by Jonathan S. Tobin • Commentary Magazine
This morning, President Obama got what he’s been working toward all year. With Senator Barbara Mikulski’s announcement that she will vote to support the Iran nuclear deal, the administration got its 34th vote in the Senate, thus assuring that the president will have enough support to sustain a veto of a resolution of disapproval of the pact. Mikulski was just the latest of a number of Senate Democrats to throw in with the president on Iran. The only suspense now is whether Obama will get to 41 and thus have enough for a filibuster and prevent a vote on the deal from even taking place. Leaving aside the terrible damage the deal does to U.S. security and the stability of the Middle East, the most far-reaching effect of the deal is that from now on Democrats own Iran. From this moment forward, every act of Iranian-sponsored terrorism, every instance of Iranian aggression and adventurism as well as the Islamist regime’s inevitable march to a nuclear weapon can be laid at the feet of a Democratic Party. With a few exceptions, the Democrats fell meekly behind a president determined to prioritize détente with Iran over the alliance with Israel and the need to defend U.S. interests. By smashing the bipartisan consensus that had existed on Iran up until this year, the Democrats have, in effect, become the hostages of the ayatollahs. This is a decision that will haunt them in the years to come.
In analyzing the struggle that was ultimately won by Obama, it must first be acknowledged that the outcome was determined primarily by a mismatch in terms of the relative power of the two sides.
Though the Iran deal is a threat to U.S. security as well as to the interests of moderate Arab regimes who are as afraid of Tehran as Israel, the pro-Israel community, and AIPAC led the fight against the agreement. Though AIPAC can generally count on bipartisan support on any issue it cares about, it never had a prayer of beating an administration that was prepared to do and say anything to get its way. Once the president made clear that he considered the nuclear deal to be the centerpiece of his foreign policy legacy, the chances that even the pull of the pro-Israel community could persuade enough Democrats to sustain a veto override were slim and none. In order to achieve that victory, Obama had to sink to the level of gutter politics by smearing his critics as warmongers and slam AIPAC with the same sort of language that earned President George H.W. Bush opprobrium. But the president’s ability to twist the arms of most of the members of his own party to back him was never really in doubt. It was a defeat for AIPAC but not one that should impact its ability to continue to be effective on Capitol Hill.
It must also be noted that this outcome was only made possible by the utter stupidity and cowardice of key Republican leaders — especially Senator Bob Corker — that led to their agreement to a bill that reversed the treaty ratification process. The Corker-Cardin bill that gave Congress the right to vote on the deal was represented at the time as a bipartisan triumph but the Democrats were laughing up their sleeves the whole time. Instead of demanding that the president present the deal to Congress as a treaty, which would have required a two-thirds vote of approval, Obama was able to ram this awful deal down the throats of a reluctant country and Congress by only being able to have enough votes to sustain a veto. It would have been better for the country had the GOP stood on its ground on the treaty issue since that would have left Obama to pursue his original plan, which was to treat the deal as a simple agreement that required no Congressional action at all. At least then the deal would have been seen as another end run around the Constitution by a lawless president. Instead, he gets to pretend that Congress has ratified the deal when, in fact, large majorities oppose it in both the House and the Senate.
But the most important point to be gleaned from Obama’s seeming triumph is that he and his party now bear complete responsibility for Iran’s good conduct as well as its nuclear program.
Let’s remember that, up until this past winter, it could be argued that Congressional Democrats were as ardent about stopping Iran’s nuclear ambitions as the Republicans. Sanctions on Iran — that were opposed by the Obama administration — got overwhelming Democratic support with members of the party like Senator Robert Menendez leading the fight for them. Even tougher sanctions that were also opposed by the president last year also had the support of the vast majority of the Democratic caucuses in both the House and the Senate. Nor was there much enthusiasm among Democrats for the string of concessions that Obama made to Iran in the negotiations led up to the deal.
But once the president got close to achieving his goal of an entente with Iran, he set about the business of peeling away Democrats from that consensus position. To date only two in the Senate — Menendez and New York’s Chuck Schumer — resisted the pressure and even Schumer promised not to try and persuade other Democrats to join him. The power of the presidency and the threat of unleashing a wave of slander and perhaps primary opposition from the president’s left-wing admirers was enough to force Democrats into his camp.
The statements of support from each Democrat betrayed their lack of enthusiasm for a deal that all admitted wasn’t the triumph that Obama was crowing about. They know it doesn’t achieve the administration’s stated goal when the negotiations began of stopping Iran’s program. At best it postpones it for a decade or 15 years. Meanwhile Iran is allowed to continue research and keep its advanced infrastructure as well as the right to go on enriching uranium.
Just as important, the deal did nothing to rein in Iran’s support for terrorism, halt its ballistic missile building program (which shows that the U.S. and Europe are as much Tehran’s target as Israel) or halt its push for regional hegemony.
Obama and the Democrats now say they will get behind Israel and strengthen its defenses even though the deal makes Iran a threshold nuclear power almost immediately. That renders talk of preserving Israel’s qualitative military edge over potential foes meaningless.
But what this means is that every act of Iranian terror, every instance of Hamas and Hezbollah using Iranian funds and material to wage war against Israel or moves against Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states must now be seen as having been enabled not just by Obama but also by his party.
If Iran cheats its way to a bomb before the deal expires or uses the wealth that Obama is lavishing on it to get them to agree to this deal to undermine regional stability it won’t be possible in the future for Democrats to say that this was simply Obama’s folly. No, by docilely following his lead for a deal that few of them were eager to embrace, the entire Democratic Party must now pray that the president is right and that Iran will seek to “get right with the world” rather than pursuing a religious and ideological agenda of conflict with the West and Israel.
Obama got his deal despite the opposition of the majority of Congress and the American people. But the Democratic Party now gets to pay the bill for it. By making Iran a partisan issue in this manner, Obama saddled his party with the blame for everything that will happen in the coming years. Munich analogies are often inappropriate but when Rep. Patrick Murphy (the likely Democratic nominee for the Senate seat Marco Rubio is vacating next year) said the deal gives us “peace in our time,” his channeling of Neville Chamberlain was no ordinary gaffe. In the years to come when Obama is retired and Iran uses the deal to make new mischief and atrocities, Democrats may regret giving in to the president’s pressure. But, like the appeasers of the 1930s, the legacy of the pro-Iran deal Democrats is now set in stone.