The U.S. Senate is expected to vote next week on the Corker/Menendez bill to require a subsequent vote on any Iran deal that the Obama Administration completes by early summer. There is great uncertainty about everything involved, however.
To start with, the Iranians and the American Administration are saying contradictory things about what they have “agreed” on. Increasingly, as the Israelis have figured out, Obama and Kerry are so eager — or is it desperate? — to get something, anything, they can call an accomplishment that they will concede practically everything other than a useless promise not to build a bomb. And maybe even that.
In Iran, nobody advocates backing down on anything. Of course, there is no real democracy there, and so no serious dialogue. The public players, meanwhile, all agree that Iran can’t trust America, and a sizable number say that even an effective U.S. surrender on the nuke issue should not be accepted because it would send the confusing signal that Iran somehow recognizes U.S. authority and good will. Iran, after all, does not.
Among conservatives in America, some are denouncing the Corker bill as a kind of sell-out to Obama and his reckless diplomacy. The GOP leadership in the Senate and House variously are described as “feckless” and naïve, even “cowardly.” Supposedly they are afraid to stand up to the Democrats. Why not just insist that the White House submit any agreement as a formal treaty? After all, McConnell and Boehner are priding themselves on a return to “regular order” now that Republicans are in control. Why not on this crucial subject that certainly is as important as, say, a trade deal?
The answer to this challenge is that the people who make it really do not have any strategy to achieve their aim. Demanding that an Iran agreement be submitted to the Senate as a treaty is like closing down the government if a suitable budget isn’t passed. It sounds good the first day or two, and rouses the base, but then comes the reality that such bill would be 1) filibustered successfully, and b) if passed with 60 votes, vetoed by Obama. A vetoed bill then would require 67 votes to over-ride, a very high threshold.
That happens to be the same number, of course, that the Corker bill would set as the number that would be required to provide a veto-proof vote of disapproval on an Iran deal. The difference is that the “demand a treaty submission” approach would assure more table-thumping and posturing in the early going. That would make the issue far more partisan — and thus less likely to succeed. Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker has been adroit in getting Democrats on board.
There really may be some Democrats who are so worried about Iranian intentions, or at least about the pressure coming from their constituents, that they are prepared to go up against the President. (Or maybe not. Expect some careful nose-counting on the Hill.)
So, if your object is short term political gain, you might go for the “demand a treaty submission” route. It is most likely to give you a campaign issue. Or you might try (as Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas is considering) to add amendments to the bill that render Democratic votes for it unlikely. But if you want to stop Iran, whatever the politics, you probably prefer the Corker/Menendez bill.
In fact, the best politics here could be the bi-partisan option. If this path achieves a veto-proof majority, the Obama Administration will have suffered a serious defeat — one in which Mrs. Clinton will share, since she has backed the President on this subject. If, on the other hand, the Corker/Menendez bill does not reach veto-proof numbers, you still have the issue to lay before the court of public opinion.
But should politics be the controlling concern when the stakes are so high? What we have is a terrible danger facing our allies in the Middle East, especially Israel, but also its Arab neighbors, to some extent Europe and eventually our own homeland. Obama’s attempt to promote peace with Iran by effectively conceding it hegemony in the region is nothing but appeasement of a totalitarian regime that is sworn to destroy both “the Little Satan” (Israel) and “the Great Satan” (the USA). How could we be so foolish as to abet Iran’s sworn ambitions?
Yes, it is a shame the Congressional majority doesn’t have a way to force the Administration to follow a straight treaty route. But they don’t. The best option therefore is the Corker/Menendez bill, and getting as much pressure as possible on the Democrats in Congress to secure a veto-proof vote of disapproval.
Bruce Chapman, a former U.S. Ambassador at the U.N. Organizations in Vienna, is Chairman of the Board of Discovery Institute.