Shadow Government

Obama’s Dangerous Deal-Making With Iran

It is becoming increasingly clear that President Barack Obama is hell-bent on a deal with Iran, regardless of its details or consequences. Even if one were to discount the recent claim on an Iranian website that the administration is prepared to allow Iran to operate up to 6,000 centrifuges, it is clear that the president ...

JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images

It is becoming increasingly clear that President Barack Obama is hell-bent on a deal with Iran, regardless of its details or consequences. Even if one were to discount the recent claim on an Iranian website that the administration is prepared to allow Iran to operate up to 6,000 centrifuges, it is clear that the president is prepared to accept an arrangement that allows Tehran to retain some not insignificant number of these enrichment systems. In doing so, he will give President Hassan Rouhani what he desperately needs: relief from sanctions that have been stifling the Iranian economy.

The urgency with which the president is seeking a deal before Nov. 24, the latest deadline before which it must be reached, correlates well with the stinging rebuke he just received from the American electorate. He would like an arrangement with Iran completed before the new Republican-led Congress convenes in January. The current Congress would be unable to take action to stop or reverse the deal. Despite friction with the White House, the Senate Democratic leadership may not be prepared to go so far as to embarrass the president by undermining the deal, thereby offering another indicator of just how much the party is in disarray.

Yet if an arrangement with Iran is seen to be likely to hold, the result could well be another American war in the Middle East. Israel has been threatening for years that it is prepared to take unilateral action against Iran if that country does not discontinue its nuclear weapons program. Given the total lack of trust between President Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, were there no real prospect that Congress could block the deal from taking place, Israel might well launch an attack against Iranian targets. In response, Tehran would not only attempt to retaliate against Israel, it would most certainly hold the United State accountable as well, regardless of any denials emanating from Washington. Should Iran attack American forces, or ordinary Americans anywhere in the world, the administration would have no choice but to react. The president would find himself doing exactly what his appeasement of Iran sought to avoid: a costly war whose demands on American personnel and materiel would stretch the military to its limits.

Ironically, it is the prospect of a new Republican Congressional majority that may give Netanyahu a reason to hold off on any military action. Even if Obama strikes a deal with Iran, and sidesteps immediate Congressional reaction, the new 114th Congress will surely pass legislation that will restore any sanctions that the president waived in order to win Iranian support for an agreement on the future of its nuclear program. Moreover, Congress can be expected to close any loophole that the president may have used to waive those sanctions. Finally, should the president veto any new sanctions legislation, Congress would certainly override the veto, because many, if not most Democrats oppose a deal, and a minority leadership would be far less capable of winning their support for a president with so many of them prefer not to identify.

The likelihood of Congressional action to restore sanctions or impose new ones should do more than give Netanyahu pause. It should also cause President Obama to rethink his Iran strategy as well. The last thing he needs at present is a Congressional veto override. Not only would it complicate any effort on his part to establish decent relations with Congress over the next year, it would underscore the already troubling image of presidential weakness, which America’s enemies will seek to exploit even more than they have already done over the past 12 months. That is a prospect no American, Democrat or Republican can relish, much less afford.

Dov Zakheim is the former Under Secretary of Defense.

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