The Iran Deal: Winners and Losers?

Now that a Senate minority has blocked the bipartisan majority from an up-or-down vote on arguably the most significant foreign policy measure in a generation, some in the media are rushing to judgment about winners and losers.

The White House is cast as the big winner, of course.

The pro-Israel community is depicted—with barely hidden glee in such outlets as The New York Times—as the big loser.

Let me suggest two other ways of looking at the balance sheet.

First, the White House indeed achieved what it sought – a clear pathway to implementing the P5+1 deal with Iran reached in Vienna on July 14th. That’s unquestionably true.

But to accomplish that, here’s what it had to do.

It had to declare the accord an “executive agreement” rather than a treaty, which would have required an unattainable two-thirds vote in the Senate.

It had to go straight to the UN Security Council after Vienna, giving such countries as Malaysia and Venezuela the chance to vote on the deal before members of the U.S. Congress were able to assess it, thus essentially narrowing the space for legislative review.

It had to pull out all the stops with many reluctant Democrats, who even in announcing their support for the deal couldn’t bring themselves to wax enthusiastic about it, and in several cases explicitly criticized what they were voting for.

It had to disregard increasingly skeptical American public opinion, ranging from a Pew study that found only 21 percent of those surveyed supported the deal, to a Rasmussen study that found support among just 32 percent of the respondents.

It had to overlook a decisive bipartisan vote of disapproval, 269-162, in the House of Representatives.

And it had to ignore the fact that relying on a Senate minority from only one party—itself quite unprecedented—could create risks going forward, depending on future electoral outcomes.

So it’s not entirely clear that this was a “stinging defeat,” as the Times phrased it.

And I would add two other unintended consequences of the drive to push through the deal.

For one thing, virtually the entire Israeli political spectrum, including both government and opposition, spoke out against the deal. Much was made of a very few former officials who voiced support, but in Israel they were totally drowned out by the across-the-board political leadership, as well as overwhelming majorities of Israelis who told pollsters they opposed the deal. For anyone who follows Israeli politics, such consensus happens as often as the appearance of Halley’s Comet.

And for another, Israel and its Sunni Arab neighbors shared the exact same concerns about the deal and its implications for the region. That, too, doesn’t happen very often, to say the least. But it did in this case, even if the Arab countries, in the end, chose to voice their deep concerns largely in private, while negotiating for new American weapons systems and security guarantees.

There’s also a second way of assessing the balance sheet.

We may not know the real winners and losers for quite some time, since this deal runs for a number of years. Only then will we have the one verdict that actually counts.

And that verdict will be based, above all, on whether the promises and assurances of the deal’s supporters are fulfilled. Here are some of them:

President Barack Obama:

— “[The Senate vote on the Iran deal] is a victory for diplomacy, for American national security, and for the safety and security of the world.” (September 10, 2015)

— “After two years of negotiations, we have achieved a detailed arrangement that permanently prohibits Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. It cuts off all of Iran’s pathways to a bomb. It contains the most comprehensive inspection and verification regime ever negotiated to monitor a nuclear program. “ (August 5, 2015)

— “If Iran violates the agreement over the next decade, all of the sanctions can snap back into place. We won’t need the support of other members of the U.N. Security Council; America can trigger snapback on our own.” (August 5, 2015)

— “Should Iran seek to dash toward a nuclear weapon, all of the options available to the United States — including the military option — will remain available through the life of the deal and beyond.” (August 19, 2015)

Secretary of State John Kerry:

— “Iran’s nuclear program will remain subject to regular inspections forever. Iran will have to provide access to all of its nuclear facilities forever. Iran will have to respond promptly to requests for access to any suspicious site forever. And if Iran at any time – at any time – embarks on nuclear activities that are incompatible with a wholly peaceful program, it will be in violation of the agreement forever.” (September 2, 2015)

— “The agreement gives us a wide range of enforcement tools, and we will use them. And the standard we will apply can be summed up in two words: zero tolerance.” (September 2, 2015)

–“The people of Israel will be safer with this deal, and the same is true for the people throughout the region.” (September 2, 2015)

Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman:

— “They will not obtain a nuclear weapon, and now we can focus our resources, our relationships on solving the other problems in the region.” (July 16, 2015)

Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz:

— “In regards to 24 days [for inspections to occur], we are very confident that activities involving nuclear materials will be detectable.” (July 17, 2015)

If indeed these promises and assurances are achieved, as I hope they will be, then those of us who have been opponents of the deal will owe a big apology to supporters. But if they’re not, then hold on to your hats and fasten your seat belts—an already dangerous world will become exponentially more so. Meanwhile, a bit of restraint on sweeping judgments of winners and losers might well be in order.

About the Author
David Harris is the CEO of the American Jewish Committee (AJC).