GUEST COMMENTARY: Washington politics threatens to derail Iran nuclear accord

2014-01-11T00:00:00Z GUEST COMMENTARY: Washington politics threatens to derail Iran nuclear accordBy Arthur I. Cyr
January 11, 2014 12:00 am  • 

Ambitious U.S. senators have suddenly emerged to try to derail the fragile interim nuclear agreement with Iran.

Sens. Mark Kirk, R-Ill.; Robert Menendez, D-NJ; and Charles Schumer, D-NY, joined in bipartisan mischief to introduce a December surprise — legislation titled the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act.

This is taking place just as an agreement has been reached in the multilateral negotiations to limit Iran’s nuclear program. The P5+1 group dealing with Iran consists of Britain, China, France, Russia and the U.S. — the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council — plus Germany.

The proposed legislation contains a complex array of clauses designed to permit members of Congress to scrutinize and second-guess decisions and evaluations of the executive branch and the International Atomic Energy Agency. Strict time limits are imposed on reaching a final nuclear agreement with Iran. Also included is yet one more dramatic declaration of the commitment of the U.S. to defend Israel.

President Barack Obama immediately stated he would veto the bill if it passed. Iran’s foreign minister and others have warned that the diplomatic path to regulation of his country’s nuclear program would be derailed by the proposed law.

Given the intense overheated rhetoric emanating from Iran, Israel and U.S. political circles regarding this matter, several often overlooked facts should be highlighted. First, and most important, there is no evidence that Iran actually is constructing a nuclear weapon. In contrast to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, the government in Tehran has cooperated with IAEA inspectors.

Second, despite often incendiary rhetoric directed against Israel and the U.S., Iran’s leaders have been generally restrained in direct use of force. In 1988, near the end of the long Iran-Iraq war, Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime launched massive poison gas attacks against Iran, killing and maiming thousands of people. Iraq was at the time a U.S. ally. Tehran did not respond in kind.

That same year, U.S. naval forces mistakenly destroyed an Iranian civilian airliner, killing nearly 300 people. Tehran did not respond in kind, and a financial settlement was reached between the two governments.

Third, economic sanctions have had a significant negative impact on Iran’s economy. In 2012, the currency dropped 80 percent. There is public pressure for accommodation with the P5+1 group.

Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser and now at Johns Hopkins University, remains an interested — and often acutely perceptive — analyst of Iran developments. He has emphasized that the fundamentalist mullahs running the country face very fundamental problems.

Without a nuclear agreement, sanctions on Iran could eventually destroy the economy. Brzezinski believes Iran could move in the same direction as Turkey, constitutionally a secular state — and until recent years a close U.S. ally.

Fourth, U.S. foreign policy historically — and constitutionally — is the responsibility of the president. The most significant modern congressional challenge to this executive authority was the Bricker Amendment, a shorthand reference to a series of proposals in the 1950s spearheaded by Sen. John Bricker, R-Ohio, the 1944 Republican vice presidential nominee.

This period was one of intense anxiety regarding communism and foreign involvement. Fires of fear were stoked by Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy, R-Wisc.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower worked masterfully to defeat Bricker. William Bragg Ewald Jr.’s book "Eisenhower the President" provides details. Nonetheless, Bricker was defeated in the Senate by only one vote in 1954.

Obama faces a major challenge.

Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College in Wisconsin and author of "After the Cold War." He can be reached at The opinions are the writer's.

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