This Deal Is a Treaty

As the readers of these pages will readily attest (much to the chagrin of some of them), for years now, I have exerted much energy in trying to defend President Obama’s foreign policy initiatives in general, and his relationship with Israel in particular. (I have always felt that he was very much in the wrong when it came to moral issues.)

Even in regard to the ongoing Iran negotiations, I initially felt that his critics were jumping to conclusions about a deal that has yet to be reached.  Now, I must publicly acknowledge that those critics are likely right.

I can only imagine how infuriated President Obama was when 47 members of the Senate — unsurprisingly, Republicans all — penned an open letter to Iran about the deal. If I were president, I too would be very offended and troubled by such a move.

Fortunately for me, I am not the president of the United States, and as a private citizen, I see things a little differently. Whether they should have actually publicized that letter — which made America into a global laughingstock — is another story, but I have to admit — the Republicans do have a valid point. Regardless of whether the email fiasco derails Mrs. Clinton’s presidential aspirations, in less than two years someone else will be seated in that Oval Office at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, yet many of those same senators will still be in office.

I carefully read the rather lengthy statement from Vice President Biden attacking the letter and, frankly, I found it rather unconvincing.

It is true that the vast majority of our international commitments take effect without Congressional approval. But the deal with Iran is far more weighty a matter than a mere commitment, and I don’t see how one can compare it to the recent U.S.-Russia framework to remove chemical weapons from Syria, recognition of the People’s Republic of China, the resolution of the Iran hostage crisis, or the conclusion of the Vietnam War.

What is now being negotiated with Iran is, in effect, a version of a nuclear arms treaty, and the only difference between Iran and the Soviet Union is that, in this case, the effort is to try to prevent Iran from getting a bomb in the first place.

There has been much talk lately about the “sunset clause” part of the deal. Granted, most such agreements include a sunset clause of some sort (although they usually last longer than a decade), and that Iran will never agree to a deal that doesn’t have one.

But truth be said, there are two types of sunset clauses.

The first — which is typical in most bilateral understandings as well as in some bills passed by Congress — is simply an expiration date. In other words, after 10 years, the two sides can choose to either extend the agreement under the old terms, negotiate new terms, or simply let it lapse. Were such a clause to be included in a deal with Iran — provided that the other parts of the agreement are effective and enforceable — it would simply mean we’d manage to prevent Iran from getting a bomb for 10 years, and then we’d be back to square one. This is hardly an ideal solution, but when compared with alternatives, it is something worth considering.

However, if the news reports are true that the administration has agreed to a sunset clause that will “reward” Iran for good behaviour, and formally allow it to ramp up nuclear activity after the 10 years pass, this deal is simply indefensible.

Constitutional experts are divided on whether the agreement is a treaty or not, and of course the GOP insists that it is.

“They can call it a banana, but it’s a treaty,” is how Arizona Sen. John McCain put it.

Even if, from a purely legal point of view, the administration is right, and technically this doesn’t need Senate approval, this is a deal that quite literally affects the safety of millions of individuals, and it is precisely for this sort of agreement that the Constitution called for Senate oversight.

With all due respect, this agreement is far too serious to be decided by one man.

Mr. President: If, as you claim, the deal you intend to reach is reasonable and appropriate, you should be able to convince at the very least a majority of the Senate — if not the two-thirds needed to approve treaties. Granted, you aren’t on the best terms with many of the Republicans right now. But even if all you get is the backing of the 53 senators who did not sign on to the letter to Iran, it will confer a sense of legitimacy on the agreement.

If you can’t get all the Democrats and at least a handful of Republicans to support you on this one, then this isn’t a deal worth making, and the next president will be well within his rights to simply rescind it.