The Iran Deal -- a Corrupt and Dirty Game
The Obama administration, in its effort to forge a lasting foreign policy legacy, has not only forged what will most likely come to be regarded in the history books as the most perilous and feckless deal in the history of international treaties, but the way they have gone about it has shredded the very foundations of the American Constitution, and has pushed the term “executive privilege” beyond all reasonable limits. However, the Republican leadership failed to use all of its available means to block the United States from engaging in this error of proportions, and there is a great deal of culpability on both sides of the aisle.
By now, most Americans are aware of the tremendous pitfalls of the deal. Having had time to review the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, (JCPOA), all recent polls indicate that an overwhelming majority of Americans are now against the deal. In fact, on September 11, the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted down a bill to approve the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action by a vote of 269 to 162.
Despite the fact that our system of governance provides for two separate but equal legislative chambers, the Senate and the House, which must both pass something before it becomes the law of the land, the president has decided to simply ignore the House vote, entirely.
And of course, even before presenting the JCPOA to Congress, the administration displayed unusual contempt for the law of the land be going directly to the General Assembly of the United Nations and having it enshrined in international law.
The way that the Senate vote was conducted displays an even greater disregard of our Constitution. First of all, as we at EMET have argued all along, the framers of the Constitution were prescient precisely for deals such as this one; the Constitution requires 2/3 of the Senate’s ratification. Because it will have ramifications on America’s national security interests and those of her allies for generations to come, the JCPOA could not be regarded as anything short of a treaty. When, on July 29, Secretary of State John Kerry was asked why the administration did not submit the JCPOA to the Senate for ratification in the form of a treaty, Kerry unabashedly stated, “Because you can’t pass a treaty anymore,” which is precisely why the framers put that clause in there.
The Obama administration had initially wanted to totally circumvent the Constitution and to claim that the JCPOA was merely an “Executive Agreement” that needn’t be submitted to Congress. Because many of our legislators argued that it was their constitutional responsibility to weigh in on this treaty, the Corker-Cardin bill, or the Iran Nuclear Review Act of 2015 was introduced. The bill was somewhat of a compromise between the president’s intention to ignore the constitutional requirements implicit in a negotiation of such grave matters, and the legislators’ profound feeling that the way the administration handled this undermines their constitutional obligations.
Nonetheless, Corker-Cardin was hollowed out to require 2/3 of both the Senate and the House to pass a veto-proof resolution of disapproval, (not to positively approve of the deal), which turned the original constitutional intent of the framers on its head.
Knowing the menacing threat that Iran plays in the region, as well as in the world, it was difficult to contemplate why the Senate and House leaders would not make more of the administrations’ flagrant dismissal of the Constitution. Why were they content with this hollowed-out version of the law, and not avidly fighting against it?
S. 615 or Corker-Cardin was passed by a vote of 99 to 1, the one negative vote cast by the courageous Senator Tom Cotton, (R-Arkansas), who rightly argued that the JCPOA constitutes a treaty. However, reading through the law that president signed by his own hand, it clearly stipulates that the 60-day time period for review does not begin until everything is submitted, which, according to the law, includes:
“any additional materials related thereto, including annexes, appendices, codicils, side agreements, implementing materials, documents, and guidance, technical or other understandings, and any related agreements, whether entered into or implemented prior to the agreement or to be entered into or implemented in the future.”
Rep. Pete Roskam, (R, Illinois), understood this, and on September 17th, stated:
“The Corker-Cardin law is clear: the 60-day review period begins after the Administration provides Congress with all documents related to the Iran nuclear deal -- including side agreements. That never happened. Anyone who believes that today is the deadline to vote on the deal either hasn’t read the law or believes President Obama is above the law. We must hold the president accountable for this abuse of executive authority by taking legal action against the Administration.”
On September 9th, Congressman Roskam together with Congressman Mike Pompeo (R, Kansas), valiantly introduced a resolution, H Res. 411, holding President Obama accountable for his failure to comply with the law under Corker-Cardin. This was passed overwhelmingly in the House.
On September 10th, Senator Ron Johnson, (R, Wisconsin,) Senator Pat Toomey, (R, Pennsylvania) and Senator Mike Lee, (R, Utah) introduced a resolution stating that the congressional review provision of Corker-Cardin does not apply to the JCPOA because the President failed to submit the entire agreement.
There is a courageous movement afoot by several members of the House and the Senate to sue the administration for its failure to provide the texts of these side agreements; these members argue that the executive branch has violated the constitution by lifting existing sanctions against Iran, which could only be done by a two-thirds Senate ratification. They feel that the JCPOA is subordinate to the Constitution, which they refer to as “The Supreme Law of the Land,” not the other way around.
Unfortunately, the Senate Leadership under Mitch McConnell allowed the administration to filibuster the vote on Iran. Despite the fact that the president would veto the legislation, it was important that a vote be held which would show that the vast majority of the Senate was against the deal; if a nuclear bomb or an intensification of terrorism under Iranian backed groups such as Hamas and Hizb’allah would ensue, those who voted to confirm the JCPOA would have had their autographs on it.
During the August recess, I had visited the Senator Majority leader’s office, together with EMET staffers, and presented them with the nuclear or constitutional option, meaning that the majority party could change the rules to avoid a filibuster. We argued that this is perhaps the most important vote that anyone will cast, perhaps in our generation, and it was essential that the votes be recorded for the historic record.
The senator’s staff refused to even considerer invoking the nuclear option. We left the office in stunned silence, baffled as to why. Knowing that the polls had been coming out that indicating that the vast majority of American people, and certainly of the Republican base, were increasingly against the deal, why wouldn’t the Republican leadership do absolutely everything in its power to prevent it from going through?
Our only conclusion was that to those who have been in Washington for so long, it becomes all about the game of politics. The Iran deal, like ObamaCare, was something that the Republicans could run against in 2016; and not about the larger issue of protecting the American public and our allies from the threat of a largely empowered, nuclear Iran.
As Republican candidate Carly Fiorina said at the CNN debate this week: “It’s because you know what happens if someone’s been in the system their whole life: They don’t know how broken the system is,” alluding to the governors and senators on the stage. “A fish swims in water; it doesn’t know it’s water. It’s not that politicians are bad people, it’s that they’ve been in that system forever,” she added.
This past weekend, another possible reason emerged as to why the Republican leadership’s refusal to subject the JCPOA to the strict standards laid out in the Constitution for a treaty -- money. As Andrew McCarthy explained in a piece in the National Review, “The deal’s enthusiasts may be a tiny minority of GOP supporters, but they represent big bucks. Often in Washington, the numbers that matter are measured in dollars, not votes.”
Mr. McCarthy, a former prosecutor for the state of New York, wrote that Boeing, for example, which gives a great deal of money to both parties, $3,250,000, but the lion’s share, 60 percent to Republicans, stands to reap a huge profit by the lifting of sanctions to Iran. Major recipients included the Republican National Committee, the National Republican Congressional Committee ($38,000 each), and the National Republican Senatorial Committee ($33,000). Significant contributions were also made to McConnell ($13,000), Boehner ($25,000), Senator Lindsey Graham ($39,000), and many others. And that’s apart from the nearly $17 million the company spent in 2014 on lobbyists, 80 percent of whom have transitioned to the other end of the trough after careers in government.
He also outlined how the Iranian aircraft industry was severely crippled by the sanctions, and that once the sanctions are lifted, Iran is expected to order 100 new aircraft in the coming year, and 400 in the coming decade. Iranian airrlines were the major transporter of weapons to Hizb’allah for decades, and most recently to the forces protecting Bashar al Assad.
For those of us who believed in our system of governance, this is a stunning revelation. America’s leadership, on both sides of the aisle, has played a corrupt and a dirty game. And our children and grandchildren will pay the price for it.
Sarah N. Stern is Founder and President of the Endowment for Middle East Truth, EMET, a pro-Israel and pro-American think tank and policy institute in Washington, DC