Shadow Government

Killing the Nuke Deal Doesn’t Mean War with Iran

The Obama White House tried to invoke John Kennedy with the choice of American University as the venue for President Barack Obama to make his case for support of the Iran deal. Which made President Obama’s divisive, bitter defense of the agreement all the sadder. Instead of John Kennedy’s uplifting call to examine our views ...

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The Obama White House tried to invoke John Kennedy with the choice of American University as the venue for President Barack Obama to make his case for support of the Iran deal. Which made President Obama’s divisive, bitter defense of the agreement all the sadder. Instead of John Kennedy’s uplifting call to examine our views and foster greater cooperation, President Obama’s speech was a reminder of how far he has transgressed from his promise to be a unifying force. Washington Irving mused, “there is a certain relief in change, even though it be from bad to worse; as I have found in traveling in a stage-coach, that it is often a comfort to shift one’s position and be bruised in a new place.” Even if America’s next president also does not live up to their billing, it will be a comfort be condescended to in new ways, rather than the now-standard ones on display by President Obama at American University yesterday.

It’s fair enough for the president to argue that increased sanctions are not a realistic alternative to the agreement. Our relationship with Russia after its invasion of Crimea is such that they are unlikely to cooperate, China is consumed with its slowing economy and therefore less cooperative, and Europeans will be a long time digging themselves out of the Euro-slump and so welcome the chance to do business with Iran. It is surprising, though, how little effort the president made in this speech to build any basis for agreement to the Iran deal.

This was an intensely partisan speech, designed not to sell the deal to opponents or to the American public, but to try and hold his own party in support after the Congress, in all likelihood, votes against the agreement and he is forced to veto the legislation and return it for an override vote. Which is why President Obama spent an inordinate amount of time re-litigating the Iraq war. And he was excoriating about its negative effects on the region — but he had nothing to say about the negative effects of the way he “ended” the Iraq war, which also dramatically increased Iran’s influence.

The least credible part of the president’s speech was the insistence that either the United States Congress endorses this agreement, or America must go to war with Iran. As Shadi Hamid from Brookings pointed out on Twitter, the Commander in Chief is actually in control of that outcome. This is a presidential administration supposedly committed to “smart power” admitting it has no idea how to work the block and tackle of foreign policy other than this agreement or war. A president could, as they have, choose espionage, financial tools, and diplomacy with regional allies rather than Iran at its center. A president could foment internal discord in Iran, forcing the regime to defend its choices to what appears to be a skeptical public, or turn up the rhetorical heat on this Iranian government by openly making the case for regime change. A president could expose the financial dealings of the regime and publicize the budgetary drain of Iran’s support to Syria, Hezbollah, and Hamas. Or a president could put in place the relationships and policies to contain a nuclear Iran.

The scary part of the president’s argument, though, was his blithe confidence in the deal. Evidently he isn’t troubled by the legitimate concerns that animate many critics: whether the 10 year restraint is bought at too high a price in future unrestrained Iranian nuclear activity, inspection protocols are binding enough to catch cheating (especially at undeclared sites), “snap back” provisions will work given that triggering them would legitimate Iran ceasing to participate, emboldening Iran’s campaign to destabilize other countries in the region, an avalanche of money from formerly frozen bank accounts funding terrorism and enriching the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, possibility of a proliferation cascade throughout the region, removal of restraint on Quasim Solymani and other Iranians with American blood on their hands, content of the confidential IAEA agreements with Iran. President Obama claimed “I’ve had to make a lot of tough calls as president, but whether or not this deal is good for American security is not one of those calls, it’s not even close.” It should be.

ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images

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