Obamacare of foreign policy

Major arms control treaties used to be bipartisan affairs. Those days are gone.

Written by Roger Cohen | Published: September 5, 2015 12:37:15 am

A disaster has been averted. The nuclear deal concluded by six major powers with Iran is now unstoppable in Congress. The only question is whether President Obama will have to veto a Republican resolution of disapproval, or whether Democrats will have enough votes to spare him that obligation by filibustering the resolution and ensuring it never leaves the Senate.

The second outcome would be preferable. An override-proof presidential veto of a congressional resolution of disapproval is not the best path to a historic international accord. Major arms control treaties used to be bipartisan affairs. Those days are gone. Still, Republican manoeuvring, backed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, has not prevailed. That’s a victory for reason in a season of rage.

Why has a disaster been averted? Because if the deal had unravelled in Congress, so would America’s standing as a global power. Russia, China and the European Union would have concluded that the United States is unserious. To negotiate over years a tough compromise obliging Iran, among other measures, to slash its stockpile of enriched uranium by 98 per cent and its operating centrifuges by two-thirds, and then walk away in a righteous and deluded funk — well, that’s not how America won the respect of the world. It did so by being consequential in hot wars
and cold.

Perhaps American power matters less these days. I don’t think so. If America’s word is shot, so are the underpinnings of global security. What would have been left of that word after an Iranian volte-face — to follow the Syrian volte-face and ongoing debacle — would have been meagre indeed. America the Undependable would have become a watchword.

Then there’s Iranian power. Absent the nuclear deal, it would have grown. Tehran would have secured its objective of relief from sanctions — because the current coalition would have crumbled — without having to scale back its nuclear programme or submit it to international inspection of unprecedented intensity.

Iran would have resumed installation of new centrifuges and increased the quantity and quality of its enriched uranium, just as it did for many years before Obama’s diplomacy reversed things. As Secretary of State John Kerry remarked this week, rejection would have left the US and its allies in “the very dangerous spot that we were in two years ago” — only “devoid of any realistic plan or option.” Of course, one option would have resurfaced — the military one, a certain catastrophe with a maximum setback of Iran’s nuclear programme of perhaps three years, against 15 years in the deal without a third unwinnable American war certain to convince every wavering Iranian of the need for a nuclear weapon.

There was no “better deal” — the fantasy of all those who hate Iran and hate Obama (which of them more is often unclear).

I said a disaster had been averted. A disaster has also been revealed. It is that not one — not one — of the 301 Republican members of Congress (the largest Republican majority since 1929-31) supports the deal, despite the overwhelming evidence that the accord, while far from perfect, is the best achievable — as almost all Democrats concluded after often agonised review.

Republicans, prodded by Netanyahu and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (in overdrive on the Iran question), are not about to let go of their Iran toy. It’s a way to attack the president; it’s also a way to raise money. The deal will become the “Obamacare of foreign policy”, Nicholas Burns, a Harvard professor and former under secretary of state, told me. Yes, it will. That is, something sensible (at least in the eyes of most people across the world) to which Republicans will never acquiesce and which they will try to use in every conceivable way to undermine a president they loathe.

The New York Times

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