In a recent blogpost I reviewed the features, positive and negative, of the proposed Iran nuclear agreement and concluded that Congress should disapprove the agreement as it currently stands. For me, the deal’s risks and the many issues it leaves unresolved tip the scales towards “no.”
I also said that “nuclear negotiations ain’t beanbag,” by which I meant that politics and high-stakes negotiations can be bruising affairs, not for the squeamish or faint of heart. There is currently great pressure being exerted upon Congress and the public to support this deal, but neither our distaste for conflict, nor our natural desire to support our government in foreign affairs should dissuade us from following our consciences.
All that said, even if Congress disapproves the agreement, it still might not muster sufficient votes to override the certain presidential veto that would follow. Thus, the deal would go through.
Does that mean resistance to the deal is futile?
Will engaging in this debate irreparably tear the fabric of our community?
Will opposing the deal thus risk more than can ever be gained?
No, no and no.
Let’s keep our eyes on the prize. We all want to achieve a situation in which Iran’s nuclear ambitions are most effectively deferred, if they cannot be entirely deterred. We also want Israel’s security needs to be recognized and more effectively safeguarded.
Our best means of achieving these goals is to engage in a robust public debate on the deal.
Is that because Congress and the president will somehow suddenly reach an epiphany and conclude that the deal is inadequate? No.
But the public debate will serve to shine a light on points that may have been obscured or insufficiently considered by negotiators in their private discussions. After all, there’s nothing like having a document dissected by a few million experts to expose the pain points, let alone errors in judgment reflected in the deal.
What’s more, this is the time when the real push and pull of the negotiations begins. Neither the American people, nor Israel, nor friends of Israel, have had much direct or specific input into the terms of the deal to this point. The growing public hue and cry over the deal will therefore provide opponents of the deal, including Israel, with political strength and, in the case of Congress, political cover to pursue side agreements and other security enhancements that might make the deal more palatable.
Already we can see a few trial balloons being floated.
United States National Security Advisor Susan Rice reportedly offered Israel an “unprecedented” package of sophisticated weaponry.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter visited Israel just last week to meet with his counterpart Moshe Ya’alon and the two are thought to have discussed defense compensation to Israel.
Germany’s Economic Minister Sigmar Gabriel, during a recent visit to Teheran, stated clearly and publicly to Iranian authorities that Iran should “rethink” its stance with respect to Israel.
And now there are reports that Jonathan Pollard, the U.S. intelligence analyst convicted of spying for Israel, may soon be released. (Pollard’s release has long been an objective for Israel, though it would do nothing to enhance Israel’s security.)
Of course, none of these ideas or offers directly removes the threat posed by Iran, and in particular if an exceptional arms sale or the release of Pollard occurs, Israel will be perceived as having once more extracted extravagant and disproportionate support from the United States; that will not exactly burnish Israel’s already tarnished image among the American political left.
But the greater point is this: the wheels are already in motion to negotiate some kind of side deal or deal-related outcome that provides additional benefit to Israel, and it is very likely that what is being reported in the media is only the tip of the iceberg or a taste of what is being discussed behind closed doors.
Nor is the White House mindful only of Israel’s concerns. Many of the United States’ longtime Gulf allies are extremely upset with the deal, so much so that these Arab countries, historically adverse to Israel, are now making common cause with Israel to coordinate security responses.
As Foreign Policy editor and CEO David Rothkopf has noted, the Iran deal, whether intended or not, is transforming the relationships between countries in the Middle East.
The bottom line is that we are actually entering another phase of negotiations, except that in this phase the Iran deal is the precipitating event provoking related deals between non-signatories. These discussions are not taking place in the plush and rarefied confines of Geneva or Vienna, but rather in quiet conversations in distant capitals, far from the media limelight.
Iran’s growing economic strength and regional influence cannot be ignored, only managed, and thus the United States’ allies in the region, including Israel, will need to be both convinced and equipped to provide a security and intelligence counterweight to Iran.
The United States is already seeking to ramp up security cooperation with Israel.
So, even as Congress debates the Iran deal, the wheels are turning behind the scenes.
The more the public expresses its concerns over the deal, the more likely it is that Congress will take those concerns into consideration and impress upon the administration the need to negotiate the strongest possible ancillary deals with Israel and other allies in the region.
Accordingly, it is neither unproductive nor inappropriate to express reservations, concerns or outright opposition to the Iran deal.
Fractious debate may, in fact, improve not only the Iran deal itself, it will almost certainly enhance the tools that Israel and its newly emerging regional allies will have at their disposal to respond to emerging threats.