The Corner

National Security & Defense

Why Schumer’s Opposition to the Iran Deal Matters

In a surprise to both supporters and opponents of the controversial nuclear deal with Iran, Senator Charles Schumer (D., N.Y.), who is likely to succeed Harry Reid as the Senate’s top Democrat, announced his opposition last night. Schumer is also the top ranking Jewish senator. 

Schumer said he does not think the deal will work because

In the first 10 years, there are serious weaknesses. First, inspections are not “anywhere, anytime”; the 24-day delay before we can inspect is troubling. More troubling is the fact that the US can’t demand inspections unilaterally. And the “snapback sanctions” provisions seem cumbersome and difficult to use.

Schumer also raised concerns about issues left out of the Iran deal. 

Yet the non-nuclear elements give me the most pause. For years, Iran has used force and terrorism to expand its influence in the Middle East, actively supporting military or terrorist actions in Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq and Gaza. That’s why the US has labeled Iran as one of only three nations who are “state sponsors of terrorism.” Under this agreement, Iran would receive at least $50 billion in the near future and would undoubtedly use some of that money to redouble its efforts to create even more trouble.

Coming from a liberal Democrat like Schumer, these arguments severely undermine the Obama administration’s defense of the Iran nuclear agreement.

While there was speculation that Schumer might oppose the Iran deal because of strong pressure from pro-Israel and Jewish groups, the timing of his announcement was unexpected in so far as it came two days after a major speech President Obama gave at American University defending the agreement. This speech tried to shore up Democratic support for the Iran deal by depicting American opponents of the deal as Republicans in common cause with “death to America”–chanting Iranian hardliners who oppose the deal. (Please see Charles Krauthammer’s superb column in which he takes exception to Obama’s speech and asks who really is the one in common cause with Iranian hardliners.)

The administration has been aggressively lobbying Democratic members of Congress to maintain a “firewall” to prevent opponents of the deal from achieving a veto-proof majority for a resolution of disapproval of it. To buy time to defend the deal, President Obama reportedly has been asking Democrats leaning toward opposing the agreement to wait until Congress returns from its summer recess before announcing their position.

The Left knows Schumer’s vote matters and could lead many other Senate and House members to oppose the deal.  According to The Hill, leftwing group MoveOn.org immediately condemned Schumer’s announcement and called for its members to withhold campaign contributions. Former Obama aide Dan Pfeiffer responded with this nasty swipe at Schumer:

Schumer’s decision to defect now despite intense pressure from the White House is a major blow to President Obama and the Iran deal. But the deal’s opponents still have lot of work to do to win enough support in the House and Senate to override a veto of a resolution of disapproval. Schumer may do little to convince other senators to oppose the Iran deal and could still vote to uphold a presidential veto.

The reason the Schumer defection matters is because it puts the lie to the Obama administration’s shameful claim that opponents of the Iran deal are partisan extremists who want war with Iran. Schumer’s announcement is a powerful indication that opposition to this terrible agreement is in fact principled and bipartisan.

Fred Fleitz, president of the Center for Security Policy, served in 2018 as deputy assistant to the president and to the chief of staff of the National Security Council. He previously held national-security jobs with the CIA, the DIA, the Department of State, and the House Intelligence Committee staff. He is the editor of the 2020 book Defending against Biothreats.

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