It seems like it was only yesterday that President Obama warned Americans that if swift military action wasn’t taken to respond to the use of chemical weapons in Syria, there would be consequences that would be felt throughout the entire Middle East. In fact, it was only three months ago. In a September 1 statement, delivered from the East Room, the president made his argument for limited strikes. “…[F]ailure to stand against the use of chemical weapons would weaken prohibitions against other weapons of mass destruction, and embolden Assad’s ally, Iran — which must decide whether to ignore international law by building a nuclear weapon, or to take a more peaceful path.”
It would seem that the president is intent on proving himself right.
The news of the E3+3 deal with Iran left many people vocally scratching their heads, with some blasting the agreement, or at least withholding comment until they can figure out what, exactly, was gained in this deal. Notable exceptions to this were blind followers of the president, such as BuzzFeed’s Ben Smith, who wrote a piece hours after the deal was announced saying that now those who awarded Obama the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 “can feel a bit more confident about their hasty reward.”
When one takes a close look at the actual deal, one really has to wonder what the president and Secretary of State John Kerry see as the big concession here on the part of the Iranians. The administration claims that the sanctions that had been in place up to this point will remain in place, and the deal only blocks new sanctions from being imposed. This is factually true, but the U.S. is also providing Iran with $6–7 billion in “sanction relief.” As Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz said in an interview with Breitbart News: “Sanctions are over. We are going to eliminate some now — it’s only a few billion dollars’ worth, but we are going to send a message to China and others that have been dying to do business with Iran that it’s okay. And we will never get them back to that point of pressure.”
In return, the president says that the deal “cut off Iran’s most likely paths to a bomb.” That’s some comfort. As a matter of fact, one of the most contentious points of the negotiations was whether Iran has the “right to enrich” uranium under international law. Iran said that it does, while the U.S. argued that it does not. The deal leaves this issue vague — thus, the administration is saying that the deal doesn’t grant Iran the right to enrich, while Iran says that it doesn’t deny them that right.
Consider for a second the fact that Israeli politicians from across the political spectrum, from Naftali Bennett to Tzipi Livni, have denounced this deal. President Shimon Peres, a Nobel Peace Prize winner himself, gave the most even-tempered response from Israel when he said, “The fallout of the agreement and its continuation can only be discussed according to results and not according to words….A diplomatic solution is preferable, but if it does not succeed, the alternatives will be much worse and more difficult.”
Obama’s goal to create a relationship between Israel and some of her Arab neighbors may be accomplished through this deal — but definitely not in the way he intended. Saudi Arabia is marching in lockstep with the Israelis on this one, with a Saudi government official saying that “the Saudi government has been very concerned about these negotiations with Iran and unhappy at the prospect of a deal with Iran… There is a lot of worry right now about threats to the region.”
But the bipartisan backlash isn’t confined to the other side of the ocean.
In the U.S. Senate, Senate Democrats led by Chuck Schumer joined Republicans in criticizing the deal. In a written statement, Schumer rightfully pointed out, “It was strong sanctions, not the goodness of the hearts of the Iranian leaders, that brought Iran to the table, and any reduction relieves the psychological pressure of future sanctions and gives them hope that they will be able to gain nuclear weapon capability while further sanctions are reduced. A fairer agreement would have coupled a reduction in sanctions with a proportionate reduction in Iranian nuclear capability.” Schumer also said that the “disproportionality of this agreement makes it more likely that Democrats and Republicans will join together and pass additional sanctions when we return in December. I intend to discuss that possibility with my colleagues.”
It is important to note that Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zaif said Sunday that any expansion of the sanctions would render the deal worthless. So if Schumer, along with congressional Republicans, proceeds with an expansion of sanctions, he effectively will be killing this deal.
All this opposition and a toothless deal that is all but certain not to work: what possible upside can there be here, and why is the administration so single-mindedly pursuing a deal for the sake of a deal alone?
In many ways, the deal with Iran is the polar opposite of the President’s push to attack Syria. Syria’s conflict was internal, while the threat from Iran is to other nations outside its borders. And while the consensus at the time was that the proper method to deal with the Syrian civil war was by containing the conflict within its borders, the Iranian threat is widely recognized as being one that needs to be crushed; the only question was if a military strike would eventually be needed. But by the same token, it is very much the same, as in both cases it seems like the president is choosing the counterintuitive approach.
The greatest similarity between the Syrian episode and the Iranian deal are the points at which they occurred. When John Kerry came before Congress for the authorization to use force in Syria, South Carolina Congressman Joe Wilson asked him if the decision to attack Syria was “delayed to divert attention …from the Benghazi, IRS, NSA scandals… the tragedy of the White House-drafted sequestration or the upcoming debt limit vote?” And the same question can, in effect, be asked now.
Is the only reason the president cut this deal to divert attention from the numerous disasters associated with his signature legislative achievement?