Iran has its hardliners on the United States, and the United States has its hardliners on Iran. It's understandable if you think they are working together to thwart detente between the two countries. Neither side wants its government to negotiate a nuclear deal and thaw the cold war that's existed since 1979.
This week hardliners in the U.S. Senate took another step toward thwarting detente by writing to Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei that if he and President Obama negotiate a "mere executive agreement" on Iran's (civilian) nuclear program that is not approved by Congress, it will bind neither Obama's successor nor a future Congress. The letter comes on the heels of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's bellicose speech about Iran before Congress. Like that speech, the senators' letter is intended to sabotage the P5+1 talks now in progress.
The condescending letter, signed by 47 of 54 Republican senators, must have Iran's Revolutionary Guard celebrating. With enemies like these who needs friends?
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), the lead senator on the letter, says he merely wants to teach the Iranian leader about America's constitutional system by pointing out that unlike a treaty, which must be consented to by two-thirds of the Senate before it can be ratified, an executive agreement binds only the administration that signs it.
However, Cotton's letter clearly is meant to be more than a helpful civics lesson. The senators hate that Obama is negotiating an agreement that reportedly would let Iran—under severe constraints and intrusive inspections—enrich uranium not for bombs but for electricity and medical treatments. Like Netanyahu, Cotton claims that a tougher U.S. position in the negotiations could fully deprive Iran of the means to produce a nuclear weapon. But this argument has been debunked. In the past, when the U.S. government derailed promising attempts at negotiations and imposed harsh economic sanctions, Iran did not cave; it expanded its (peaceful) nuclear infrastructure.
So the hawks and hardliners are demonstrably wrong about the alternative to the current talks, but that does not matter to them. Why not? Because they don't really want a "better deal" with Iran. What they, like Netanyahu and other Israeli hawks, want is war and nothing less than regime change. (Remember when John McCain sang "Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran"?) Thus they'd be delighted if Iran stormed out of the negotiations and added centrifuges to its nuclear program. The hawks would have their casus belli at last.
What they overlook is that everyone else will know that Iran was not the party that scuttled the negotiations. The cruel sanctions regime will then crumble, leaving the United States and Israel as the only countries trying to throttle Iran. At that point, Israel may well attack the Islamic Republic, expecting the United States to finish the job that Israel would be unable to finish. Catastrophe would follow.
To fully appreciate the Senate Republicans' perfidy, keep these things in mind:
First, Iran has not sought a nuclear weapon, as Gareth Porter documents overwhelmingly in Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare. As has been reported many times, the Israeli Mossad and the dozen and a half American intelligence agencies have detected no Iranian move to build a bomb. Iran has indeed enriched uranium—for energy and medical purposes—as it is free to do as a signer of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). As such, it is inspected by the International Atomic Energy Agency, which keeps track of the uranium stockpile. It is especially vicious for the American and Israeli hardliners to condemn Iran's insistence on an enrichment capability, considering that when Iran agreed to forgo enrichment and swap uranium with Turkey and Brazil in 2010, Obama blocked the deal and pushed for more sanctions. Get it? Iran was demonized no matter what it did.
Second, Israel, which has not signed the NPT, is the only nuclear power in the Middle East and thus would face no threat even if Iran obtained the warhead it does not seek.
If anything can persuade Iran's rulers to go for a nuke, it's the hardliners' lust for war. What does that tell you?
This piece originally appeared at Sheldon Richman's "Free Association" blog.