WASHINGTON – On August 5, US President Barack Obama delivered a speech aimed at promoting his Iran nuclear deal at The American University in Washington, DC (just a short walking distance from where I live).
Get more Democrats on board
The point of this speech was to increase the support for this agreement among the Democrats in Congress. Right now the numbers do not look good. The Obama administration knows that most Republicans will vote against the agreement. But, in order to eliminate the specter of a veto-proof majority made out of Republicans and some Democrats, it needs a sufficient number of Democrats to be in favor. If Congress would have a veto-proof majority against adoption, the US would in fact reject the deal, this way embarrassing Obama.
Analogy with JFK speech?
Hence the American University speech. The venue has been chosen because it was at the same American University that President John F. Kennedy on June 10, 1963 (52 year ago) gave a landmark speech in defense of arms control negotiations with the Soviet Union. Obama tried to point out that if JFK could engage the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War, America can do the same with Iran today.
I am not sure how this attempt at creating a cogent historic analogy with earlier chapters of the US nuclear weapons negotiations history worked out. Obama chose the same venue selected by JFK in 1963. He quoted from that famous Commencement Address by JFK several times during his speech. Still, I very much doubt that most Americans –today– will be able to see the connection between US-Soviet relations 50 years ago and current US-Iran relations. US-Soviet arms control negotiations covering arcane subjects –negotiations that took place more than two generations ago– are ancient history for most Americans.
Beyond this long-shot attempt to link Obama’s foreign and security policies to eternally revered (and Democratic Party icon) President Kennedy, the American University address did not reveal anything new. Obama defended the deal negotiated by Secretary of State John Kerry, and pointed out that his loud critics have yet to come with any alternative.
Obama’s central point is that this agreement prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Even the proponents of a hard line recognize that any bombing campaign targeting Iranian nuclear facilities would at best delay Iran’s nuclear program. Therefore, argues the President, this deal is better than any military action.
Will this work?
Will Obama’s (Kennedy-like?) address sway some of the reluctant Democrats? Will his veto be sustained? Will his policy “win”? This is important. But, at this stage, it is mostly a US domestic politics issue.
Here is the thing. Whatever the Republicans (aided by some Democrats) in the US Congress say, as far as the world is concerned, clearly “this is a done deal”. The UN Security Council endorsed it, unanimously. The European Union (28 countries) loves it because it is a precondition for going back to business with Iran. China and Russia are in favor, and so on.
Even if the US Congress rejects it with a veto-proof majority, (because Obama lost support among some Democrats), what difference does it make in the real world?
Can anyone really believe that America, all by itself, will keep the sanctions against Iran –for ever? It is obvious that economic sanctions have a chance of working only if most countries enforce them.
The deal will not be renegotiated
In the end, no matter what happens to the agreement in the US Congress, this nuclear agreement train left the station. The entire world wants peace with Iran. And if “peace” means accepting an agreement that is mostly wishful thinking, (in as much as it is unenforceable), so be it. If this means accepting a stronger Iran in the Region, so be it. Renault, Siemens, ENI, Airbus and Total are keen on new business deals.
Quite frankly even if all Republicans (joined by a few Democrats) in Congress keep chanting that this a “bad deal”, they are in no position to force, not just Obama, but the entire international community, to change course so that we can get a better deal.