Leaders in Washington are grappling with what is arguably the most important foreign policy challenge of our time — how to stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
Why are the stakes so high? For one, Iran is a troublemaker. As a geopolitical strategy to spread its brand of theocratic domination, it is actively destabilizing countries and sponsoring terror. Its forces and proxies have caused havoc across the Middle East and murdered civilians on every continent. Its weapons have killed our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2011 Iranian agents even tried to commit violence in our nation’s capital. Lacking a nuclear capacity today, the Islamic Republic largely goes unchecked. With a bomb to back it up, the rogue behavior would only get worse.
To be sure, Israel has got a problem with this picture. Not only does Iran funnel arms and resources to Hezbollah and Hamas, but its leadership threatens the Jewish state directly with annihilation (on Twitter no less). What’s even scarier is the likely reaction of the Arab world to Iranian nuclearization. To counter Iran, Sunni rivals from North Africa to the Persian Gulf would quickly embark on weapons programs of their own. Proliferation would explode in the world’s most volatile region, raising the likelihood of nuclear warfare.
Negotiations are underway to reverse course. Every sensible American hopes that diplomacy can succeed and obviate the need for military action to combat the threat. Critics may be skeptical of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s motivations, but few could argue he prefers a military solution. Israel is on the front lines. Whether or not it were to lead a military strike, Israel would surely bear the brunt of an Iranian response. For the same reasons, Israel has more skin in the game. It has the most to lose in this poker match. It can only support a negotiated agreement that genuinely reduces the risk of a nuclear Iran.
Herein lies the source of the political drama playing out in Washington this week. Because Israel does not have a seat at the table, it is relying on the so-called “P5+1” to negotiate a “good deal.” Netanyahu ruffled White House feathers by accepting the Republican-led invitation to speak to a joint session of Congress. He spoke passionately to a receptive audience because neither he nor the majority of our lawmakers trust the administration to get it right. Pundits have mistakenly focused on the personal tensions between Obama and Netanyahu, with many blaming the prime minister for inserting partisanship into the alliance. In reality, relations would not be so strained had this administration not lost the confidence of our allies around the globe. Israel is struggling to work with this president because this president’s word does not count when it matters most.
Obama and his defenders protest that it is Netanyahu who has lost credibility. They cite the prime minister’s resistance to the interim “Joint Plan of Action,” without which there would be no brakes on Iranian enrichment activities. They bristle at Netanyahu’s criticisms because they think he has offered no viable alternative to military action. They hasten to remind everyone how much the administration has provided security assistance and defense of Israel against biased U.N. resolutions.
These objections might hold some water if we could believe the administration knew what it was doing, would stand firm when the going got tough, and would not substitute wishful thinking for sound strategic assessment.
But on all these counts Obama fails to deliver. I’ve written before how the White House is flailing in matters of national security. Obama sees the world as he wishes it would be rather than how it is. His commitments he subordinates to his political calculations and his aspirations for a legacy as the president who ended wars and avoided new conflicts.
On Monday night, National Security Advisor Susan Rice addressed 16,000 delegates at the annual AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington. “We have Israel’s back,” she declared, “come hell or high water.” About Iran she added, “a bad deal is worse than no deal. And if that is the choice then there will be no deal.” These are comforting sentiments, but it’s far from clear that anyone with a sober understanding of Iranian aggression and deception would share the administration’s view of a good deal. And, while Ambassador Rice speaks with sincerity, it’s hard to trust that her boss won’t yet again hang her out to dry. You only have to consider her comments about the attacks on our consulate in Benghazi and the “honor and distinction” of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl to realize how little we can trust her representations.
On Friday Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker (R-TN), together with eleven bipartisan co-sponsors, introduced the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015, which asserts Congressional prerogatives to review any prospective agreement with Iran over its nuclear program. President Obama objects. Apparently, even he doesn’t trust his capacity to deliver. His threat to veto the bill tells you everything you need to know about the value of this deal.