Secretary of State John Kerry and a team of skilled negotiators achieved a national security miracle: a diplomatic deal that blocks Iran’s path to a nuclear bomb.
This should be a cause for celebration in both Washington and Jerusalem. Yet for Republicans in Congress, it is not. Soon they will likely go on the record in opposition to the deal, one that the overwhelming majority of national security experts and the American public supports. This is not a position that the traditional national security party cherishes, leaving them vulnerable in the eyes of the electorate on issues of war and peace. But it is good base politics, and that’s what will likely rule the day.
In my time as the State Department’s recent chief liaison to the House of Representatives, I saw partisan politics like this trump sound policy all too often. And the country suffers.
I saw this first-hand during our briefings on Iran. One would think that briefings by administration officials would elicit serious participation by Members. After all, these were the briefings where members had the chance to ask tough questions and get their views heard. But they often didn’t attend as one would expect. I can not recall one briefing where the majority of the members of the majority party participated, other than when the full chamber was invited. With that track record, one has to question how serious the members will be about objectively reviewing the deal at hand.
Unfortunately, for congressional Republicans, they will likely view this vote as a free pass and think that they can have it both ways. By voting no on the deal, Republicans can play to their base’s anti-Obama instinct. Yet they can also rest comfortably, knowing that Democrats will likely bail them out by protecting a presidential veto of congressional action to block the deal, thereby avoiding being blamed for both starting another Middle East war and facilitating an Iranian bomb.
This should not be good enough for the American people or friends of Israel. It’s certainly not the way to manage national security. And it demonstrates to the world that the United States isn’t taking its global leadership role seriously.
Let’s remember that it didn’t have to be this way on the Iran deal. Republicans demanded both the right to review the deal and to vote on it. Democrats accepted these demands. And when Congress passed the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act to create the current review period, there was a flicker of hope that this would lead to serious bipartisan review.
But unfortunately that dynamic has not taken root. Already, a majority of House Republicans — nearly 170 —cosponsored legislation opposing the deal before it had even been provided to Congress for review.
This is not serious policy review. This is serious political posturing.
Paradoxically, this is the same Congress that has staunchly avoided taking a position on whether to authorize military action against the Islamic State, even when our troops were already serving in harm’s way and after President Barack Obama requested congressional authorization. It seems odd that the majority Republicans in Congress would so aggressively want to vote on whether to reject a peaceful diplomatic agreement, which could lead to war, but stay passive on the question of authorizing the actual war that we’re in.
Let’s be clear, the upcoming September vote that will decide whether the United States can implement the internationally backed Iran nuclear deal will be all about politics. Unfortunately for Democrats, who appear to be taking this vote seriously, this presents a dilemma. They are in the uncomfortable position of having to actually debate about whether to support the deal. Each and every one of their votes counts.
Democrats have much to fear from this vote — they face the wrath of either the Israeli government and its most hawkish allies in the United States or the anger of Obama, his team and the Democratic base heading into an election year. Republicans currently face no such quandary and are acting like it, thinking they have a win-win and already doggedly opposing the deal.
For those of us who worry about the consequences of this agreement being scuttled, it is terrifying to imagine how reckless the Republican position is. After all, no opponent of the deal has a credible plan for achieving more at the table than what has been achieved. This is not an amendable agreement. It’s either yea or nay. There is no alternative to this deal. This is it. The American people deserve a serious debate, not the political posturing currently underway.
So if Republicans vote the deal down and succeed in intimidating Democrats too much, causing them to both fold and sink the deal, there will be no looking back. Obama will still be the president. Iran, as well as our allies who we depend on for tough sanctions against Iran, will then know that no deal is possible with the United States. So Iran will resume enriching and the sanctions will collapse, and then we’ll have to decide whether to either go to war or to live with an Iranian bomb.
That is a choice that no one — not even congressional Republicans — wants to make.
Joel Rubin is the president of Washington Strategy Group and was deputy assistant secretary of state for legislative affairs, handling the House of Representatives, from 2014 to 2015.