The Iran Bill to Nowhere

Sen. Bob Corker is to be commended for a masterful job of obtaining a consensus to support a bill giving Congress a say in the terms of a final deal with Iran and authority to determine whether U.S. sanctions should be lifted. Unfortunately, the bill is counterproductive and will not accomplish the seminal goal of American diplomacy, which is the curtailing of the Iranian nuclear program.

The number of Democrats prepared to defy their president must have shocked the White House; nevertheless, the administration tried to spin the embarrassment as a victory because of a trivial reduction in the number of days Congress has to review an agreement, and the more substantive removal of a provision requiring the president to certify Iran no longer engages in terrorism. Others suggested the president was forced to abandon his veto threat when it became clear it would be overridden.

The truth is the president was humiliated by the lack of loyalty of a number of Democrats, but the victory by Corker is a pyrrhic one.

First, the president has consistently argued that he has the executive authority to sign a deal without Congressional approval. If and when he does, he can ignore the Congressional legislation, which doesn’t prevent him from signing a deal, and immediately lift sanctions whether Congress likes it or not. This will potentially create a political firestorm, certainly among Republicans, but Obama is counting on Democrats to rally around him if the negotiations are successful because they will not want to be responsible for undoing the “best chance” to stop Iran’s nuclear program.

Enough Democrats may still defy the president if they believe the deal is as bad as it appears from the framework agreement. It will be more difficult for Obama to ignore bipartisan opposition to a bad agreement.

What if Congress succeeds in scuttling the agreement with Iran?

Supporters of the legislation will argue that tougher sanctions should be imposed to coerce Iran to accept a better deal; however, it is unlikely to work. The Iranians are only willing to negotiate because they are confident Obama is unwilling to use force and is so desperate for an agreement that sanctions will be lifted without them making any significant concessions. They will have much less incentive to act if they believe they can only get sanctions relief by truly ending their nuclear program and possibly being asked to do more, such as ceasing sponsorship of terrorism.

In the unlikelihood of negotiating a better deal from the U.S. perspective, the only alternative then will be military force, which, has from the start been the only realistic option for putting a stop to Iran’s nuclear dreams. As for the argument that a military strike will only slow the Iranians down, this ignores the possibility of striking again in the future as needed, a prospect that might deter Iran from continuing its program (which is what happened after Israel bombed Iraq’s nuclear reactor).

The military option is also the only alternative that has the chance of preventing a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. The Saudis, Egyptians, Turks and others will not trust Iran to comply with a negotiated agreement and will seek their own nuclear weapons for insurance.

The opponents of force also ignore the fact that the negotiations were aimed at extending the breakout time from three months to one year, which cannot be very reassuring to Iran’s enemies. Worse, Obama admitted that before the end of the agreement, Iran is likely to have a breakout time of zero. No one in the administration has explained how that could be possible if, as they claim, the agreement cuts off all avenues to a bomb.

The intent of Congress can and most likely will be undone by the rest of the world, which is anxious to end sanctions and will be happy to let their companies fill the vacuum left by the United States. In this scenario Iran will reap the economic benefits without having to give up its nuclear program or face pressure to make a better deal.

If, by chance, other countries do not rescind sanctions, Iran will not agree to stop its nuclear program and may be motivated to accelerate it. This would also bring us to the military option.

Legislation will not change the basic dilemma we face. Do we make a deal that gives Iran the financial resources to expand its hegemonic objectives, intensify development of long-range missiles, and underwrite Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism without stopping Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons? Do we hope for Iran to concede under the weight of stricter sanctions knowing that it will be impossible to verify any agreement, and that Iran can easily cheat, knowing that sanctions will not “snap back”? Or do we use military force to ensure that Iran cannot build a nuclear weapon and accept the consequences?

Dr. Mitchell Bard is the author/editor of 24 books including The Arab LobbyDeath to the Infidels: Radical Islam’s War Against the Jews and the novel, After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.

About the Author
Dr Mitchell Bard is the Executive Director of the nonprofit American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise (AICE) and a foreign policy analyst who lectures frequently on U.S.-Middle East policy. Dr. Bard is the director of the Jewish Virtual Library, the world's most comprehensive online encyclopedia of Jewish history and culture. He is also the author/editor of 24 books, including The Arab Lobby, Death to the Infidels: Radical Islam’s War Against the Jews and the novel After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.