- - Monday, March 9, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The price President Obama is willing to pay for a nuclear weapons deal with Iran is rising steadily. In fact, it has been rising since Mr. Obama’s 2008 campaign in which he promised negotiations with Tehran with no preconditions.

When he entered office, the president extended an open hand to Tehran only to have it slapped away repeatedly. In 2009 and 2010, Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad fairly shouted Iran’s preconditions for talks, such as reduced sanctions against Iran’s economy. But the P5 plus 1 group — the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France plus Germany, which had been trying to negotiate with Iran since 2006 — persisted, prodded along by Mr. Obama.

The president ignored his best chance to reduce the price of a nuclear weapons deal — or moot the issue entirely — by failing to support the enormous 2009 protests that might have toppled the mullahs’ regime. He never said that America supported the protesters’ demand for freedom and never called on the ayatollahs to relinquish power as he did when, two years later, he spoke out against Egyptian President Mubarak. Mr. Obama evidently believed a nuclear weapons deal was more important.

At every stage, it had to be clear to the ayatollahs that Mr. Obama would pay any price they demanded for a nuclear weapons deal. The president’s hostility toward Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech opposing Mr. Obama’s plan — and his political campaign against it — demonstrates Mr. Obama’s willingness to sacrifice Israeli security in order to reach a deal.

The price now includes Iraq’s future. In his maiden voyage before the Senate Armed Services Committee as secretary of defense, Ashton Carter gave as muddled an explanation as has yet been heard of Iran’s involvement in fighting the Islamic State, also know as ISIS or ISIL.

In the ongoing battle to retake Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s hometown, an estimated 30,000 pro-Iraq soldiers — the vast majority of whom are Shiite militias directly supported by Iranian troops and artillery and commanded by an Iranian general — are fighting ISIS. ISIS is, we must remember, a Sunni Muslim terrorist group.

Mr. Carter said, “Our approach to combating ISIL in Iraq is to work with the Iraqi security forces and a multi-sectarian government that takes a multi-sectarian approach to defeating ISIL . Sectarianism is what brought us to the point where we are, and so I do look at it with concern. We are watching it very closely.”

Gen. Martin Dempsey took the same line at the hearing, adding, “Iran and its proxies have been inside Iraq since 2004 . This is the most overt conduct of Iranian support in the form of artillery and other things. Frankly, it will only be a problem if it results in sectarianism.”

How on earth can it not? Shiite forces are fighting Sunni forces. Iraq’s government, headed by current Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi (a Shiite) in 2014 said that if U.S. airstrikes weren’t made against ISIS, Iraq would need Iranian airstrikes, opening the way for near-complete integration of Iran’s forces with Iraq’s in the war against ISIS. Iran, to state the obvious, is a Shiite nation governed by a Shiite theological regime. The war between ISIS and the West isn’t about building democracy in Iraq — it’s about whether radical Sunnis or radical Shiites will rule Iraq. The “sectarianism” that Mr. Carter warned against is inevitable because the war in Iraq is a sectarian — i.e., religious — war.

Iraq is being reduced to an Iranian satellite state. Our only national security interest in Iraq now is to limit Iran’s de facto conquest of Iraq, but Mr. Obama is actually supporting it. He is quite willing to toss in Iraq as part of the price of a nuclear weapons deal.

The only way that Mr. Obama’s deal with Iran can be limited or nullified is by Congress. The Senate could, under the Constitution, consider the agreement and either ratify it or nullify it without further legislative action. Instead, Senate Republicans chose to push a bill to the floor authored by Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee and Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey. The bill, also backed by Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, would require the president to submit any Iran agreement for Senate consideration and bar suspension of sanctions on Iran for 60 days. When Democrats filibustered the bill, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky pulled the bill from the schedule.

That move sparked more Democrats to support the bill last week. On March 6, the Justice Department announced it would bring corruption charges against Mr. Menendez in federal court. Whether or not Mr. Menendez is guilty, it cannot be a coincidence that the charges were announced on the eve of Senate action. Mr. Menendez is being punished for opposing Mr. Obama. Add that to the price the president is willing to pay.

Mr. Obama will not submit his Iran nuclear weapons deal to the Senate for ratification willingly. But he has no constitutional authority to enter into any agreement with Iran without it. Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution states that he can only do so with the advice and consent of two-thirds of the Senate. A March 9 letter sent to Iran by 47 Senate Republicans warned that any executive agreement by Mr. Obama could be set aside by a future president. That was a good start, but it isn’t enough.

Whether the Corker-Menendez bill passes or not, Senate hearings, debate and a ratification vote is the only means by which Mr. Obama can be prevented from paying too great a price — in terms of our national security and that of our allies — for a nuclear weapons deal with Iran.

Jed Babbin served as a deputy undersecretary of defense in the George H.W. Bush administration. He is a senior fellow of the London Center for Policy Research and the author of five books including “In the Words of Our Enemies.”

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