Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Did Netanyahu's Hatred Of Obama Finally Bring Senate Democrats To Their Senses

The Senate Democrats who were at the forefront of the effort that would effectively derail the Iranian nuclear negotiations have finally come to their senses. They sent a letter to the President, the text of which is below, promising not to vote on their bill until at least March 24, 2015. There is little doubt however that this face-saving date can be extended if significant progress is shown in the negotiations.

The President has been on record, most recently in the state of the Union address, opposing this sanctions bill. Even though it would not impose sanctions until June and only if negotiations failed he has made clear that passage of the legislation would effectively torpedo the ongoing negotiations.

“New sanctions passed by this Congress, at this moment in time, will all but guarantee that diplomacy fails  -- alienating America from its allies and ensuring that Iran starts up its nuclear program again, . . . . It doesn’t make sense. That is why I will veto any new sanctions bill that threatens to undo this progress.”

Of course, torpedoing the negotiations is the result that has been sought by many hawks, and is the main reason why Bibi Netanyahu is going to speak before a joint session of Congress.

It has been a mystery why so many Senate Democrats have been willing to go along with this neocon agenda. But until now they have. Yes, we all know that Senators like to preserve their prerogatives when it comes to foreign policy, which could explain some of it. We also know that there is significant skepticism as to whether or not the negotiations with the Iranians will succeed, though that same skepticism is shared by the president and all those who are negotiating this deal.

The President has appealed to these very Senators to pull back this legislation and made clear that if passed he would veto it. One has to wonder why it took till today for the Senators to finally relent. It is very possible that Netanyahu's upcoming speech may have been the trigger. There can be no doubt that Netanyahu's visit is a blatant effort by Republicans generally and the neocons in particular to embarrass the President. It is also clear that they truly do want to torpedo the negotiations. Lastly, Netanyahu appears incapable of passing up any opportunity to interfere with US domestic politics and express his dislike for our President.

Netanyahu's feelings for the President were summarized well in a recent op-ed by Richard Cohen in which he said

It would not surprise me if, at the next Republican National Convention, Benjamin Netanyahu took a seat in the delegates-from-abroad section. The Israeli leader has both allied and associated himself with congressional Republicans who differ with President Obama over whether to impose additional sanctions on Iran and who also — let’s not beat around the bush — hate his guts. Their foreign policy is actually a domestic one: to destroy the president.

Well, it is possible that his overreaching has backfired. In any event it is a good day for peace.

Dear Mr. President:

We remain hopeful that diplomacy will succeed in reversing Iran’s ability to develop a nuclear weapon capability, in accordance with the timeline that the P5+1 and Iran negotiating teams have set for themselves: March 24, 2015 for a political framework agreement and June 30, 2015 to conclude negotiations on the technical annexes of the comprehensive deal.

Congress has always been a partner in the shared goal of preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon capability. We remain appreciative of your leadership in seeking to protect the United States, and our allies and partners, from the threat of a nuclear Iran. For more than two decades, the executive and legislative branches of the U.S. Government have worked together in a bipartisan way to implement sanctions legislation that successfully ratcheted up pressure on Iran’s nuclear program. This pressure proved to be decisive in compelling Iranian leadership to enter the latest round of nuclear negotiations in September 2013.

We remain deeply skeptical that Iran is committed to making the concessions required to demonstrate to the world that its nuclear program is exclusively peaceful by March 24 – the deadline agreed upon for a political framework agreement. Considering Iran’s history in nuclear negotiations and after two extensions of the Joint Plan of Action, we are concerned that Iran is intentionally extending the negotiations to improve its leverage at the negotiating table.

We are Democratic supporters of the Iran Nuclear Weapon Free Act of 2015 – a bill that would impose sanctions on Iran only if Iran fails to reach a comprehensive agreement by the June 30 deadline. This bill also includes monthly waivers after June 30 to provide additional negotiating flexibility. We believe that this bill, as introduced, is reasonable and pragmatic, respects the nuclear negotiating timeline, and sends a strong signal to Iran and to the international community that endless negotiations under the interim agreement are dangerous, unacceptable, and could leave Iran with a threshold nuclear weapon capability.

In acknowledgement of your concern regarding congressional action on legislation at this moment, we will not vote for this legislation on the Senate floor before March 24. After March 24, we will only vote for this legislation on the Senate floor if Iran fails to reach agreement on a political framework that addresses all parameters of a comprehensive agreement. This deadline is the critical test of Iranian intentions. We expect that your Administration will consult closely with Members of Congress in the coming months, and look forward to working with you to achieve our shared goal of reversing Iran’s ability to develop a nuclear weapon capability.


Robert Menendez
United States Senator

Charles E. Schumer
United States Senator

Richard Blumenthal
United States Senator

Gary C. Peters
United States Senator

Robert P. Casey, Jr.
United States Senator

Benjamin L. Cardin
United States Senator

Christopher A. Coons
United States Senator

Joe Manchin III
United States Senator

Joe Donnelly
United States Senator

Debbie Stabenow
United States Senator

Many Democratic Members of Congress, both Senators and Representatives, often fail to fully comprehend a basic political truth: when a Democratic President succeeds they succeed and when a Democratic President fails they fail. This political truism is something that Republicans have always understood well. I am really glad that, at least on this issue, these Democratic senators have finally come to their senses.