“Whether Congress likes it or not”

Rosa Brooks writing in Foreign Policy, discusses the recent agreement that was reached with Iran, that although not perfect was substantially better than no deal, in spite of what Israel might say.

She notes that the next problem facing President Obama is the US Congress. Worse still Obama cannot even count on the support of his own party on thie matter with Harry Reid mistakenly calling for even more sanctions along with those other highly respected Senators, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz.

She writes, “We don’t get to choose between an Iran with nuclear weapons capabilities and an Iran without nuclear weapons capabilities. The choice we truly face is less appealing:  Do we want a bellicose Iran that has the ability to produce nuclear weapons within a matter of months and is unremittingly hostile to U.S. interests? Or do we want an Iran that has the ability to produce nuclear weapons within a matter of months, but is no longer as unremittingly hostile to U.S. interests? I’ll take the latter, thanks very much”.

She goes on to make the point that “negotiators in Geneva recognized this, and they got the best deal they could, given our remarkably limited bargaining power. In fact, they got a deal that’s substantiallybetter than most Iran watchers expected: Under the terms of the Geneva agreement, Iran will freeze further work on key nuclear facilities, neutralize all uranium enriched to 20 percent, and permit daily international inspection of sensitive sites, all in exchange for limited and temporary sanctions relief. Every permanent member of the U.N. Security Council is on board, even Russia and China, and the deal doesn’t lock anyone in permanently: It endures for six months, long enough to give negotiators time to assess each other’s good faith and see if a final agreement can be reached. It’s not great, but it’s not chopped liver, either. After a decade of impasse and insults on both sides, it’s a small but genuine breakthrough. If all goes well in the next six months, we might even get to some bigger breakthroughs. But that depends on President Obama’s willingness to stand firm in the face of congressional bluster”.

Brooks notes that Congress is bipartisan in its shortsightedness, “Congress has shown a distinct bipartisan disinclination to engage in reality-based thinking. Sen. Bob Menendez, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, complains that the Geneva deal ‘did not proportionately reduce Iran’s nuclear program.’ Sen. John McCain has called the deal a ‘dangerous step that degrades our pressure on the Iranian regime.’ Rep. Eliot Engel, the ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, objects that the deal does not  ‘require Iran to completely halt its enrichment efforts or dismantle its centrifuges.’ Sen. Marco Rubio agrees, insisting that there should be no sanctions relief until ‘Iran completely abandons its enrichment and reprocessing capabilities.'”

She goes on to make the excellent point that has been stated here before that Congress has no role in these matters, “Congressional hawks should stop bloviating and help the president make this deal work. It’s funny: Just a few months ago, many of the very same hawkish legislators who are now threatening to destroy the Iran deal by imposing new sanctions were insisting on the importance of executive-legislative unity when bargaining with adversarial foreign states. Remember Syria? When President Obama declared his intention to ask Congress to authorize military action against President Bashar al-Assad, Sen. McCain declared, “A vote against that resolution by Congress I think would be catastrophic. It would undermine the credibility of the United States of America and the president of the United States. None of us want that.”

If “none of us want that,” it’s hard to see why it’s important for Congress to back the president when it comes to threats to use military force, but fine for Congress to undermine the president when he tries to use diplomacy so we can avoid resorting to military force. President Obama needs to make it clear that it’s his job, not Congress’s, to broker deals with foreign powers. That’s not just a policy preference: It’s the way the U.S. Constitution divvies up authority between the executive and legislative branches. As the Supreme Court declared in U.S. v Curtiss Wright.”

Not only that but being a lawyer she goes further saying that Congress has, thankfully, little options if it wants to halt the deal with Iran going through, “it’s an open constitutional question whether Congress can impose mandatory sanctions on a foreign state over the president’s strong objection. Congress has the power to regulate foreign commerce, but the president is vested with executive power and is the sole representative of the United Statesvis-a-vis foreign states. Just as the congressional power to declare war does not prevent the president from using military force in what he views as emergencies — whether Congress likes it or not — the congressional power to regulate foreign commerce can’t force the president to implement sanctions that would undermine a time-sensitive executive agreement if doing so, in the president’s view, would jeopardize vital national-security interests. Any congressional efforts to completely eliminate the president’s foreign-affairs discretion could lead to a constitutional showdown, which Congress would almost certainly lose. If Congress passed new sanctions legislation that the president believed would undermine the deal with Iran, he could veto it; if Congress mustered up the two-thirds majority needed to overcome a veto, the president could simply refuse to implement the sanctions. The courts would be unlikely to side with Congress because, traditionally, they have viewed such disputes as “political questions” best resolved through the ballot box”.

She ends the piece, “President Obama holds the cards — but if he wants to win, he has to be willing call Congress’s bluff. He shouldn’t be defensive, and he shouldn’t mince words: He should tell congressional hawks straight out that if they manage to pass any new sanctions legislation that would prevent him from keeping the promises made in Geneva, he would regard that as an unconstitutional infringement upon his powers to negotiate on behalf of the United States and protect vital national-security interests. He should make itcrystal clear that he would veto any such legislation — and that even if Congress pushed it through over his veto, he would not implement it. There’s political risk in standing firm, but at this point, the president has far more to lose if he wavers. What’s more, public opinion is firmly on his side”


6 Responses to ““Whether Congress likes it or not””

  1. “Broaden the scope of negotiations” | Order and Tradition Says:

    […] A brief article has been published in Foreign Affairs. It discusses the ongoing talks with Iran after the temporary agreement was reached between the powers. The agreement recieved wide praise but some, including in Congress, where less than pleased. […]

  2. Benefits of a deal | Order and Tradition Says:

    […] America. Walt writes “The debate on Iran continues apace, with the White House complaining about pro-war members of Congress and hawks accusing the administration of talking while Iran quietly builds. A striking feature of […]

  3. “More problems than you and your advisors can handle” | Order and Tradition Says:

    […] agreement and the administration stared down the predictable opposition from AIPAC and other hardliners, but the process has been slow, the fight has already used up a lot of political capital, and the […]

  4. Order and Tradition Says:

    […] this report is accurate and there has been little drama and entrenched positions, then there is hope for a final deal.  To have gotten this far without either side leaking or […]

  5. Graham and Menendez write a letter | Order and Tradition Says:

    […] and a lot of limitations of what they can do,’ the official said. The administration has been clashing with Capitol Hill for several months about the contours of a potential deal with Iran, but […]

  6. Order and Tradition Says:

    […] a potential deal with Iran, should President Obama decide the deal is worth accepting. Congress has done nothing but deride the agreement, or even any potential deal. It has been totally unreasonable, both […]

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