We’ve been here before.
Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said a while ago that an Iran deal would be the health-care bill of President Barack Obama’s second term, and he was right.
Like Obamacare, the Iran deal represents an ideological fixation of the president’s; it is unpopular; and it will get through Congress — or to be more exact, avoid disapproval by Congress — by sheer partisan force.
When Obama mounted a defense of the deal in a speech at American University, it was aimed less at public persuasion — never a strength of his during the Obamacare debate — than base mobilization as he seeks to hold the Democrats he will need to sustain a veto of a resolution of disapproval.
How else to explain a speech that chastised opponents for their “strident” rhetoric at the same time it contended that Iranian hard-liners “are making common cause with the Republican caucus,” a juvenile little jab worthy of a Daily Kos diarist?
For years, we’ve heard Obama say that all options are on the table in forcing the Iranians to “end their nuclear program.” But he believed in having all options on the table about as much as he opposed gay marriage. Saying that he didn’t rule out military options was all about buying time until he could turn around and say, in effect, that a bad deal is better than all military options. Not that anyone, especially the Iranians, ever took him very seriously. This deal is the result of coercive diplomacy absent coercion. In essence, it allows Iran to become a threshold nuclear power (preserving much of its nuclear infrastructure and continuing to enrich) in exchange for us not having to do anything to try to stop Iran from becoming a threshold nuclear power.
The president’s rebuttals of the critics of the agreement are wan and unpersuasive.
On inspections: “This access can be with as little as 24 hours’ notice.” Underline the word “can” in that sentence. As the president later acknowledged, if Iran wants to block inspectors from a suspicious site, the question goes to a dispute-resolution process that takes up to 24 days. On the deal expiring: “It is true that some of the limitations regarding Iran’s peaceful program last only 15 years.” This is truly insipid. The whole point of the deal is to limit Iran’s “peaceful program” because no one believes that it is peaceful.
On sanctions relief: “An argument against sanctions relief is effectively an argument against any diplomatic resolution of this issue.” No. It’s an argument against sanctions relief that provides a huge windfall to the regime in exchange for an inadequate deal.
The president concedes that perhaps some of the tens of billions of dollars will go to military activities, but says Iran has “engaged in these activities for decades” — which isn’t much of a case for giving it the resources to fund them more lavishly.
The crux of the president’s case is that there is no alternative to his path except war. But the sanctions regime was biting. It could have been preserved and even tightened, and coupled with a credible threat of force, could have produced a much better agreement.
Instead, Obama has been palpably desperate for a deal, and desperate to bypass Congress. There will be a congressional vote, but on terms exactly reversed from what it takes to approve a treaty (it will take a two-thirds supermajority to block rather than approve). Even so, Obama went to the United Nations Security Council before Congress, and the international-sanctions regime has already effectively been unraveled. This means that like Obamacare, the Iran deal, too, will carry a taint of illegitimacy. It, too, will become something that Republicans pledge to reverse. It, too, will have its ultimate standing decided by the 2016 election.
It, too, in sum, is supposed to be a great credit to the president’s legacy, when it is really a disgrace.
Rich Lowry can be reached via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org