Spoiler alert: How US politics could wreck the Iran deal
With much of the fierce rhetoric against the agreement coming from the Republican Party, which just so happens to currently control Congress, the political focus has shifted from whether or not President Barack Obama would strike a deal with Iran to whether or not his political opponents can kill it before it even gets up and running.
Here are three ways domestic political maneuvering could bring down the nascent nuclear accord.
Congress can kill the deal
Under the compromise agreement passed by Congress and signed by President Obama, Congress has 60 days to review the international agreement and vote to either approve or disapprove its implementation. The deal does not require Congressional approval to go into effect, but a vote against it would stop Obama from lifting sanctions against Iran, which is needed to move the process forward. If they aren’t lifted, the deal may as well not exist.
This option appears to be the most direct path forward for opponents of the deal, but it will require a significant amount of bipartisan consensus building on a polarizing issue – not exactly something the legislative branch has a good track record for over the past few years. Since President Obama has already promised to veto any disapproval of the deal, opponents would have to scrounge up a sizable amount of Democratic votes to overturn it.
If every single Republican in the House votes against the deal, 44 Democrats would need to join them to form a veto-proof majority. Given the same scenario in the Senate, 13 Democrats would have to join the GOP.
So far, many in the president’s party have generally refrained from criticizing the nuclear accord. One exception has been Representaive Brad Sherman (D-California), who argued that the point of sanctions was to change the regime in Tehran, and that the deal now makes this goal much more difficult. He said Iran will benefit from sanctions relief and use some of that influx in cash to “kill a lot of Sunnis … Americans, Israelis and work other mischief.”
One area that could see bipartisan opposition is the lifting of the conventional arms embargo on Iran, which was implemented because of Tehran's alleged support for militant groups in the region, as opposed to its nuclear program. Multiple Democrats have previously said the US should not lift this embargo as part of a nuclear agreement.
Others have taken a more cautious approach, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) and Senator Chuck Schumer (D-New York) vowing to closely review the deal before making any decision on their support.
Meanwhile, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said she “applauded” the deal, adding she “would be absolutely devoted to assuring the agreement is followed,” Fox News reported.
Dark horse candidate Bernie Sanders, the independent senator from Vermont, also praised the deal, saying the Obama administration had produced “a comprehensive agreement to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”
Despite the long odds of stopping the agreement in its tracks, House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said the chamber “will review every detail of this agreement very closely, but I won’t support any agreement that jeopardizes the safety of the American people and all who value freedom and security.”
A Republican president could immediately withdraw from the accord
If a Republican manages to gain control of the White House in 2016, they could simply reject the accord, remove US from its participation, and potentially reinstate American sanctions on Iran. Some Republican candidates, such as Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Florida Senator Marco Rubio, have already pledged to do so.
The deal with Iran “will be remembered as one of America’s worst diplomatic failures,” Walker said. “In order to ensure the safety of America and our allies, the next president must restore bipartisan and international opposition to Iran’s nuclear program while standing with our allies to roll back Iran’s destructive influence across the Middle East.”
— Scott Walker (@ScottWalker) July 14, 2015
Rubio added that should the deal go forward under Obama, “It will then be left to the next President to return us to a position of American strength and re-impose sanctions on this despicable regime until it is truly willing to abandon its nuclear ambitions and is no longer a threat to international security.”
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, meanwhile, called the accord a “dangerous, deeply flawed, and short sighted deal.”
“This isn’t diplomacy – it is appeasement,” he said in a statement. “A comprehensive agreement should require Iran to verifiably abandon – not simply delay – its pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability.”
The nuclear agreement with Iran is a dangerous, deeply flawed, and short sighted deal. My full statement: http://t.co/sSftOAkyAM
— Jeb Bush (@JebBush) July 14, 2015
Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), known for his hawkish foreign policy views, said, “This is a deal for a deal’s sake” before adding that it is “akin to declaring war on Israel and the Sunni Arabs.”
But while it may be tempting for a GOP president to nonchalantly scuttle one of President Obama’s major accomplishment, such a move could carry tough consequences. If the US were to unilaterally withdraw from the nuclear agreement, it may prove difficult to convince the international community to impose sanctions on Iran once again. Allies in the EU eager to do business with Tehran may be unwilling to march in lock step with Washington, while Iran itself could restart a nuclear program the US, Israel and others view as dangerous.
“If we try to reimpose sanctions on Iran and no one follows, then we have the worst of all worlds,” Robert Einhorn, a former Iran nuclear negotiator at the State Department, said to Politico.
The next president could slowly sow doubts about Iran’s compliance
Another option could be for a future president to try and slowly undermine the deal rather than kill it outright. According to Politico, a new commander in chief could initiate a review of the agreement in order to determine whether Iran had violated any of the provisions and, if so, the frequency of infractions.
Additionally, a new president could try to build support for further restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program instead of voiding the deal.
“The president could insist, for instance, that if within five years UN inspectors cannot verify that Iran’s nuclear program is entirely peaceful, then the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities that would have dropped off after year 10 would stay on,” wrote Nahal Toosi at Politico.
A new president could also find other ways to constrain Tehran, such as by implementing sanctions unrelated to its nuclear program. These could target Iran’s support of groups such as Hezbollah, which the State Department claims Iran uses to interfere with other nations.