republican swamp-dwellers are showing again that they prefer to let their opponents get their way rather than act in a way that might cause themselves to be inconvenienced or called irresponsible.
In 2015, that meant allowing Iran to be enriched and empowered by a dangerous nuclear accord. But in 2022, it’s even worse, since we are far closer to the moment when the sunset clauses in the deal will expire and a terrorist-supporting state intent on achieving regional hegemony in the Middle East with the aid of Russia will be allowed by the West to get a nuclear weapon.
If that isn’t enough to jolt the congressional Republican leadership into taking drastic action, even if it means they will be branded as obstructionists (as was the case when many of the same leaders backed down and let Obamacare become law), then rank-and-file Republicans may be forgiven for asking why they are being asked to give the same people control of the House and Senate in the midterms later this year.