Congress Must Reject Flawed Nuke Deal

The Iran debate remains in flux but its fundamentals have not changed. Some members of Congress want to filibuster, and some believe the debate must continue because the Obama administration has not met the terms of existing law by failing to provide all the necessary documentation. There is yet another set of lawmakers who support the deal with the hope that they can improve upon it after it is implemented. However Congress resolves these challenges, legislators must recognize this inescapable fact: the deal’s flaws can’t be materially ameliorated; they are deeply rooted in the agreement’s structure. To ‘fix’ the deal, Congress must reject it and force a fundamental renegotiation.

The deleterious consequences of the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), are well understood. Even Hillary Clinton, who helped lay the foundation for the deal, called it “not perfect” this week, acknowledging that it will require a “broader strategy to confront Iran’s bad behavior in the region.” The agreement significantly enriches and empowers the murderous regime in Tehran, enabling it to solidify its position domestically and expand its influence regionally. It will soon allow Iran to shop on the international arms market and develop ballistic missiles unimpeded. After eight years, it can start producing highly advanced centrifuges and after fifteen Iran will be permitted spin an unlimited amount of centrifuges. By then, Iran’s nuclear breakout timing will dwindle to nearly zero, as President Obama has publicly admitted. Our traditional Israeli and Arab allies will lose faith in our commitment to their security and seek their own nuclear weapons to protect themselves against Iran.

Rather than anytime/anywhere inspections, the deal parodies a serious verification regime. Iran’s established record of violating previous agreements demands maximally intrusive inspections. Instead, it will be allowed to prevent the International Atomic Energy Agency from inspecting some of its most suspicious sites and simply report on its own past militarization activities.

As a purely procedural matter, however, the deal itself is unalterable. It isn’t a treaty that Congress can amend, but a plan whose text, as Secretary Kerry has repeatedly noted, is not legally binding. So, its reluctant supporters can only try to supplement the deal with statements and/or actions that might somehow offset its deep flaws.

Various proposals have been floated. Obama pledged in a letter to Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) to “take steps to ensure we and our allies and partners are more capable than ever to deal with Iran’s destabilizing activities and support for terrorism.”

Some experts wanted more. A presidential commitment to decisively use military action, or at least a pre-emptive Congressional Authorization of the Use of Military Force, if Iran dashes to a bomb. But Obama would only state the obvious: “all of the options available to the United States – including the military option – will remain available.”

Still, even if Obama suddenly offered a decisive threat against Iran, it would lack any intrinsic credibility. Obama has failed to deliver on his redline against Syrian chemical weapons use, studiously avoided confronting Iran throughout the region, and made abundantly clear that force against Iran would prove futile. Any commitment now to the future use force would be seen as a transparent ploy to sway lawmakers and spare the president the unpleasant necessity of vetoing a resolution of disapproval.

Some might argue that, even if obvious Obama would not act on it, a written presidential threat against prospective Iranian violations could offer successors political space to implement it. But, even if future presidents felt bound by an Obama commitment and were determined to prevent a nuclear Iran by any means necessary, the JCPOA’s terms make that far less likely.

Even if the United States is able to detect serious violations or a nuclear breakout attempt by Iran, an eventuality that, due to the loophole-riddled inspections regime, is far from certain, our ability to mount a military response would be highly problematic. Under JCPOA, within fifteen years, Iran will have a far stronger military, including advanced fighter aircraft, anti-aircraft missile systems, anti- ship cruise and ballistic missiles and ICBMs that could deliver nuclear weapons to the American homeland. The degree of difficulty executing a strike at that point will potentially be further increased by declining U.S. military capabilities after an additional six years of sequestration under the Budget Control Act. As prominent retired U.S. military leaders of JINSA’s Iran Strategy Council asserted last week, “The United States is in a far better position to prevent a nuclear Iran today, even by military means if necessary, than when the JCPOA sunsets.”

And herein lies the crux of the matter. The JCPOA not only ushers in a threshold nuclear Iran and triggers a regional nuclear cascade, already significantly undermining U.S. national security interests and those of our allies, but its very terms and omissions undermine our ability to prevent a nuclear Iran militarily. Against such flaws, presidential decrees and congressional directives are powerless.

However Congressional leadership resolves procedural challenges, it remains the case that the only true fix is for Congress to reject this deal and force a reboot in U.S. policy. It is not yet too late.

Originally appeared in The Hill on September 10, 2015.