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National Security & Defense

Senate Filibuster of Iran Deal Is Not a Victory for Anyone

This afternoon, Senate Democrats led by Minority Leader Harry Reid employed a filibuster to block cloture on the nuclear agreement with Iran. This vote — to allow the Senate to proceed with a vote on a resolution of disapproval of the agreement — needed 60 votes to pass. The vote on the measure was 58–42. All Republican senators voted in favor; all Democrats voted against except for Senators Schumer, Menendez, Cardin, and Manchin. 

The mainstream media is depicting this as a big win for President Obama. It is not a win for him, our country, or global security.

This agreement is wildly unpopular in the United States. A recent Pew Research Center poll showed only 21 percent of Americans support the deal, while 49 percent disapprove and 30 percent have no opinion. The reason the agreement is so unpopular is because President Obama has failed to convince the American people that it is in the national interests of the United States. As someone who participated in the rally against the deal in front of the Capitol yesterday and another last week in New York City, I can attest that many Americans are very angry about this agreement.

The Iran deal is so unpopular not just because Americans believe it is a bad deal but because of the perception that the president went around Congress and our Middle East allies. While President Obama has said that “many of the same people who argued for the war in Iraq are now making the case against the Iran nuclear deal,” he has neglected to mention that President Bush obtained congressional buy-in for the Iraq War when Congress passed, on a bipartisan basis, the Iraq War Resolution in October 2002 authorizing the invasion of Iraq. Then-senators Biden, Kerry, and Clinton voted for that resolution.

By contrast, there is no Republican support in the Senate for the Iran deal. There was no effort by the White House to obtain congressional buy-in by asking Congress to approve the deal or treat it for what it really is — a treaty — and seek ratification by two-thirds of the Senate as required by the U.S. Constitution. There won’t even be a vote under the convoluted Corker-Cardin process to pass a resolution of disapproval because of a Democratic filibuster.

Meanwhile, as I wrote yesterday in NRO, there are growing indications that Iran does not plan to comply with the nuclear agreement. In addition, Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei said yesterday that Israel will not exist in another quarter century and Iran will never negotiate with the U.S. on anything other than the nuclear deal.

I give Representatives Pete Roskam (R., Ill.) and Mike Pompeo (R., Kan.) enormous credit for forcing House Speaker John Boehner to abandon the flawed Corker-Cardin process and instead have the House approve three resolutions that highlight the Obama administration’s refusal to turn over to Congress all documents related to the Iran deal as required under Corker-Cardin and force supporters of the deal to cast votes that put them on the record about this dangerous agreement. Roskam and Pompeo are also hopeful that this approach will allow a lawsuit against President Obama for lifting sanctions in violation of Corker-Cardin. National Review had an excellent editorial earlier today explaining Boehner’s new approach to the Iran deal.

So this is President Obama’s Iran victory: a wildly unpopular agreement with one of America’s enemies that survived a vote to disapprove it through a Senate filibuster. An agreement that 42 Senate Democrats stood behind even as Iranian leaders indicated Iran’s intention to violate it. An agreement that passed as Iran’s Supreme Leader Khamenei issued another threat against the state of Israel.

Since the Iran deal is an executive agreement and not a treaty, it is not legally binding on the United States or on President Obama’s successor. The fact that it apparently will survive a congressional review because of a Senate filibuster further undermines its legitimacy. If a Republican wins the 2016 election, I am hopeful he or she will tear up this agreement on his or her first day in office. 

But even if this agreement is torn up by a Republican president on January 20, 2017, it will still do considerable damage to American and international security. President Obama has destroyed the international sanctions regime against Iran. He has legitimized Iran’s nuclear program, which will now be able to acquire nuclear technology and investment from the West. The lack of controls on Iran’s growing missile program will probably lead to a missile arms race in the Middle East. States around the world will now seek uranium-enrichment programs because the Iran deal has made this a new “right” under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Iran likely will be emboldened to use $150 billion in sanctions relief to expand its sponsorship of terror around the world and its efforts to destabilize the Middle East.

It is not enough for GOP presidential candidates to tell us that if elected they will tear up this dangerous and illegitimate agreement. They need to explain how they will repair the enormous damage caused by the Iran deal and President Obama’s irresponsible national-security policies. 

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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