WASHINGTON – The acrimonious Washington debate about the Iran nuclear deal is mostly noise –and almost entirely for domestic political consumption.
Most Americans are opposed
Yes, most Republicans are opposed to what they believe is a soft arrangement that benefits Iran, without preventing the Ayatollahs from developing nuclear weapons down the line.
Besides, so far at least, if we look at the polls most Americans say that this is a bad deal. Given all this, theoretically at least, the Republicans, with solid majorities in Congress, could try to kill the agreement reached in Vienna on July 14 by voting against it.
Congress cannot block the deal
Yes, in principle all this is true. However, the way I see it, it is too late. President Obama, stretching his constitutional prerogatives as Chief Executive, crafted this arrangement not as an international treaty that would require approval by 2/3 of the Senate, but as an executive directive that needs no Senate ratification.
This being the case, he only needs a minority in both branches of Congress supporting him in order to sustain his veto against the certain “No” vote that will be cast by the Republican majorities. Obama needs no 2/3 majority in the Senate. He only needs a Democratic minority that will vote “Yes”, once the bill comes back to Congress, in order to prevent the Republicans to gather enough votes that would allow them to over ride a guaranteed presidential veto. Obama has secured those votes. The GOP will not be able to over ride his veto. In other words, Obama will get this through.
A messy spectacle
Of course, all this is messy. This acrimonious process allows the whole world to give a good look at America’s shameful political bickering and lack of unity on a major foreign policy issue. But the point is that the Republicans in Congress cannot block this deal. Sure, other avenues may be tried. What about the economic sanctions against Iran? Does Obama need a majority in Congress to lift them? How is this going to play out?
However, leaving aside all remaining uncertainty, constitutional debates, and partisan anger, here is my view on all this: it is just too late to reopen this matter.
The Iran deal signed in Vienna is not just a bilateral US-Iran arrangement. All of Europe, China, Russia, and the UN are part of this. To me it is crystal clear that, whatever is going on in Washington right now, the other parties are quite happy with the final arrangement. They are in no mood to reopen the issue. They look at the deal as the key to normalize all relations. They want trade with Tehran. They do not want to walk back to sanctions and confrontation.
Taking into account the mood of our partners and allies, in order to void this arrangement and demand a renegotiation, it is clear that Washington would have to convince and/or force the Europeans to change their positions. This could be done only with the threat of hitting with economic sanctions European firms that will engage in any business deals with Iran.
This is possible, but unlikely, given the negative impact on overall Atlantic relations. Besides, before we get there, we need a new Republican President elected in November 2016. He will have to reverse Obama’s decision to support this deal. He will also need a Republican majority in Congress ready to beef up sanctions against Iran, and against anybody engaged with Iran.
This means that, even assuming a GOP victory in November 2016, nothing will be done until January 2017, (this is when the new US President will be inaugurated).
If you ask me, this is so complicated that it is ultimately hopeless. Yes, the Republicans are opposed to the Iran deal, and most Americans (so far) are against it.
But half the world supports it. Is America willing to fight this alone, this way creating major new frictions with Europe? I doubt it. I recognize that the stakes are very high. The prospect of a theocratic, intolerant and aggressive Iran armed with nuclear weapons, and ballistic missiles to deliver them, is scary.
But I see no way out of this.