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No Checks, No Balances

eye on the news

No Checks, No Balances

President Obama seems set on ignoring congressional review of his Iran deal. July 22, 2015
Photo by Anthony Behar-Pool/Getty Images

As congressional hearings on the nuclear agreement with Iran opened this week, the Obama administration was constructing an intricate “bodyguard of lies” that will guarantee the Islamic Republic’s eventual pathway to a bomb. The administration also appears prepared to circumvent the mandated congressional review process that it agreed to honor just months earlier. In the coming months, we’re likely to see a further attempt to eviscerate the constitutional principle of checks and balances—all in service of sustaining what President Obama believes will be his enduring foreign policy legacy.

When asked on a Sunday show whether the administration had caved on its previous public demand that Iran must accept “anywhere/anytime” inspections of all its suspected nuclear sites, Secretary of State John Kerry conjured up a new doctrine of international diplomacy: “In arms control, there is no country anywhere on this planet that has anywhere/anytime. There is no such standard within arms control inspections.” On another program, Kerry ratcheted up the chutzpah: “This is a term [anywhere/anytime] that honestly I never heard in the four years that we were negotiating. It was not on the table.”

Kerry also bizarrely insisted that it wasn’t the Obama administration that conceded Iran’s right to enrich uranium and to keep its centrifuges spinning. Rather, it was all the fault of—who else?—George W. Bush. “Guess what, my friend,” Kerry scolded a reporter. “Iran had 12,000 kilograms of highly enriched uranium, and that’s enough if they enriched it further for 10 to 12 bombs. They had it. That’s what Barack Obama was dealt as a hand when he came in: 19,000 centrifuges already spinning; a country that had already mastered the fuel cycle; a country that already was threshold in the sense that they are only two months away from breakout.” So much for President Obama’s 2013 assurances to Israel that Iran was more than a year away from building a bomb.

Kerry’s claims were risible. Administration officials such as National Security Council honcho Ben Rhodes and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz repeatedly promised that anytime/anywhere inspections would be part of the agreement. Moreover, current and former International Atomic Energy Agency officials such as Yukiya Amano, David Albright, and Olli Heinonen have repeatedly affirmed the necessity of anytime/anywhere inspections to make sure Iran wouldn’t cheat.

Moreover, as Omri Ceren of The Israel Project has documented, Iran had no highly enriched uranium when Obama took office. According to multiple sources cited by Ceren, Iran “didn’t have 19,000 centrifuges already spinning [as Kerry claimed], they had 3,936 centrifuges spinning.” Indeed, the Iranians were a year away from nuclear breakout at the outset of the Obama administration, but now the administration’s own estimate of a breakout is two months—a new timeline that it is using to intimidate members of Congress into approving the agreement. Such were the results of three years of negotiations and “confidence-building” measures.

Opponents of the Iran nuclear deal are still counting on the congressional hearings to expose the administration’s dissembling on these and other crucial issues. In an extended hearing with witnesses under oath and knowledgeable staffers backing up the people’s elected representatives, Kerry won’t be able to peddle the falsehoods that have worked so well with the pro-Obama media. Still, exposing the administration’s serial fabrications may not make much of a difference, given the whopper the president himself told at his July 10 press conference.

Obama solemnly assured the American people that day that he welcomed an open, deliberative process to determine whether the agreement with Iran would actually advance—as he had repeatedly promised that it would—both peace in the Middle East and American security interests. “It’s important for the American people and Congress to get a full opportunity to review this deal. That process is now underway,” he said. “I expect the debate to be robust and that’s how it should be. This is an important issue. Our national security policies are stronger and more effective when they are subject to the scrutiny and transparency that democracy demands.”

Obama’s words accurately reflected the bipartisan legislation (passed a few months earlier by 98 senators and 400 House members) that he signed giving Congress the right to approve or disapprove the deal. But even as Obama spoke, his administration was laying plans to preempt Congress by going to the United Nations Security Council to approve his executive deal with Iran. After all, as Kerry instructed the nation after the Security Council’s unanimous vote on July 20 adopting the deal, “They have a right to [approve the deal]. Honestly, it’s presumptuous of some people to suspect that France, Russia, China, Germany, Britain ought to do what the Congress tells them to do.” In another interview, Kerry warned that “if Congress says ‘no’ to this deal, then there will be no restraints on Iran. There will be no sanctions left. Our friends in this effort will desert us.”

Throughout the international negotiations, the White House has essentially served as Iran’s lawyer; now the administration’s rhetoric has created an insuperable dilemma for opponents of the deal. Kerry has not so subtly hinted that the administration has no intention of honoring the commitments it made in signing the bill authorizing congressional review. Kerry’s comments suggest that no matter what happens in Congress, the administration will feel little obligation to carry out the wishes of the people’s representatives on the most important national security issue of our time. Should two-thirds of both Houses override a presidential veto, Obama will likely ignore Congress, waive sanctions by executive decree, and leave Iran on the threshold of achieving a bomb. And if Iran does decide to pursue a nuclear breakout, nothing Congress does will likely convince Obama to use a credible threat of force to restrain the mullahs. But Obama will certainly blame Congress and particularly the Republicans for this national security catastrophe of his own making.

The best that can probably be achieved by opponents of this disastrous agreement is a moral victory that embarrasses the president and provides an opportunity to regroup. A strong anti-Obama showing in the Senate that falls just short of the two-thirds majority could serve as a rebuke to his imperial presidency and a warrant for a new president to reconsider the agreement. But for the time being, Obama has undermined the Constitution and the Congress, even as he has empowered Iran, Assad, and Hezbollah.

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