While all eyes will be on Bibigate this week, there's another drama brewing in Washington that's even more consequential. This is a new bill introduced on Friday that would give the U.S. Congress the power to approve or kill any nuclear deal President Obama makes with Iran.
The bill is called the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015, and it was introduced by a bipartisan group: Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker (R-Tennessee) and ranking member Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey), as well as Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) and Tim Kaine (D-Virginia).
I love the bill for two reasons. First, it answers a popular argument used by Obama’s defenders: Don’t criticize the deal until you know what’s in it. I never liked that argument because we already know enough about Obama’s vision and concessions to offer some serious critiques. In any case, this bill makes that argument moot. Congress would now get a chance to assess the deal after Obama negotiates it.
The second, more important reason why I love this bill is that Obama hates it. As soon as it came out, he promised to veto it.
That makes me suspicious: Why would he do that? For one thing, he should be happy that the bill would level the negotiating playing field – just as Iranian negotiators will have to get the blessing of Grand Ayatollah Khamenei and his council of elders for a final deal, so would Obama have to get the blessing of Congress. What’s wrong with that?
In fact, this bill gives Obama more leverage to make a better deal. It’s the old good cop/bad cop routine. When the Iranians refuse to budge on a key point (which is most of the time), Obama can just say, “I don’t think my Congress will go for that.”
And yet, Obama is adamant that he will veto this new piece of leverage. His spokesperson complained that it will “complicate their efforts.” Well, if responsible oversight means complicating a president’s efforts, I’m all for complication.
On Saturday night, Senator Corker slammed the president’s response. “It is disappointing that the president feels he is the only one who speaks for the citizens of our country,” Corker said in a statement.
Sometimes I get the sense that our president forgets that in a government “of the people, by the people, for the people,” he and Congress work for us, not the other way around. Through our elected Representatives, we have the right and the duty to weigh in on momentous decisions such as making nuclear deals with a violent regime.
But this oversight seems to annoy President Obama. In the case of Iran, that's too bad, because he could really use some oversight.
My biggest issue with the president’s approach on Iran is that it’s naive, bordering on delusional. As he told David Remnick of The New Yorker last year, “If we were able to get Iran to operate in a responsible fashion—not funding terrorist organizations, not trying to stir up sectarian discontent in other countries, and not developing a nuclear weapon – you could see an equilibrium developing between Sunni, or predominantly Sunni, Gulf states and Iran in which there’s competition, perhaps suspicion, but not an active warfare.”
Besides the fact that this is a dangerous and risky pipe dream, Obama doesn’t seem to realize that there’s already a very powerful country in the Middle East that is not funding terrorist organizations or trying to stir up sectarian discontent and that America can completely count on.
That country is Israel – young, democratic, imperfect Israel, America’s most faithful ally in the world's most unstable region and the one society in the Middle East where Arabs enjoy the most freedom and opportunity.
If Obama cares about the welfare of people living under the thumbs of dictators throughout the region, if he cares about bringing some human dignity, human rights and economic opportunity to the poor and oppressed millions of the area, he ought to put Israel’s democratic model at the center of his grand vision for reforming the Middle East – even if that reform takes a few generations.
Instead, in his vision of a Mideast future, Obama is banking that a terror-sponsoring and predatory Islamic regime will transform into a cooperative regime. Clearly, he’s got his key players and bad guys mixed up. I don’t care how upset or offended Obama may be about Bibi’s speech, I still can’t fathom that he's showing more respect for Iran than for Israel. There's something wrong with this picture, and it's unfair to put all the blame on Bibi.
In any event, if Obama insists on making a high-stakes deal with a cheating and deceitful Persian regime that has the blood of Americans on their hands, Congress has the right to weigh in. That’s why this new bill is a game-changer. The drama now is not just over Bibi’s controversial speech but over something more concrete: Whether Congress will have the power to nix what it may consider a bad deal.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has promised to fight for the bill. At their annual policy conference here in Washington, D.C., which I am attending over the next few days, you can be sure that this item will be high on the agenda. Already, at the opening session on Sunday morning, AIPAC head Howard Kohr reiterated his support for Congressional oversight.
It would be bad for Iran if this oversight bill passes – but it'd be good for Israel, America and the people of the Middle East.
David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at [email protected].