Today American citizens are exercising a cherished American right. Many members of AIPAC are flying into D.C. to lobby their members of Congress to vote against the proposed nuclear agreement with Iran. I applaud them. They are engaging in an activity at the heart of America’s greatness: the right of any citizen to directly speak to and to try to persuade their representatives.
From both my former profession as a lobbyist in California and from my many years as a pro-Israel activist, I have known some members of Congress for many years. Even though I could not be there in person, I decided to join my fellow American citizens in lobbying members of Congress. I thought I could provide a personal perspective of an American now living in Israel, someone with a foot in each country.
And so I wrote personal letters to a few Democratic Congressional members and I asked my colleagues in the U.S. to deliver the letters when they visit the members. Of course, like any professional, I ignored much of the advice I gave clients for 30 years: be brief, stick to the talking points. I did follow some of my advice: I am polite, and I am clear about what I am asking for: A NO vote.
With some brief introductory, personal sentences omitted, here’s my letter:
My wife Dana and I have the privilege of being citizens of both the United States and Israel, and we live part of each year in Sacramento and Jerusalem. I am writing to you from Jerusalem, where I can tell you that the Iranian nuclear deal is on the minds of many if not most people.
Firstly, I would like to say just how much we appreciate your longtime friendship with, and support of, the Jewish community and Israel. You have been a true and loyal friend, and I know your feelings are heartfelt. I know that asking you to vote against a major foreign policy initiative of President Obama is a huge request, and I know that you will very seriously consider the impact of the agreement on the safety and the future of Israelis and Americans.
I know several associates of mine who are your constituents will be visiting with you or your staff to explain their opposition to the agreement. I know from my communications with them that I share the reasons they will express for opposing the agreement. I wanted to add or emphasize a few points that are especially concerning or upsetting to me, perhaps because of the perspective I have gained from living a good part of the last five years in Israel.
Ironically, my first major concern has little or nothing to do with Israel, Iran, or nuclear arms. It is a concern borne out of my being a lawyer and out of having watched the erosion of Congressional power vis-à-vis Presidential power over the last 45 years. It has to do with the Constitution and checks-and-balances.
The agreement reached with Iran is of monumental importance to the U.S. and to the world. There is no doubt that in previous times it would have been characterized as a treaty and would have required a two-thirds vote of both houses for approval. I was surprised and worried when the President avoided the approval requirements for a treaty by characterizing the agreement as an “executive agreement.” I thought that the compromise negotiated by Senators Corker and Menendez was an admirable and elegant attempt to resolve the situation, although they do not adequately replace the high bar for approval and the equal status for Congress that the Constitution’s treaty provision provides.
Now that the President has gone to the U.N. for approval prior to even allowing the agreed-to Corker/Menendez process to take place, he really has made a mockery of Congressional involvement. He has seriously abrogated the checks-and-balances that are such a crucial part of the American democracy.
I will not get into the issue of good-faith and intentions. Rather, my concern is for the Constitution, American democracy, and the role of Congress both now and in the future. We have seen over the last 40-50 years the expansion of Presidential power and the diminishment of the role of Congress in many areas, particularly in foreign affairs. I fear that if this latest maneuver is allowed to succeed, it will truly be the death knell of a meaningful role for Congress in many foreign affairs matters, and it will be a terrible blow to the checks-and-balances provisions. I fear that a future President could further expand the powers of the President and further erode the proper role of the Congress.
I commend to you an article written by Professor Walter Russell Mead on the implications of the process the Administration engaged in.
Regarding the agreement itself, the President, Secretary Kerry, and their allies have argued that if the U.S. walks away from the agreement, the only alternative is a nuclear Iran and/or war. I find this argument very disingenuous. Just days ago they were telling us that no deal was preferable to a bad deal. Now they are telling us that no deal is not a tenable outcome. What changed in just a few days or a couple of weeks?
In fact, no deal is preferable to the current proposed deal. The proposed deal will not prevent war. We know it will lead to more financial and other support for terrorism in the region and around the world. We know it will embolden and give financial support to Iran’s efforts to destabilize many Sunni Arab nations and to further its objective of influence and hegemony in the region. We know that, whether Iran cheats or not, the agreement means that at some time in the not too distant future, it will mean a nuclear Iran. We in Israel and our neighbors in the region shudder at the prospects, and we are dismayed that the P5+1, led by the United States, agreed to such a deal.
I acknowledge that, if the Congress disapproves the deal, the future will be uncertain and difficult. However, I believe that with proper leadership and real will, America can convince its allies to retain sanctions and maintain Iran’s isolation, and, with a real, credible military threat, we can reach a resolution that will truly put an end to Iran’s nuclear development and its spread of terrorism and destabilization. I and most others in Israel and the region would rather take our chances on that than accept an agreement which virtually guarantees more war, terrorism, death, and very likely a nuclear Iran.
Some might say that, well, these are Israeli and Middle Eastern concerns, while the agreement will protect Americans and will keep the U.S. out of war. I disagree. It is clear that Iran seeks influence and control over areas of vital concern to U.S. interests. It is true that its support of terrorism reaches Americans and the friends of Americans, and has even reached U.S. soil and U.S. property abroad. It is true that a nuclear Iran, with the nuclear arms race it will engender, will embroil the entire world.
It is extremely depressing and upsetting to me that while the Administration expresses its hope that the deal will initiate the beginning of a change in Iran’s aggressive, Jew-hating, terroristic behavior, the Administration and the P5+1 refused to demand that it change any part of this behavior as a “price” for sanctions relief, acceptance back into the community of nations, and eventual entrance into the nuclear-threshold group of nations.
Iran is a nation whose leadership frequently and openly declares its desire to destroy Israel. They do not hide their hatred for America and their intent to oppose America wherever they have the ability. They advertise that a very sizeable amount of the billions of dollars they will soon receive will go to supporting terrorist allies such as Hezbollah and murderous regimes such as Syria’s Assad.
And yet we demand no changes in this behavior and attitude in exchange for our concessions? I compare this with the demands the U.S., led by a great Democratic senator and supported by other freedom-loving Democrats and Republicans, put on the Soviet Union in return for favored trade status, as eloquently recounted by the courageous and inspiring Natan Sharansky in last Saturday’s Washington Post.
Very disconcerting is that while we have been told that no non-nuclear issues could be raised as part of the deal, the P5+1 agreed that the ban on conventional weapons will be lifted in five years and, even worse, the ban on ICBM’s will be lifted in eight years.
This leaves me with these very disturbing questions: Why did Iran get non-nuclear concessions in a deal that was supposedly just about nuclear issues? Or, am I to conclude that the conventional weapons and the ICBM’s will somehow be used in their nuclear program? Since, as far as I know, the only purpose of the ICBM’s is to deliver missiles to distant locations, my great fear is that they will be used to deliver nuclear weapons to Europe and the United States.
Even if they are not actually used for such purposes, the mere threat of their use will be an effective tool in preventing action against other aggressive behavior or to extort other concessions. Either way, used or unused, this is a terrible provision in the deal, a provision that will lead to more conventional war or to nuclear war.
Article 10, Annex III creates the potential for a truly absurd situation. This provision provides that the P5+1 countries will, under certain circumstances, participate in helping the Iranians secure and protect their nuclear materials. I fully accept the Administration’s statements that this does not mean that the United States or its allies have warranted to defend Iran against an attack by Israel should Israel feel such an attack is necessary to halt Iran’s development of a nuclear bomb, and I fully accept the representations that the Administration does not intend to help Iran develop technology to defend against cyber-sabotage tools such as the Stuxnet virus.
Rather, the intention is to help the Iranians protect against theft and sabotage by terrorists, not efforts by Israel, the U.S. or other countries to counter an Iranian violation. Nonetheless, to the extent that the P5+1 does help Iran make its nuclear materials more secure, it will make its own work and the work of Israel and other nations harder if it becomes necessary to undermine Iran’s program militarily or through cyber-warfare.
As Richard Brennan, a senior political scientist at the RAND Corp. and a career Army officer, put it: “At one level, this is a good thing because there is an overriding interest in ensuring that nuclear materials are safeguarded. On the other hand, success in developing these security protocols would also make it more difficult to attack or degrade the program in the future should Iran violate the terms of the agreement.”
Of course, this quandary could have been largely avoided if the agreement achieved the original objectives as outlined in several UN resolutions and by President Obama: the dismantlement of Iran’s nuclear program.
Finally, a point resulting from my experience living in Israel a good part of the last five years. We have now lived through two wars, the last one with all of our immediate family, including our then-10 week old granddaughter here. This has made me particularly sensitive when I hear the President and others raise the possibility of war should the deal not be approved. There often seems to be an implication that those who oppose approval of the deal somehow want war or are, at best, cavalier about it.
I want you and everyone else to know that nothing could be further from the truth. As you know, Israel is a tiny country. When we have war, it is upfront and personal. Millions throughout the country are forced to take cover when alarms go off. I can personally attest to the bone-jarring fear for your own safety, and the dread for your children and grandchildren, that one goes through when this occurs. Gas masks are unpacked and kept nearby.
As you also know, virtually everyone serves in the army. When a war occurs, every soldier becomes every parent’s child. The first thing you ask when you see a friend or an acquaintance on the street is: “Do you know where he (or she) is? Are they in or out? When have you/when will you talk to him (or her)? What about your nephew (or niece).” And on and on.
In short, no one in this country takes war lightly. No one wants it. No one is cavalier about it. Israelis will be the first to endure a war resulting from this deal, whether it be an emboldened and better equipped Hezbollah or Hamas in six months or a year, or God-forbid, a nuclear equipped Iran in five, 10, or 15 years. Israelis want an agreement that truly prevents a nuclear-capable Iran, an agreement that truly impedes Iran’s stated determination to destroy us, to destabilize the region, and to support its terrorist agents and allies.
In the world we live in today, what is dangerous for Israel and the Middle East is also dangerous for the United States. As you know well, we live in a very interconnected world. The United States is not immune from the havoc that Iran can cause in the Middle East. Moreover, Iran has made no secret of its continuing determination, with or without this deal, to confront and to oppose the United States.
As I wrote at the outset, I know that this is a huge ask. But I believe that the hope for a peaceful future, for both Israel and the United States, depends on your leadership in defeating this ill-advised deal. Therefore, I respectfully and with deep gratitude for your friendship and support, ask you to vote “No” on the proposed agreement.