It’s a good thing for both supporters and opponents that the fate of President Obama’s deal to deny Iran a nuclear weapon won’t depend on intellectual honesty. For the last few weeks of debate and political machinations show that neither group can rightly claim any.
The sleaze factor is only most obvious among the deal’s supporters. A few weeks ago, I thought the big question surrounding the eventual Congressional vote(s) would be whether the president and his fellow Democrats would be comfortable with an agreement supported exclusively, or nearly so, by their party. Such a result would contrast sharply with the post-World War II American tradition, honored often in the breach to be sure, of politics stopping at the water’s edge. More practically, it would greatly increase the odds of the deal being overturned if Republicans won the White House next year, with all the unpredictable fallout that might be generated.
Now, however, it’s clear that the big Capitol Hill-related question surrounding the deal is whether the White House and Congressional Democrats want a vote at all. Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada and the White House reportedly favor a Senate filibuster, which if successful would bring victory for the administration without any toll call. Using this distinctive Senate rule could, as backers argue, show that opposition to the deal wasn’t even strong enough to force a vote. (Although I personally find this line of argument completely weird, given common knowledge that numerical majorities in both chambers could well vote “No.”)
What’s not legitimately disputable is that preventing a vote would enable many Senators and Congressmen to avoid letting their constituents know their ultimate views of this highly controversial agreement – and possibly save their electoral skins. Does this tell you that Democrats – and even Mr. Obama himself – are genuinely proud of their Iran record?
The opponents’ sleaze factor is less obvious but just as troubling. For weeks I’ve argued that the strongest, and indeed the decisive, reason to support the deal is that almost none of the rest of the world is willing to postpone resuming business with Iran in order to press for tougher terms. In these circumstances, rejecting the agreement would leave the United States as practically the only country whose businesses couldn’t make money in Iran, and Iran with no restraints on its nuclear weapons ambitions.
Many opponents insist that more vigorous American leadership could prevent this counterproductive outcome, and in some ways I’m sympathetic to this position. Certainly I agree with the view that even Russia and especially China, much less America’s allies, need to do business with the United States much more than they need to do business with Iran. So if push comes to shove, other countries might indeed cave. I also agree that President Obama had little interest in using America’s leverage in Iran diplomacy. The big question, though, is “Would any Republicans?”
Some of the GOP’s insurgent candidates might – but for precisely the reason that their more establishment-oriented competitors, for all their outrage about the deal, would surely demur: The insurgents – especially Donald Trump – aren’t beholden to Corporate America. The establishment candidates are. Big Business could not be clearer on its staunch opposition to unilateral sanctions as a foreign policy tool. Even multilateral sanctions are sometimes seen as too disruptive to revenue and profit streams.
Whether their arguments make sense or not (on purely trade-related controversies, Big Business has no unilateral sanctions case, given the importance of the U.S. market in a world whose other major powers need exports to grow; on foreign policy sanctions, opposition to going-it-alone can’t be dismissed out of hand), the notion that Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio or Scott Walker or Carly Fiorina or Chris Christie – to name those who still seem competitive – would defy their corporate funders is completely delusional. (For some reason I can’t adequately explain yet, I feel less sure about John Kasich.)
Meanwhile, the most disturbing U.S. foreign policy weaknesses revealed by the deeply flawed Iran deal continue to be completely neglected: After decades of coddling allies, and letting them shirk anything like their appropriate share of global security burdens, America has precious few reliable partners left on the world stage. And neither Iran deal supporters or critics have presented a strategy to boost the nation’s ability to secure its interests through its own devices more effectively.