Obama Turns Up Heat on Iran Deal Naysayers

Obama Turns Up Heat on Iran Deal Naysayers
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A global agreement reached with Iran to lift sanctions in exchange for the dismantling of Tehran’s nuclear weapons program is so clearly in the world’s best interests, “it’s not even close,” President Obama argued Wednesday.

In truth, a congressional verdict on the deal, despite the president’s spin, is iffy enough that Obama decided some flag-waving, podium-pounding, air-jabbing advocacy was in order this week, before Congress recesses for the remainder of August and he escapes to Martha’s Vineyard for a 16-day vacation beginning Friday. 

On Thursday, 17 Republican presidential candidates, arrayed in two sessions, will participate in the first televised debate of the GOP primaries, meeting in Cleveland. The debaters are expected to denounce the Iran deal in prime time.

“Contact your representatives in Congress,” Obama told his American University audience during a 55-minute speech that invoked Presidents Kennedy and Reagan, and pummeled the administration of his predecessor, George W. Bush.

“Remind them of what is best in us and what we stand for,” he told the audience.

The task the president faces is to persuade a sufficient number of House Democrats to sustain his anticipated veto of a Republican-introduced resolution of disapproval, likely in September. Because Israel is lobbying Congress to block the Iran deal, and polls show deep public distrust of Iran, Obama opted to turn up the heat on the naysayers, suggesting their facts were wrong, their comprehension suspect, or their motives purely partisan.

There was little in Obama’s text, touted by the White House as the 2015 heir to President Kennedy’s 1960s speeches about diplomacy versus war, that was factually new about the Iran deal. Obama made many of the same arguments July 15 at a White House news conference one day after U.S., Iranian, and European negotiators celebrated an accord concluded in Vienna. But Obama’s patience has eroded since last month, and the outlook in Congress appears cloudy. 

He decided to be blunt.

“If Congress kills this deal, we will lose more than just constraints on Iran’s nuclear program, or the sanctions we have painstakingly built.  We will have lost something more precious: America’s credibility as a leader of diplomacy; America’s credibility as the anchor of the international system,” he said. 

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is lobbying Congress to block the deal as vigorously as the administration is trying to save it, got a tongue-lashing, too.

“I believe he is wrong,” Obama said, adding the two leaders disagree about what is best for Israel (definitely not customary diplo-speak).

“I believe the facts support this deal. I believe they are in America’s interest and Israel’s interest,” the president said. “It would be an abrogation of my constitutional duty to act against my best judgment simply because it causes temporary friction with a dear friend and ally. I do not believe that would be the right thing to do for the United States. I do not believe it would be the right thing to do for Israel.”

Obama used his speech to revisit President Bush’s decision to invade Iraq after 9/11, a decision Obama opposed at the time, and one that helped the Illinois senator defeat Hillary Clinton in the 2008 primaries and then go on to win the White House.

The Bush administration’s “mindset, in many cases offered by the same people who seem to have no compunction with being repeatedly wrong, led to a war that did more to strengthen Iran, more to isolate the United States than anything we have done in the decades before or since,” he continued. “It’s a mindset out of step with the traditions of American foreign policy, where we exhaust diplomacy before war, and debate matters of war and peace in the cold light of truth.” 

Many House and Senate Democrats have said they are using the August break to decide whether to endorse the deal or try to block it, anticipating vigorous debate after Labor Day.

The agreement with Iran was negotiated among the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany. Congress has the power to prevent the president from lifting some U.S. sanctions imposed on Iran, but the United Nations and the rest of the countries that approved the agreement with Tehran can move to lift their sanctions.

If the deal unravels because the United States balks, “war is possible,” Obama warned. “This is the strongest nonproliferation agreement ever negotiated.”

Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at asimendinger@realclearpolitics.com.  Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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