Consistency, Ralph Waldo Emerson reminds us, is not necessarily all it’s cracked up to be, but it does have more to recommend it than hypocrisy. President Obama’s threat to veto a bill that would require congressional approval of a nuclear deal with Iran — a deal that will profoundly impact our children and grandchildren — contradicts his own representations to the American people, and has hallmarks of the kind of hypocrisy that he vowed to leave behind when he ran for president.
During the 2008 campaign, then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama railed against the Bush administration’s end-runs around Congress on a variety of national security issues. The Bush White House’s disregard of the legislative branch on matters of immense national consequence, he assured the nation, was a fundamental reason he was running for president.
“The biggest problems that we’re facing right now have to do with George Bush trying to bring more and more power into the executive branch and not go through Congress at all,” Obama explained. “And that’s what I intend to reverse when I’m president of the United States of America.”
In decrying Bush’s perpetual side-stepping of Congress, candidate Obama had the staunch support of the Democratic establishment. In a Sept. 21, 2007, editorial entitled “In Search Of Congress,” the New York Times deplored Congress’ failure to “show leadership on the war in Iraq,” and called upon Congress to do “what it is supposed to do: debate profound issues like these.” Congress, the Times intoned, “is the first place for this kind of work. Right now, it seems like this is the last place it will happen.”
Now that he is president and Congress is controlled by the Republicans, however, Obama has done a screeching about-face. Convinced that he is right about how to handle relations with Iran and that his critics in Congress are wrong, Obama believes that the terms of an agreement that would permit Iran to produce nuclear weapons in short order without anyone being able to do anything about it are simply none of Congress’ business.
He has, therefore, threatened to veto a bill that would give Congress the right to review a deal with Iran before it is finalized, and has refused to seek Congress’ approval on his own. So much for what he said about the Bush administration’s unilateralism, Obama’s position seems to be that the same standard does not apply to him.
It is not merely principled respect for Congress as a co-equal branch of government that warrants its inclusion in the decision over whether the terms of a deal with Iran serve or threaten our national interest.
Congressional review of the specifics of a deal with Iran before it is final would test whether an administration with a keen eye on its legacy has made unwise concessions that will leave future generations with an Iranian sword of Damocles hanging over them.
Regardless of the party occupying the White House or in control of Congress, legislative approval of executive actions with potentially monumental impact on national security helps ensure that politics does not override wisdom.
Neither the executive nor the legislative branch is immune from letting politics cloud its judgment, and neither branch has a monopoly on wisdom. Including Congress in decision-making on Iran is the constitutional version of the axiom that “two heads are better than one.” It will also enable President Obama to say more persuasively that he meant what he said when he was candidate Obama.
This piece was published previously in The Boston Herald