(Previously published on The Jerusalem Post)
Both Democrats and Republicans will challenge the president over future sanctions and a final nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic.
What does Democratic New York Senator Charles Schumer’s attack on President Barack Obama’ Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) have to do with Iran? If you missed it, Schumer said Democrats “blew the opportunity the American people gave them” by focusing “on the wrong problem – health care.”
The politically savvy Schumer, who is adept at reading tea leaves, knows that for 2016 and beyond, very few Democrats will want to hitch their re-election prospects to the Obama legacy.
Moderate Democrats in the House and Senate are distancing themselves from an unpopular Democratic president in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election. The president has chosen to ignore the shellacking his party sustained in the midterm election, and instead has decided to go on the offensive.
He does not see the defeat as a call from the American people for compromise and humility; he sees it as a call for unilateral executive action. It is a policy that scares Democrats who are up for re-election in 2016 because it is farther to the left than where they would like to position themselves before the presidential primaries, which begin in just over a year.
The surprising strong attack by a leader of the Democratic Party, who also was a leading supporter and defender of ObamaCare, has direct implications for the upcoming inevitable confrontation between Congress and the president over Iran. Inevitable because the administration is desperate to sign a deal – any deal – and call it a victory. If Senator Schumer could attack the sacrosanct Accountable Care Act, then he and other Democratic allies may be willing to confront the president on his major foreign policy initiative, concluding the Iranian nuclear negotiations.
When it was politically safe to defend the president’s misguided opposition to additional sanctions, Schumer was more than happy to defend the president to a very skeptical pro-Israel community.
Never mind that those additional sanctions might have created enough pressure on the authoritarian theocratic regime to actually force it to negotiate in good faith.
SCHUMER CONTINUED to defend Obama when the president mind-bogglingly agreed to Iranian enrichment in the interim deal, which contradicted six UN Security Council resolutions, and also agreed to sunset all Iranian obligations over time. Politics mattered more than what was right for America.
However, with a lame duck president and the political winds changing, Schumer now realizes that the America people still fear a nuclear Iran, sympathize with Israel, and have concluded that the administration’s incoherent foreign policy has weakened American security interests and prestige abroad. Schumer will now do what most politicians do: “whitewash” his record and expect his constituents to develop amnesia and forget how his leadership undermined our security interests in the region by weakening our allies, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
If Schumer and some moderate Democrats want to confront the president and his aides over their handling of the Iran negotiations, they will not have to look far for ammunition. All they need to do is expose the broken promises of the administration from last fall, when both the White House and State Department agreed to work with Congress on new sanctions legislation if a treaty were not completed by July 2014.
The president knows he can outflank Congress because the proposed multi-party treaty between the P5+1 and Iran does not require Congressional approval. So what can the Republican Congress and their new Democratic allies do before a deal or framework agreement is signed this winter or spring? • Pass new sanctions to become effective if: Iran is allowed to keep the Arak plutonium reactor; Iran is not required to dismantle Fordow, Natanz and Parchin; Centrifuge R&D is not completed halted; The parties agree to a sunset provision of less than 50 years; The treaty allows for more than 1,000 centrifuges or, indeed, any centrifuges other than IR-1M’s.
• Make clear to the international community that any deal this president signs can be rescinded by the next president, and can be weakened by a united Congress.
• Go on the PR offensive and explain to the American people why the current deal is against American interests, specifically because it will cause massive proliferation of nuclear weapons in the Middle East, which can land in the hands of non-state actors and one day appear on our shores.
• Remind the American people that Iran (even without nuclear weapons) is still the leading state sponsor of terrorism in the world, a mega-human rights abuser, and complicit in the deaths of American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.
• Explain how the deal existentially endangers our closest ally in the region, Israel.
• Make clear to the EU and other Iranian trading partners that additional Congressional legislation will be written that will punish individuals, companies and nations if they ignore American sanctions and trade covertly with Iran.
The president has the upper hand in this fight.
However, a united Congress still can make a difference.
The author is the founder and director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political and Information Network.