Iran – the Imperial Congress versus the President, the American people and a common good

     Obama’s negotiation with Iran avoids following the blind Netanyahu/neocon attack, attack, attack syndrome.  Having fostered three losing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq – now four counting the new war against IS – and with no troops to send, they nonetheless want to bomb Iran.  The result – a larger Middle East War, chaotic, throwing, over the next 15 years, nuclear armed and racist Israel into more isolation and desperation – is likely to be very dangerous.


     In the modern era, the American Congress never balances Executive Power to stop aggression.  With individual exceptions like Wayne Morse and Barbara Lee, Senators are ever new fools for Presidential aggression in Vietnam or Iraq (including Senator Hillary Clinton).  Looking backwards, their caution/cowardice and corruption are nakedly visible.
    This pattern is so stark that it is called, even by students of American politics, the “Imperial Presidency”.  But irony of ironies, as Peter Beinart suggests below, suddenly, in a gesture of constitutional awareness about the balance of powers, the Right, including feckless Democrats like Charles Schumer and every single other one on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is baying for war in chorus with Netanyahu.
    Congress only has guts to carry out its constitutional responsibilities, not when the people call for it (Americans are overwhelmingly against aggression against Iran, notably Jews – about 80% in recent polls), but when Sheldon Adelson, the Casino magnate bankroller of Netanyahu (he actually puts out a free pro-Netanyahu newspaper in Israel) and Mitt Romney (2012 election), offers up his money (as do the Koch brothers et al), many Senators line up, their hands out…
     The Senators, including Democrats, are staggering drunks, so high on the drugs of American militarism and war, that they think, no matter how much evidence comes in from the Middle East, how much opposition from below, that more and more foolish aggression is the only way to go.
     In this context, Hillary Clinton looks pretty good, outflanking both the Senate Democrats and even Rand Paul,  previously decent on foreign policy, who is running for President to the Right on Israel.  Paul was one of the 47 signatories of Tom Cotton’s bizarre letter to Iran, insisting that Congress would scrutinize any “deal” the President and European powers made to limit Iranian pursuit of nuclear arms.  
     Note: Hillary may run to the moderate side – in this case, breaking with her old imperial pattern – on foreign and domestic policy (polls shows Rand Paul beating her in Pennsylvania;  there is no haven for her previous “3:AM militarist” self…).  If she does, this is pretty good – it probably commits her to be less warlike (if she is not crazed like President Lyndon Baines Johnson who outflanked Goldwater’s militarism – accusing him of wanting escalation – to be reelected, while already planning escalation in Vietnam) and should be supported (see Bill Tremblay here).

    Mainstream American politics, in this age of financial dominance and the war complex, has become a march to the Right, except when there is democratic protest from below or exhibits what I call a right-wing two step about war.  Expansionist, authoritarian and racist Republicans scream for war, torture and burying the Senate Report on CIA torture, and most Democrats, afraid of being “unpatriotic,” emulate them.  The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Blumenthal, Menendez, Schumer et al, are prize examples of this.


     But Obama resisted Netanyahu’s efforts to lobby on behalf of Romney (Romney gave his foreign policy over to a foreign leader, a former colleague in speculation) during the 2012 campaign, and refused to bomb Iran. The normal path for a President is to outflank his domestic opponents to the Right, wage war (see my Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy? ch. 1)

        In contrast, Obama is still resisting Netanyahu’s bizarre incursions on American public debate.


      The Times’ reporters, in the two columns below, particularly Peter Baker, are airheads on the far Right and have little grasp of the political consequences of what is going on (the reporting pages of the Times, as opposed to the editorial page, are often notable for a reactionary slant).
      On the contrary, Obama wants greater influence for the Empire in the Middle East by opening to Iran, siding with it and Assad against IS and dialing back US reliance on reactionary Israel and Saudi Arabia.  The latter policy leaves America more and more isolated and despised by ordinary people in the Middle East and elsewhere.  But Obama’s is smart power-balancing – “offshore balancing” in neorealist rhetoric (Mearsheimer), opening new possibilities aside from war as opposed to  – being the biggest military bully on the block who seeks to conquer and eat everything, loses and chokes…See Jon Stewart on Dick Cheney’s latest fulminations, typical of the Right, here.
        Obama’s policy has the extraordinary virtues of a) not involving large numbers of US troops in a further expansionary war in the area (Obama still uses the Joint Special Operations Command secretly and with no oversight, still fires drones to murder innocent civilians in countries with which the US is not at war such as Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia…), and b) not risking, over time, nuclear war launched by Israel not so much to “defend itself,” but to maintain its foul, immoral and illegal oppression of the Palestinians.
   The pattern Obama seeks to establish preserves peace (against larger war, more destruction, pitting reactionary Sunnis, backed by the US and Israel, as with the Saudis in Yemen, ever more bitterly and dangerously against Shias, and possible extinction).  It does not deserve to be derided as just an imperial tactic (I have been reading the interesting dispute on Michael Schwartz’s blog – see the useful note from Louis Esparza below), but recognized as a new opening, with potential for calming – producing peace and stability – in the Middle East.
    Will the US continue to do awful imperialist things abroad?  One has but to look at American corporations at home and think about what they do with even less restraints of conscience, constitutionality and mass protest. Only movements from below abroad and in America – democratic internationalism – will deter awful American capitalism from being…capitalist.  Just listen too Rand Paul and the rest of the tea party about poor folks here – taking away food stamps from children to succor the ultra rich while  gibbering about “individual responsibility”  (the unnecessary suffering is not the victims’, but their responsibility) is their theme song – and you will get the picture. These policies are just that much worse abroad (harder to organize any push back in America…)

     Despite his useful worries about the gigantic prison complex and the Pentagon arming of the police even in sleepy Ferguson, “Rand” Paul increasingly lives out the creepiness of Ayn Rand for whom he was named, the parasite who sees working people as “parasites” (she is the bizarre goddess domestically of the tea-party).    
      Only mass nonviolent anti-imperialist movements, probably revolution, could make US foreign policy good.
    And yet Obama, unusually for a President of the Empire (as an outsider, one who grew up in Indonesia, has a Kenyan father and is African-American) spoke rightly of defensive or reasonable Iranian grievances with the US to Thomas Friedman – see here – in a way that no other mainstream politician would have done.   He does exaggerate their danger.  US aggression surrounds them on two sides; the map from Louis below says aptly that their existence “threatens” surrounding US military bases…

    Iran has aggressed against no one in modern times.  The Houthis are a shia force in Yemen, but not one closely bound to Iran.  Iran says it is not offering them even military aid.  If Iran were, it would be a poor imitator of the US (who armed Saudi Arabia and Israel?) and Israel (who financed Hamas initially as an alternative to the PLO).  Mercifully, the Saudi regime is suddenly seeking peace in Yemen, murdering fewer civilians.  One can perhaps detect again here Obama’s steadying hand (for not inflaming sectarian conflict in the Middle East, for working to stabilize the area).


     Obama is willing to open a new, potentially less bloody and US- and world-destroying path in American policy.  This is pretty good and ought to be supported.
    This policy threatens the racist regime in Israel which seeks to gobble up Occupied Palestine (has an intense death wish), but benefits ordinary Israelis who, in fact, need a stable and peaceful Middle East and to stop the new “transfer” (ethnic cleansing) of Palestinians.


    Those, particularly the odious Democrats, who have sided with Netanyahu to sabotage diplomacy on behalf of war, need to hear from everyone that their policy is an outrage.  And to be challenged as Beinart suggests below and, hopefully, defeated.
      No victory satisfies the mad neocons (see Phillip Weiss’s quotes from the Straussian Bill Kristol, a man frozen in a time warp (with Harvey Mansfield at Harvard in the 1980s worshipping Churchill, as a leader of the Project for a New American Century making up lies for the aggression in Iraq…).  Kristol and the Wall Street Journal realize that the Senate’s seeming victory in the Iran case, nonetheless, freezes the opposition until the agreement about nuclear weapons is negotiated, and then leaves a more limited time frame.  And Obama could still veto any attempt to sabotage the deal.


     In addition, perhaps the precedent of an Imperial Congress will eventually restore some balance in foreign policy from the left and part of the tea-party  (it will take a great popular movement in 2016 and after to defeat the warmongers; still from Barbara Lee to Walter Jones to Rand Paul (sadly, once upon a time), there is some greater sanity, some effort to restrict unending US aggressions,  unwillingness to do offshore balancing. Obama is currently taking the lead for this option.


      If Kristol is right, Obama, again mercifully, seems to have outplayed, while seeming to lose, the reactionary/Netanyahu opposition.


      But negotiations with are delicate.  Still, Mohammed Javad   Zarif, the foreign minister of Iran (and former DU student) wants to calm the explosion of violence (Sunni/Shia), egged on by American wars, in the Middle East (IS is completely the creation of the war in Iraq, down to the Provisional Coalition Authority which discharged all of Saddam’s officers, making them desperate for employment against the invading army…)


     Rarely are cases as clear in American politics (in any politics), the dangers so great, the alternatives so stark.

  • ***
H/t to Michael Schwartz and Louis Esparza 

This chart makes clear who the aggressor in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Middle East is.

  • 15 Apr 2015
  • The New York Times

President Yields, Allowing Congress Say on Iran Deal

Bipartisan Pressure on Obama — Measure Would Make It Hard for Him to Lose
Republicans and Democrats form an unusual alliance

WASHINGTON — The White House relented on Tuesday and said President Obama would sign a compromise bill giving Congress a voice on the proposed nuclear accord with Iran as the Senate 
Foreign Relations Committee, in rare unanimous agreement, moved the legislation to the full Senate for a vote.

STEPHEN CROWLEY/THE NEW YORK TIMESSenator Bob Corker, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, on Tuesday 
after a briefing with administration officials on the bill giving Congress 
a role in the proposed Iran nuclear deal.

An unusual alliance of Republican opponents of the
 nuclear deal and some of 
Mr. Obama’s strongest Democratic supporters 
demanded a congressional role as 
international  negotiators work to turn this month’s 
nuclear framework into a final
 deal by June 30. White House officials insisted 
they extracted crucial
 lastminute concessions. Republicans — and 
many Democrats — 
said the president simply got overrun.

“We’re involved here. We have to be involved here,” said 
Senator Benjamin L. Cardin 
of Maryland, the committee’s ranking Democrat, who 
served as a bridge between the 
White House and Republicans as they negotiated changes 
in the days before the committee’s vote on Tuesday.
 “Only Congress can change or permanently modify 
the sanctions regime.”

The essence of the legislation is that Congress will 
have a chance to vote on 
whatever deal emerges with Iran — 
if one is reached by June 30 — but in a 
way that would be extremely difficult for
 Mr. Obama to lose, allowing Secretary
 of State John Kerry to tell his Iranian 
counterpart that the risk that an agreement 
would be upended on Capitol Hill is limited.

As Congress considers any accord on a very short
 timetable, it would essentially 
be able to vote on an eventual end to sanctions,
 and then later take up the issue 
depending on whether Iran has met its own 
obligations. But if it rejected the 
agreement, Mr. Obama could veto that legislation — 
and it would take only 34 
senators to sustain the veto, meaning that 
Mr. Obama could lose upward of 
a dozen Democratic senators and still prevail.

The bill would require that the administration send 
the text of a final accord, 
along with classified material, to Congress as soon 
as it is completed. 
It also halts any lifting of sanctions pending
 a 30day congressional review, 
and culminates in a possible vote to allow or forbid
 the lifting of congressionally imposed sanctions in 
exchange for the dismantling of 
much of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. It passed 19 to 0.

Why Mr. Obama gave in after fierce opposition 
was the last real dispute of what became a rout. 
Josh Earnest, the White House spokesman, said Mr. 
Obama was not “particularly thrilled” with the bill, 
but had decided that a new proposal put together 
by the top Republican and Democrat on 
the Senate Foreign Relations Committee made 
enough changes to make
 it acceptable.

“We’ve gone from a piece of legislation that the
 president would veto to a piece of legislation that’s 
undergone substantial revision such that it’s 
now in the form of a compromise that the 
president would be willing to 
sign,” Mr. Earnest said. “That would certainly 
be an improvement.”

Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee and 
the committee’s chairman, 
had a far different interpretation. As late as 11:30 a.m.,
 in a classified 
briefing at the Capitol, Mr. Kerry was urging senators 
to oppose the bill. 
The “change occurred when they saw how many 
senators were going to 
vote for this, and only when that occurred,” Mr. Corker said.

 Mr. Cardin said that the “fundamental provisions” of the 
legislation had not changed.

But the compromise between him and Mr. Corker did shorten
 a review period of a final 
Iran nuclear deal and soften language that would make 
the lifting of sanctions 
dependent on Iran’s ending support for terrorism.

The agreement almost certainly means Congress will muscle 
its way into nuclear 
negotiations that Mr. Obama sees as a legacy-defining 
foreign policy achievement.

The Senate is expected to vote on the legislation this month, and House 
Republican leaders have promised to pass it shortly after.

“Congress absolutely should have the opportunity to review
 this deal,” the House speaker, John A. Boehner of Ohio, said Tuesday.
 “We shouldn’t just count on the administration, who 
appears to want a deal at any cost.”

White House officials blitzed Congress in the days after the framework 
of a nuclear deal was announced, making 130 phone calls to lawmakers, 
but quickly came to the conclusion that the legislation could not 
be blocked altogether.

Moreover, officials increasingly worried that an unresolved fight could 
torpedo the next phase of negotiations with Iran.

 “Having this lingering uncertainty about whether we could deliver 
on our side of the deal was probably a deal killer,” said a senior 
administration official, 
who asked for anonymity to describe internal deliberations.

Under the compromise legislation, a 60-day review period 
of a final nuclear agreement in the original bill was in effect 
cut in half, to 30 days,
 starting with its submission to Congress. But tacked on 
to that review 
period potentially would be the maximum 12 days the 
president would 
have to decide whether to accept or veto a
 resolution of disapproval, 
should Congress take that vote.

The formal review period would also include a maximum of 10 days 
Congress would have to override the veto. For Republicans, that
 would mean the president could not lift sanctions for a maximum 
of 52 days after submitting a final accord to Congress, along 
with all classified material.

And if a final accord is not submitted to Congress by July 9, 
the review period will snap back to 60 days. That would prevent 
the administration from intentionally delaying the submission of 
the accord to the Capitol. Congress could not reopen the 
mechanics of a deal, and taking no action would be the 
equivalent of allowing it to move forward.

Mr. Corker also agreed to a significant change on the terrorism language.

Initially, the bill said the president had to certify every 90 days that Iran 
no longer was supporting terrorism against Americans. If he could not, 
economic sanctions would be reimposed.

Under the agreement, the president would still have to send periodic 
reports to Congress on Iran’s activities regarding ballistic missiles and
 terrorism, but those reports could not trigger another round of sanctions.

The measure still faces hurdles. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, fresh off 
the opening of his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, 
dropped plans to push for an amendment to make any Iran deal dependent 
on the Islamic Republic’s recognition of the State of Israel, a diplomatic nonstarter.

But he hinted that he could try on the Senate floor.

“Not getting anything done plays right into the hands of the 
administration,” Mr. Rubio said.

Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin, abandoned an amendment 
to make any Iran accord into a formal international treaty needing 
two-thirds of the Senate for its ratification, but he, too, said it 
could be revived before the full Senate.

Mr. Earnest said the president also wanted no more changes. “We’re asking 
for a commitment that people will pursue the process that’s contemplated 
in this bill,” he said.

Democrats had implored Mr. Obama to embrace the legislation.

“If the administration can’t persuade 34 senators of whatever party
 that this agreement is worth proceeding with, then it’s really a bad 
agreement,” Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, a Democrat on the 
Foreign Relations Committee, said. “That’s the threshold.”

To temper opposition to the deal, Mr. Kerry, Treasury Secretary 
Jacob J. Lew and Energy Secretary Ernest J. Moniz gathered with 
senators Tuesday morning in a classified briefing, after a 
similar briefing on Monday for the House.

But the administration met firm opposition in both parties.

The agreement “puts Iran, the world’s worst state sponsor of terrorism,
 on the path to a nuclear weapon,” said Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of 
Arkansas, as he emerged from the briefing. “Whether that’s a 
matter of months or a matter of years, that’s a dangerous outcome 
not just to United States and allies like Israel but to the entire world.”


The Atlantic

Where Are the Anti-War Democrats on Iran?

Liberal doves need to find candidates who can bring Congress’s foreign policy into line with the desires of the American people.

Doves often decry this, but the bigger question is: Why can’t they compete? and a variety of other progressive groups recently sent a letter warning Democratic senators not to kill the Iran deal. And in the absence of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, Iran has moved near the top of J Street’s agenda. Still, the discrepancy between the political pressure being exerted by hawks and doves is stunning. A GOP senator who supported the Iran deal would become a virtual pariah in his party and quite likely face a primary challenge—despite the fact that a plurality of rank-and-file Republicans support the deal. In the Democratic Party, by contrast, where public support for last Thursday’s agreement is overwhelming, Charles Schumer can vocally endorse the Corker-Menendez bill, which might well scuttle the Iran deal, without at all imperiling his rise to Senate Majority Leader.

More than a decade after the invasion of Iraq, despite the disasters that American military intervention has brought, there is still a culture of impunity for Democratic politicians who defy their party’s voters on questions of war and peace. Of the 29 Democratic senators who voted for the Iraq War, only one, Joe Lieberman, faced a serious primary challenge. Yes, Hillary Clinton’s Iraq vote helped doom her presidential chances in 2008. But after questioning her foreign policy judgment during the campaign, Barack Obama named her secretary of state, where she joined Vice President Joe Biden, who had also backed the war, and was succeeded by John Kerry, who had too. Since her time as Secretary of State, Clinton has left little doubt that she remains more hawkish than both Obama and most Democratic voters. Yet it looks unlikely an anti-war candidate will challenge her in the 2016 primaries.

Doves often decry AIPAC’s outsized influence, but the bigger question is: Why can’t they compete?

There are several reasons for all this. It’s partly because when it comes to foreign policy, conservative donors are more single-minded than liberal ones. Every Republican politician knows that Adelson conditions his checks on their Iran vote. Even dovish Democratic donors, by contrast, generally care about issues like abortion, gay marriage, gun control and climate change, which makes them more willing to donate to Schumer or Clinton despite their differences on Iran.

It’s also notoriously hard to mobilize Americans against wars until those wars begin. The anti-Vietnam movement didn’t become a force inside the national Democratic Party until 1968, when more than 20,000 Americans had already died. And liberal activists only began putting real pressure on Democratic politicians over Iraq after the war began, when they powered Howard Dean’s insurgent campaign. Since World War II, the general pattern has been that elites drive foreign policy—generally in an interventionist direction—until they make a mess big enough to make the public cry stop.

But these are explanations, not excuses. Liberal activists should go office to office in the senate, as Allard Lowenstein did when searching for a challenger to Lyndon Johnson in 1968, looking for someone to run against Schumer for majority leader unless he comes out clearly in support of the Iran deal. And they should start recruiting primary challengers against anti-Iran-deal Democrats who are up for reelection in 2016. These challengers don’t have to win. They just have to ensure that Democratic Senators who now worry mostly about alienating AIPAC begin worrying about alienating Democratic voters too.

I understand the urge to scuttle a congressional vote on Iran, but the far better path would be to pressure members of Congress to begin representing their constituents. Yes, Congress deserves a voice over the Iran deal. But the American people do, too. 


Louis Esparza, on Michael Schwartz’s discussion group, makes subtle points about the great difference between the Obama approach to extending and preserving American power – and the foolishness of the Republican/Senate Democrat/Netanyahu cabal: “I think the spat/split with Netanyahu it is about more than the best way to keep Iran form developing nuclear weapons. I agree with Kevin that the US knows an Iranian nuke is no threat to US or Israeli security. I see the agreement as about US hegemony in the Middle East not the nukes. It is an effort to make Iran a new proxy for the US in the Middle East. The cost of relying exclusively on Israel, or Israel along with Egypt and Saudi Arabia, is too high for the US. Iran has the potential to be a more effective proxy for the US. That is why Netanyahu is so livid over the deal. It is not because it is a threat to Israel, but because it would downgrade Israel’s special relationship with the US and give Obama and future presidents leverage in dealing with Israel. It also is why the Republicans and pro-Likud Democrats in Congress want to block the deal. They like the sort of policy the US is confined to by its alliance with Israel and don’t want to make other policies possible, even if a new proxy would strengthen the US’s geopolitical position. 

Obama’s Iran policy is a new, more sophisticated version of the Nixon Doctrine [the opening toward China, the attempt to resolve Vietnam/Cambodia other than by genocide which was also a Nixon/Kissinger policy], an effort to rely on proxies so that US troops are not needed. But Obama’s approach recognizes a more complex and nuanced reality than existed in the late 60s, and acknowledges that the US is weaker and has a narrower set of choices than at the height of its hegemony. 

New York Times

Congress’s Role in Iran Nuclear Deal Shows Limits of Obama’s Power


 CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In his assertions of executive power to advance his agenda in an era of gridlock, President Obama has been largely on offense. But his latest battle with Congress not only left him on defense, it actually broke the gridlock. Against him.

Mr. Obama’s abrupt decision to sign a compromise version of legislation on Iran that he had previously vowed to veto was a bruising retreat in his larger campaign to act without Congress’s getting in his way. In this case, partisanship gave way to rare consensus on Capitol Hill: Both sides agreed that he was wrong to cut them out.

The White House tried to make the best of the setback, arguing that the bipartisan bill was less objectionable than the initial draft. But the president’s concession in the face of potentially veto-proof majorities underscored that even his fellow Democrats believed he had overreached in trying to operate on his own. And it suggested that he may be approaching the outer boundaries of his authority with 21 months left in office.

The fight over whether Congress should be able to block any nuclear agreement with Iran was one more chapter in a fundamental struggle between the executive and legislative branches since the beginning of the republic. Over two centuries, presidents have increasingly played a larger role in shaping national and foreign affairs. Bill Clinton went to war in Kosovo without explicit congressional approval. George W. Bush negotiated an agreement for troops to stay in Iraq without a vote by lawmakers.

In Mr. Obama’s case, the use of executive power has come to define his final years in office now that he has, in many instances, given up on working with what he considers to be recalcitrant Republicans who captured the House in 2010 and the Senate in 2014. Republicans argue that he has abused his power, and they saw the Iran bill as a victory in balancing the scales.

“This is perhaps a high point of challenging the White House’s undisputed judgment on these matters,” said Thomas Karako, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, who has written on executive power in foreign policy. “But this is just the latest wrinkle in a many-decades-long struggle between the president and the Congress.”

Mr. Obama has found himself stymied in using executive power on the domestic side, too. His action last year permitting millions of illegal immigrants to stay in the country and obtain work permits has been blocked in court pending further litigation.

And during an appearance here on Wednesday to talk about issues like pay equity, Mr. Obama acknowledged that he had fewer options left for using his power without congressional support. “We’ve probably exhausted what I can do through executive actions,” he told a woman who asked if he could do more on his own to equalize pay between men and women.

Noting that he had already issued presidential orders governing workplace standards of the federal government and federal contractors, Mr. Obama said, “My executive actions don’t apply automatically to the private sector who are not doing business with the federal government.”

Mr. Obama made no comment on Iran during a town hall-style meeting where he took questions from a group of female bloggers about workplace issues. But aides argued that he could live with the legislation because it addressed some of his concerns.

“The principle that the foreign policy of the United States of America is the purview of the president of the United States is absolutely still intact,” Eric Schultz, a White House spokesman, told reporters on Air Force One flying to North Carolina. “A lot of the details, as we discussed, that we found the most objectionable in the bill are ones that have been since removed.”

That was not the view of Republicans, who saw Mr. Obama’s decision to accept a congressional role as a capitulation in the face of overwhelming opposition.

“Maybe they saw the handwriting on the wall,” Speaker John A. Boehner told a small group of reporters Tuesday.

Still, as a practical matter, this bill is no more likely to actually stop the deal with Iran than the original version. Under either version, Congress could pass a resolution rejecting the Iran agreement, but Mr. Obama could veto it, meaning he needs to hold onto no more than 34 senators or 146 House members to prevent an override.

Congress is trying to insert itself into a negotiation in which it has played little direct role. Negotiators from six world powers reached a framework agreement with Iran this month to curb its nuclear program in exchange for relief from international sanctions, but key details, including when sanctions would be lifted, remain in dispute as the negotiators try to commit the deal to writing by June 30.

Mr. Obama frames it as a nonbinding executive agreement rather than a treaty that would require Senate approval; most agreements with foreign countries in recent decades have been negotiated similarly. But lawmakers argue that this one is too important to go through without their involvement.

As president, Mr. Obama can lift sanctions he imposed under his own authority and can suspend other sanctions imposed by Congress. If the congressionally enacted sanctions are to be lifted permanently at some stage, however, Congress would have to approve that.

Unwilling to wait for such a vote, lawmakers in both parties fashioned a bill to require the president from the start to submit the deal to Congress for a review and temporarily prevent him from suspending sanctions while they decide whether to block the agreement. Mr. Obama objected strenuously, vowing to veto legislation that would “encroach on traditional presidential prerogatives.”

Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, gathered enough support in both parties to possibly override such a veto. But he agreed to make changes in the bill to win more Democratic support, such as shortening the initial review period from 60 days to 30 days and removing a provision blocking the deal unless Iran is certified not to be targeting Americans in terrorist attacks.

The changes gave the White House reason to say the bill was better from its point of view, but they did not change the broader principle underlying it, namely that Congress would have a chance to vote on the deal soon after it is reached.

Harold Hongju Koh, the former top lawyer in Mr. Obama’s State Department, who is now at Yale Law School, said the president should have worked with Congress before the preliminary agreement with Iran to come up with a process for involving lawmakers, rather than have it forced on him afterward.

“It would have been better to get this kind of political accord in a legal form up front,” he said. “But now that it’s here, it seems to be a workable one.” Because it still allows the president to proceed eventually if he can hang on to most Democrats in a veto override attempt, Mr. Koh said, “frankly, he made lemonade” out of lemons.

Carl Hulse contributed reporting from Washington.


Kristol frets that he walked into Obama’s ‘trap,’ and Rubio says he’ll demand Iran recognize ‘Israel’s right to exist’

Middle East Philip Weiss on April 18, 2015 

President Obama appears to have won another round in the high-stakes domestic battle that is the Iran deal. The Bob Corker-Ben Cardin bill that passed Senate Foreign Relations the other day giving Congress the ability to review the deal once it’s cut seemed like a victory for opponents of the deal; but by the end of the weeks neoconservatives were scrambling, because they sensed the legislation doesn’t give opponents much power to stop a deal.

As J Street’s Dylan Williams said, there’s growing realization that opponents of #irantalks were outmaneuvered on Corker bill compromise

They’re figuring it out!

Bill Kristol suggests the bill is a trap and says Republicans have to do more to block the deal now:

The fact that the legislation allows action only after the deal is signed, and then for a short period of time, makes it of questionable effectiveness.

What we do know is that the Corker-Cardin legislation is unlikely to be enough. In fact, it can be a trap, if it encourages Congress to otherwise back off until a deal is signed—and then sets up a process arranged to make it difficult to disapprove a bad deal once signed. The key is to work to stop the deal from being signed. This requires putting pressure on the weak points of the framework agreement and introducing into the legislative equation other unacceptable aspects of Iranian behavior.

His battle cry for Republicans:

In such circumstances, a great political party has to have the courage to oppose, to obstruct, to delay .  .  . and defeat the deal.

Jim Lobe has a post saying that neoconservatives are “clearly unhappy with the Corker bill.”  He relates that the Wall Street Journal “exuded disappointment even in its sub-head: ‘Congress will get a vote but the President still has a free hand.’” While J Street’s spokesperson says The Journal is saying that Obama “snookered” the Republicans.

Lobe reports that when the bill comes to the floor, Republican senators are likely to push aggressive amendments to the legislation aimed at killing the Iran deal now, not later. One of those measures is Marco Rubio’s demand, echoing the Israeli Prime Minister, that Iran recognize Israel’s “right to exist.”

Will [Marco] Rubio and [Ron] Johnson offer their amendments when the Corker bill comes to the floor? Certainly, Kristol and the Journal appear to be calling for that. It was one thing for Corker to persuade them not to do it in committee. But can Mitch McConnell restrain them, especially given the likely encouragement of Kristol and wealthy donors like [Sheldon] Adelson and Paul Singer who appear to stand behind him? Rubio already suggested after Tuesday’s committee vote when he sat on his hands that he would take it to the floor: “I wanted there to be an amendment on this where the president has to certify to Congress that Iran’s leaders have publicly accepted Israel’s right to exist at a minimum. This is an issue that we’re going to have to talk about on the floor as we move forward beyond this place today.”

Of course, any such attempt could garner solid Republican support ensuring its approval, but, because it’s clearer than ever that the supporters of such an effort want to kill the deal a la Kristol protégé Tom Cotton (and not just try to get a “better deal”), fence-sitting Democrats are much more likely to rally behind Obama. And that may mean that the bill, as amended, could be successfully filibustered, and Obama would never even have to cast a veto.

Greg Sargent at the Washington Post says the bill is so focused on Congress’s reviewing sanctions after the deal is cut in the wummer, and the chances are so good that Obama will be able to veto a Congressional rejection of the deal then, that the neocons’ only hope is that the bill might derail the negotiations now.

[T]he main threat to a deal from Corker is at the front end: It risks derailing a deal before it happens. That is a real threat. But if the deal does happen, under the new Corker framework, Congress probably won’t be able to stop it.

The crucial additional point, however, is that this Corker process is supposed to preclude Republicans from doing anything else to block the deal. It is meant to lock in a single process for determining Congress’ will towards an Iran deal. If Congress fails to stop it with that second vote under the Corker framework, that’s it: The deal moves forward for now, until a much-later Congressional vote to make the lifting of sanctions permanent.

That is really significant.

Kristol is trying to reverse that mistake by having Congress obstruct the deal now–making so much trouble that the Iranians walk away:

Congress has to spend the next weeks and months urgently raising questions, demanding clarifications, requesting reports, and trying to insist on various conditions for a deal. Even if such legislation doesn’t become law, it can make a bad deal more difficult for the administration to achieve (perhaps by inducing the Iranians to walk away), or to sell to Congress and the public.

Here is Rubio speaking in New Hampshire on Friday and harshly denouncing the deal:

Our president should never have entered into these negotiations… This president wanted the deal worse than they [Iran] did….

We may have to decide at some point… What is worse, war, a military strike against Iran or a nuclear-armed Iran?… I am not cheerleading for war.. But a nuclear [Iran] is an unacceptable risk for the region and the world.

As for the co-sponsor of the Corker bill, Senator Cardin is not all that much better than the Republicans. He has “sent a letter to President Obama criticizing the administration for suggesting they might circumvent direct negotiations with Israel regarding the deal,” according to Maplight, and he has gotten a lot of money from the Israel lobby.

During Sen. Cardin’s (D-MD) 2012 reelection campaign, contributions from pro-Israel interests totaled $277,042. Pro-Israel interests were his fifth largest contributor during that six-year cycle, 2007- 2012.
During Sen. Cardin’s (D-MD) initial bid for Senate in 2006, contributions from pro-Israel interests totaled $421,923.
Pro-Israel interests were his fourth largest contributor from 2005 – 2006.

– See more at:

– See more at: