This critical period during which Congress is mulling over the nuclear deal made by U.S. negotiators and their P5+1 partners with Iran has turned into a hotly contested debate between those committed to preventing the deal from being approved and those who are desperate to ensure that it will be approved.
Yesterday, Aug. 4, Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, spoke to thousands of Americans and explained why he believes the deal is a bad one. It boiled down to “Keep or Cheat.” However Iran decides to act under this agreement, it will attain nuclear threshold status.
Today President Barack Obama gave a midday televised speech from American University in Washington, D.C.. During the speech he ridiculed those who criticize the deal, and explained why, according to him, the choice is either the deal or war.
Obama sought to compare the current situation in which Iran is seen by many as threatening the U.S. and its closest allies, and perhaps the world, to the time in which the Soviet Union, also a supporter of terrorist proxies, was considered the global danger.
This comparison is useful because the tensions and stakes were similar, and the danger was handled through diplomacy, rather than a resort to war.
Of course, diplomacy is not a generic concept, and its success depends greatly on the diplomats involved and the deals they are able to strike.
This American administration and its negotiating team are not the teams who handled the Cuban Missile Crisis, nor have they woven treaties like the SALT and START Treaties. In fact, one clear red flagging difference is that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is not a treaty, or at least is not being called one, with all the consequences that entails.
The President agrees with many of his critics about one factor: the importance of the issue. He described the deal and the foreign policy debate surrounding it as “one of the most consequential” the United States government has engaged in, in years.
Unfortunately, unlike Netanyahu’s speech, which was entirely respectful of President Obama, this one was smug, threatening, nasty and insulting, especially regarding Netanyahu, but also towards any other critics of the deal.
In refusing to take the high road, it may be that Obama lost the opportunity to win over those who were wavering. Or, and perhaps more likely, the threats he raised, including the specter of disaster that will befall the United States should the deal be rejected, may be sufficient to capture those who are susceptible to such tactics.
Time will tell.
In the hour-long speech, the President reiterated what he and the other proponents of the deal have been touting since the JCPOA was signed two weeks ago. This is the best possible deal, snap-back of sanctions will be available if Iran cheats, the inspections regime covers all contingencies (but while admitting the Iranians will have 24 days before inspectors can visit contested sites, Obama promised “we will be watching it continuously until inspectors get in.”)
A careful review of the speech, however, reveals several significant inconsistencies.
SANCTIONS NOT ENOUGH, BUT IF THEY CHEAT, WE’LL SNAP BACK SANCTIONS
The President spent a great deal of time deriding the idea that sanctions would be enough to deter Iran from driving towards its nuclear weapons goal, and ridiculing the idea of America going it alone on sanctions should Congress reject the deal. He pledged that should Iran cheat, “we can catch them, and we will.”
He then said, “If Iran violates the agreement over the next decade, all of the sanctions can snap back into place. We won’t need the support of the other members of the U.N. Security Council, America can trigger snap back on our own.” So what happened to the idea that America can’t go it alone? Or that sanctions are sufficient?
Lori Lowenthal Marcus