The Obama administration’s efforts to defend its controversial nuclear deal with Iran have turned ugly.
In a speech at American University last week, the president portrayed domestic opponents of the nuclear agreement as partisan Republicans in common cause with “death to America”-chanting Iranian hardliners.
I don’t think it’s a fair comparison. I have great respect for the president but frankly I think that speech — the tone of it was ill-advised because what’s really happening here as Congress prepares to vote just after Labor Day is really a battle within the Democratic Party.
To suggest that the opponents of the deal are all in effect Iraq War supporters or warmongers, to suggest if the deal is disapproved than war is inevitable — I don’t think the facts support those contentions.
Burns is a career Foreign Service Officer who headed diplomatic efforts against Iran’s nuclear program during President Bush’s second term, and has been appearing in TV interviews and at congressional hearings to defend the Iran deal at the behest of the Obama administration. His comments matter, insofar as they reflect a growing backlash to the administration’s public efforts to sell the deal, even among its most natural supporters and allies.
Elliot Abrams decried this bigotry in an August 10 article in The Weekly Standard:
The basic idea is simple: to oppose the president’s Iran deal means you want war with Iran, you’re an Israeli agent, you are in the pay of Jewish donors, and you are abandoning the best interests of the United States. So Dan Pfeiffer, senior political adviser to Obama until this winter, tweeted that Senator Charles Schumer — who announced his opposition to the Iran deal last week — should not be Democratic leader in the Senate because he “wants War with Iran.”
It is significant that Senator Schumer — who is in line to take over as the Democrats’ leader in the Senate when Harry Reid retires next year — announced his opposition to the Iran deal the day after the president’s American University speech. But it was more significant when, yesterday, former senator and current Democratic presidential candidate Jim Webb not only announced his opposition to the Iran deal but also objected to the attacks on Senator Schumer:
I think it’s a bad deal and I’ve said so for several weeks now. I think we need to put country ahead of party.
It troubles me when I see all this debate about whether this is disloyalty to the president or the Democratic Party, particularly with what Chuck Schumer has gone [through].
The president and his supporters are stooping to smearing opponents of the Iran deal because the agreement is so awful that they cannot defend it on its merits. This is becoming harder by the day as Americans learn that the agreement will bolster Iran’s nuclear program and provide billions in sanctions relief that the Islamic Republic will likely use to fund terrorism. (Not to mention the deal’s side agreements, which the administration still refuses to share with Congress.) Statements opposing the deal by Webb, Schumer, and others who normally support the president are signs that the smear campaign is backfiring. Democrats who have not yet weighed in could soon be persuaded to announce their opposition, and other lawmakers who have said they will vote to support the agreement may change their minds.Meanwhile, the liberal groups engaged in hateful attacks against opponents of the nuclear deal — MoveOn.org, the Daily Kos, Credo, and the National Iranian American Council — are trying to organize a grassroots effort to promote the agreement at town hall meetings held by members of Congress this month. Here’s hoping the principled opposition of Democrats such as Schumer and Webb will inspire those Americans who oppose the Iran deal to drown out the White House’s smear campaign when it comes to a town near them.
— Fred Fleitz is the senior vice president for policy and programs at the Center for Security Policy. He followed the Iranian nuclear issue for the CIA, the State Department, and the House Intelligence Committee during his 25-year government career. Follow him on Twitter @fredfleitz.