Confronting Iran

Is nuclear weapons deal a diplomatic triumph or huge mistake?

Today: Iran

CAL: President Obama asked for and received United Nations Security Council approval to lift sanctions against the Iranian regime. He should have first gone to Congress. Even if there is bipartisan congressional rejection of the nuclear agreement, the president is unlikely to yield to Congress because he regards the deal as part of his legacy.

BOB: And so it should be. Iran has been seeking a nuclear bomb since Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini returned from France in 1979. This agreement can slow its progress. Iran would have become a nuclear power had President Obama not united most of the world in boycotting Iranian oil sales, which crippled Iran’s economy and forced it to negotiate. Other presidents tried to stop Iran’s nuclear program. They failed. Obama succeeded.

BOB: I agree it was like that in the past, but most of the opposition to the Iranian nuclear deal is coming from Republicans. How can these polarizers reject an agreement that limits Iran’s nuclear development for 10 years and forbids Iran from buying nuclear bomb-making material for 15 years? Plus, Iran must reduce its enriched uranium stockpile by 96%, either shipping it outside the country or diluting it. Iran must also sharply cut its centrifuges. Conservatives are playing a dangerous game.

CAL: You presume Iran won’t cheat. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, who caucuses with Democrats, expressed the anguish many Democrats feel: “The risk of voting for it is that if the Iranians cheat and somehow achieve a path to a bomb in spite of the agreement, then you look like you signed on to something that wasn’t effective.”

BOB: Yes, but King added, “There are risks in both directions.” Rejecting the deal would leave the Iranians’ nuclear ambitions unchecked. Iran has agreed to allow international inspectors to monitor its activity, and if Iran is violating the agreement, sanctions can be reimposed. What’s the alternative?

BOB: Iranians have suffered economically under the U.S.-led sanctions. If they cheat, they know their economy will crumble under another round.

CALWashington Post columnist Dana Milbank thought Obama’s comments at his news conference conveyed “weakness.” That’s quite an admission from someone who has mostly been a supporter of the president. Weakness invites aggression.

BOB: It was the unwillingness by previous administrations to confront Iran in the aftermath of the Iraq War that showed weakness. When President George W. Bush invaded Iraq over non-existent weapons of mass destruction, he said he was not interested in “nation-building,” which is what he did. The Iraqi army was disbanded, the same army that went to war against Iran and held the Iranians in check.

CAL: You have a point, but that’s in the past. Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., a senior member of the Foreign Relations Committee, has said that the deal “doesn’t end Iran’s nuclear program — it preserves it.” He worries that “the red lines we drew have turned into green lights,” and that the deal “doesn’t provide for anytime/anyplace inspections of suspected sites.” He is putting American interests ahead of politics.

BOB: What’s these naysayers’ policy? I assume their only strategy is war. Who would do the fighting and dying? The U.S. would. Haven’t we spilled enough blood in that region? Israel, which in some quarters has been itching to pull the U.S. into war with Iran, would have to commit its military. Even in Israel, saner voices want this agreement, knowing an attack on Iran would infuriate other Muslim nations.

CAL: Not all of them. Many regard Iran as an existential threat. The administration was clever in not calling this deal a “treaty,” or the Constitution would mandate a vote by the Senate to ratify it. As it is, the president has said that he will veto any measure from Congress that rejects the deal.

BOB: This agreement is too important for Republicans to use it to score political points against Obama. I doubt many Republicans have read it; in fact, several denounced it before the deal was announced.

CAL: Despite our disagreements, I think we agree Iran is the new “evil empire.”

BOB: There is no question about that.