The emerging nuclear deal with Iran is indefensible. The White House knows it. That is why President Obama does not want to subject an agreement to congressional approval, why critics of the deal are dismissed as warmongers, and why the president, his secretary of state, and his national security adviser have spent several weeks demonizing the prime minister of Israel for having the temerity to accept an invitation by the U.S. Congress to deliver a speech on a subject of existential import for his small country. These tactics distract public attention. They turn a subject of enormous significance to American foreign policy into a petty personal drama. They prevent us from discussing what America is about to give away.
And America is about to give away a lot. This week the AP reported on what an agreement with Iran might look like: sanctions relief in exchange for promises to slow down Iranian centrifuges for 10 years. At which point the Iranians could manufacture a bomb—assuming they hadn’t produced one in secret. Iran would get international legitimacy, assurance that military intervention was not an option, and no limitations on its ICBM programs, its support for international terrorism, its enrichment of plutonium, its widespread human rights violations, and its campaign to subvert or co-opt Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, and Syria. Then it can announce itself as the first Shiite nuclear power.
And America? Liberals would flatter themselves for avoiding a war. Obama wouldn’t have to worry about the Iranians testing a nuke for the duration of his presidency. And a deal would be a step toward the rapprochement with Iran that he has sought throughout his years in office. The EU representative to the talks, for example, says a nuclear agreement “could open the way for a normal diplomatic relation” between Iran and the West, and could present “the opportunity for shaping a different regional framework in the Middle East.” A regional framework, let it be said, that would leave American interests at risk, Israel one bomb away from a second Holocaust, nuclear proliferation throughout the Middle East, and Islamic theocrats in charge of a large part of a strategic and volatile region.
I feel safer already.
Close to a decade of negotiations meant to end the Iranian nuclear program is about to culminate in the legitimization of that program and an enriched—in both senses of the word—empowered, and no less hostile Iran. Our government and the media that so often resembles its propaganda organ will attempt to characterize this colossal failure of nerve as a personal victory for a lame duck president and a milestone in international relations. It is important that they lose this battle, that the Iran deal is revealed to the world for the capitulation that it is, that the dangers of sub-letting the Middle East to the Koranic scholars of Qom and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps are given expression, not only for substantive reasons of policy and security but also because the way in which the advocates of détente have behaved has been reprehensible.
What the opponents of a bad deal with Iran have witnessed over the last few months is the transference of Obama’s domestic political strategies to the international stage. A senior administration official is on record likening an Iranian nuclear agreement to Obamacare, and the comparison makes sense not only in the relative importance of the two policies to this president, not only because both policies are terrible and carry within them unforeseen consequences that will not be manifest for years, but also because of the way opponents of both policies are treated by the White House. If they are not ignored or dismissed, their motives are impugned. They are attacked personally, bullied, made examples of.
The alternative to a bad deal is not a better deal or tougher sanctions, Obama says, but war: “Congress should be aware that if this diplomatic solution fails, then the risks and likelihood that this ends up being at some point a military confrontation is heightened, and Congress will have to own that as well, and that will have to be debated by the American people.” The opponents of a nuclear Iran aren’t sincere, Obama explained to Senate Democrats last month, but are merely acting at the behest of their (Jewish) donors. Congress has no role to play in either approving of or enforcing a deal with Iran, John Kerry says, because any attempt to strengthen America’s hand or verify that Iran is in compliance would be like “throwing a grenade” into the meeting room.
As for Netanyahu, he is called “chickenshit” by anonymous sources, the national security adviser says his decision to address Congress is “destructive” of the U.S.-Israel alliance, Kerry tells Congress they shouldn’t listen to Bibi because he voiced wan support for regime change in Iraq (a war that Kerry voted to authorize), the congressional liaison rallies the Congressional Black Caucus to boycott the speech, and the administration leaks to the AP its strategy “to undercut” his speech and “blunt his message that a potential nuclear deal with Iran is bad for Israel and the world.” The strategy includes media appearances and the threat of a “pointed snub” of AIPAC, which has done everything it can over the last several years to ignore or acquiesce to President Obama’s anti-Israel foreign policy.
This sort of contempt for one’s opponents has become so commonplace in American politics since the 2010 “bipartisan healthcare summit” where the president snidely told John McCain “the election’s over” that I suppose it was only a matter of time before it influenced the administration’s relationships with foreign powers. But it says something about this president that the only country in the world that he treats seriously as an opponent is the state of Israel—that he holds the Israeli government to a standard he applies to no other government, that he is openly hostile to the elected prime minister of Israel and not-so-secretly hopes for the prime minister to be replaced in the upcoming election, and that he threatens reprisal against an domestic interest group with predominantly Jewish leadership and membership for a disagreement he has with a foreign prime minister—as though Jews were interchangeable when they are not, as in the case of the “deli” where they were “randomly” gunned down, invisible.
Netanyahu’s speech on Tuesday matters precisely because it is a rebuke to the Obama mode of politics to which America has become numb. Netanyahu's refusal to back down in the face of political and media pressure, his insistence in making his case directly and emphatically, is as much a statement as any of the technical and strategic and moral claims he will make in his speech. And by going to war against Bibi, the White House has inadvertently raised the stature of his address from a diplomatic courtesy to a global event.
Netanyahu’s commitment to warning America about a nuclear Iran has given him the opportunity to explain just how devoid of merit the prospective deal is. His speech is proof that Congress is a co-equal branch of government where substantive argument can triumph over vicious personal attacks and executive overreach and utopian aspirations. Of course Barack Obama can’t stand it.