John Kerry Defends Iran Nuke Deal in Congress: Opponents Want to Talk About Everything Else

Complaining that Iran is being Iran isn't much of an argument.



Secretary of State John Kerry appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today along with Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, to answer questions about the nuclear deal struck between Iran, the U.S., and five other countries. Kerry and the other members of the Obama administration continued to push the line that the deal, while not perfect, was the best option for preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. The deal includes inspections regimes and mechanisms for various sanctions to come back into play if Iran is found to have reneged on the deal. The deal is meant to bring Iran back into compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The International Atomic Energy Agency is supposed to ensure Iran abides by the rules of that treaty. Iran has insisted its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only.

Critics in Congress largely attacked Iran's anti-U.S. policies in general  rather than the specifics of the deal struck between Iran and six other countries. That line of attack, however, supports the idea that the deal is the best option for preventing, or delaying, a nuclear-armed Iran. Critics of the deal don't have any other options to suggest. President Obama suggested the only option other than a deal to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons was a military campaign. Obama neglected the option of "doing nothing" and letting regional powers sort out their own issues with Iran, but he is essentially right. Critics of the deal who insist Iran will get a nuclear bomb anyway ought to articulate what alternative they support. The public remains "war weary," so understandably critics of the deal don't want to talk about that.

But the focus on Iran's anti-U.S. policies is unhelpful, and is akin to if critics of the deal in Iran pointed to U.S. support of Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war as a reason not to trust the United States.  A basic understanding of history isn't needed. Even today, the U.S. supports the People's Mujahadeen of Iran (MEK), a Marxist Islamist group the U.S. formerly classified as a terrorist group. MEK's goal is the overthrow of the Iranian regime. Pointing to Iranian animosity toward the U.S. as a reason not to negotiate with Iran, while ignoring the history of U.S.-Iranian relations that might have contributed to that animosity, is disingenuous at best.  Even Kerry can fall into this trap. When Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamanei , said that Iranian interests in the Middle East remaned "180 degrees" opposed to America's, Kerry called the statement "disturbing." But it's a reflection of reality. American and Iranian interests were largely opposed before negotiations, it would be unrealistic to expect that after striking one deal, all of this would change.

The Obama administration isn't the only one facing opposition to the deal at home—so is the Iranian government. Just as U.S. negotiators had to repudiate some "red lines" in order to make a deal happen, so did Iranian negotiators. It's certainly not proof of a good deal, but it is evidence that the deal isn't one-sided, that one side didn't get anything while the other side got everything. Congressional Republicans, especially, are making a big thing out of opposing the Iran deal. Speaker John Boehner vowed to do whatever it takes. But it's too late for that. The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, passed by Congress and signed into law by the president, made the task of getting the deal approved by Congress easier. Congress has 60 days to approve or reject a deal—if they fail to vote, as Congress sometimes does, the deal will be considered approved. If Congress rejects the deal, President Obama will have the ability to veto their decision. All of this comes from legislation passed by Congress. Congress, on its own accord, handicapped itself in this manner. It's why complaints from members of Congress that the Obama administration took the deal to the UN before bringing it to Congress were particularly disingenuous—part of the Iran deal, in fact, was that the deal would go to the UN first. The UN, of course, doesn't have the authority to lift sanctions imposed by the U.S. Congress. That it's possible to get the sanctions lifted without a specific vote of Congress is the work of Congress and the mechanisms it created in the Iran Review Act. When members of Congress, like Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), say Obama is showing contempt for Congress by going to the UN first, that's not accurate. Instead, as often is the case with Congress' role in foreign policy, the legislative body is showing contempt for itself.