It’s been a week since President Obama announced the American brokered agreement with Iran, which purportedly limits the ability of the regime in Tehran to develop nuclear weapons.
From a political perspective, it has been a tough week for the president, and the strain is showing.
To make this deal stick, Obama needs congressional approval. If the Republican-controlled Congress votes no, which is likely, Obama will cast a veto and it goes back to Capitol Hill. At that point, Congress can, with a 2/3 vote, override the President’s veto and say “Hell, No!”
For that, the administration will need the support of at least one-third of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The administration began the week believing that it would be able to manage that. But events of the past seven days should be giving it pause.
Even the strongest proponents of the deal admit that it has its flaws. The deal doesn’t limit (or even mention) Iran’s military aggression and support for terrorism in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon. It doesn’t dismantle the Iranian nuclear infrastructure (a point emphasized this week by Iran’s Supreme Leader). It relies on the Western military intelligence -- traditionally a very weak reed in the Middle East -- to detect cheating.
There are other problems. The plan visibly frightens and concerns America’s Middle Eastern allies -- not only Israel, but the Arab Gulf states, Egypt and Jordan. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter is in the region on an emergency fence-mending mission, but it isn’t working. Plainly put, American friends in the Middle East see this as a sellout.
Equally bad for Obama, the deal has been loudly praised by Bashar Assad of Syria and the Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon. And this weekend, the Iranian Supreme Leader told a frenzied crowd in Tehran that the agreement would not diminish Iran’s expansionist support for its allies, end the regime’s nuclear capacity or change its central foreign policy goal, neatly summed up in the slogan: “Death to America, Death to Israel.”
Secretary of State Kerry seemed stunned by this. He told a Saudi TV interviewer that he didn’t know how to interpret the Ayatollah’s words. “If this is the policy, it is very disturbing, very troubling,” said America’s foremost expert on Iran.
Meanwhile, back in the States, things haven’t been going well for the rollout. It was predictable that Republicans would almost unanimously denounce the deal, which they did, loudly.
But there was an ominous silence from the president’s party.
A few loyalists -- mostly Obama employees -- defended the deal on the Sundaytalk shows. But elected Democrats went silent. Senator Charles Schumer of New York spoke for many when he said he had to take time to “sit in his little chair at home and study the deal.”
Few lawmakers will be able to understand the highly complex and technical terms of the agreement, even if they spend all day in their little chairs. They will have an easier time with the polls. On Tuesday, a Pew survey found that the administration rollout was unconvincing. Americans who had heard of the deal disapproved by a 5:4 margin. And 73 percent expressed little or no confidence that Iran would honor its agreement, while a majority doubted that the U.S. could successfully monitor Iranian nuclear activity.
The leading voice against the Iran deal is that of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The administration has been counting on its liberal Jewish allies to help paint him as an irrational extremist who is blocking a very good deal. Usually “progressive” Zionists are willing to blame Netanyahu for almost anything. The problem this time is that the Israeli prime minister has wall-to-wall support at home.
Obama has made it clear that this deal is his main foreign policy legacy and he has been visibly frustrated by its largely negative reception. In a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars this week, he was reduced to accusing his opponents of war mongering -- a charge he will presumably level at Democrats who dare vote against him.
There are 60 days before then. The GOP majority makes it virtually certain that the Iranian deal will be defeated in the House and the Senate. It is equally likely that Obama will cast a veto and send it back to Congress.
Only then will we know if Obama commands sufficient loyalty -- or fear -- to get the Democratic votes he needs to sustain his veto.
He may. Presidential vetoes are rarely overridden. But this is an especially bad agreement, and if Week One is any indication, people know it.