We all know that Congress has a lower approval rating than cockroaches and the much-maligned rock band Nickelback. Now we can add another thing to the more-popular-than-Congress list: the recently negotiated deal to constrain Iran’s nuclear program. This historic diplomatic achievement has widespread support from the American public. The question now is whether Congress will ruin a popular plan that Americans understand is the right one.
Sacramento-area Rep. Ami Bera can have a powerful voice on this issue as a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He should use it to support the negotiations and ensure his colleagues don’t scuttle a long-term diplomatic deal.
If you want to avert war and stop the spread of nuclear weapons, it’s hard not to like this first-step deal negotiated between the United States and its partners and Iran. In exchange for modest sanctions relief, Iran reins in its nuclear activity, making it much more difficult to get anywhere near a nuclear weapon. Its facilities will be open to daily inspections, the most intensive inspections program ever. This deal offers an opportunity to build confidence on both sides as they work toward a more permanent arrangement that will make the world safer.
Smart people around the world are lining up behind this reasonable, realistic approach to addressing nuclear proliferation concerns. The deal was negotiated with major allies such as Britain and France who have been part of the administration’s ongoing pressure campaign on Iran. Experts from Brent Scowcroft to Madeleine Albright to a group of former U.S. ambassadors to Israel have lined up in support.
Still, there are people who resemble those stalwart Nickelback fans, raising their lighters to the old song about bombing Iran. Some can be dismissed as delusional, like Ben Shapiro at Breitbart.com, who described a deal that largely skews toward U.S. interests as “worse than Munich.” But there are people with actual power in Congress who are tenaciously working to undermine this deal.
Sens. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill., are trying to push through another round of sanctions despite opposition from the Obama administration. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., described the deal as dangerous and may bring a bill to the floor this week to put unwieldy restrictions on the agreement and undermine the diplomatic process. We’re still waiting for any of these opponents to offer a viable alternative.
It might be tolerable to let these members of Congress spout their hawkish rhetoric if the situation weren’t so delicate. The United States and Iran are working through decades of tension. The countries have talked more in the past three months than in the last three decades. Congressional belligerence will empower hard-liners in Iran who want to scuttle negotiations and could shatter the fragile trust that is being built.
If that trust is shattered, sanctions alone won’t stop Iran’s enrichment program and pressure will increase for U.S. military action. Every member of Congress who acts to undermine the current diplomatic process is tacitly supporting either allowing Iran to continue to enrich uranium unobserved or launching a costly military attack that experts believe would at best only delay Iran’s nuclear program.
As White House spokesman Jay Carney pointed out, “The American people justifiably and understandably prefer a peaceful solution that prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, and this agreement, if it’s achieved, has the potential to do that. The alternative is military action.”
After the diplomatic Hail Mary to secure Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles and this historic agreement with Iran, the American people are finally getting a chance to see diplomacy work. It turns out they like it, as polls show the public supporting the deal by a 2-to-1 ratio and wanting Congress to hold off on new sanctions. The lack of appetite for another war after more than a decade of fighting is abundantly clear.
If this deal is going to turn into a stable long-term solution, there are tough months of negotiating ahead. Congressional leaders must step up and do everything they can to make that process a success. California Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein have expressed their support for a deal. Feinstein said she is baffled that Congress would think of ratcheting up sanctions at this time.
In an embarrassingly misinformed hearing in the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Tuesday, Bera exceeded the low bar set by his colleagues by acknowledging that we have to at least try negotiating with Iran. But the political moment calls for more forceful leadership in favor of smart diplomacy.
Dr. Harry Wang is the president of Physicians for Social Responsibility/Sacramento. Rebecca Griffin is the political director of Peace Action West.