President Obama won a landmark foreign-policy victory this week as more Democratic members of Congress stepped up to support the nuclear-weapons agreement with Iran. But wait, stay in your seats: This is just Act One in a long political drama with an unscripted ending.
Retiring Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland became the crucial 34th vote in favor of the agreement on Wednesday, assuring that the Senate can uphold Mr. Obama’s veto if a bill rejecting the pact reaches his desk. In doing so, she echoed other supporters who call the agreement the best option available to block Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.
As far as we can tell, virtually every supporter of the agreement offered some reservations about the plan — over inspections, over Iran’s sinister intentions in the Middle East, over what happens in 15 years or so when some of the deal’s provisions expire.
They’re right. It’s far from a perfect plan. But in the end, the White House prevailed because there is no realistic alternative to a negotiated agreement that’s been under way for two years and has the support of every other major nation in the world.
Just walking away and demanding — or hoping for — a better deal, as many Republicans wanted, is not a realistic option. Rejection would isolate this country and leave it unable to impose the global economic sanctions that brought Iran to the negotiating table in the first place.
Other nations, including Germany, Japan and the United Kingdom, all American allies, have already taken steps to reopen business ties to Iran as the prospect of expiring sanctions draws nearer. They are not about to change course at this point just because Republican members of Congress don’t like it. British diplomats have already rushed to Tehran to reopen their long-shuttered embassy.
The Obama administration has been guilty of some hype in promoting the agreement, as when Secretary of State John Kerry said unequivocally that we know everything we need to know about Iran’s covert nuclear program, thanks to U.S. intelligence. In fact, experts believe there is much that is not known and that a lot of crucial blanks need to be filled in.
But one other aspect of the deal is undeniably on target: If Iran is caught cheating, the United States will be in a much stronger position to blow the whistle and win support from other nations to get tough with Tehran, once again instituting sanctions — or, if necessary, resorting to military force.
This, however, will require leadership, not only from Mr. Obama during his two remaining years in office, but from his successors, as well. They must make Iran toe the line in terms of inspection provisions, and they must also be prepared to prevent Iran from expanding its terrorist activities and networks in the Middle East. That means bolstering both Israel and American allies in the region to ensure that Iran does not gain the upper hand.
Mr. Obama has said he will not allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons on his watch. But a stronger statement about American policy in this regard that binds not only his administration but succeeding ones along the same lines would surely be welcomed by this country’s allies in the region, especially Israel.
Better yet would be a strategy to cope not only with possible cheating by Iran but with what happens after the provisions of this deal expire.
Iran needs to realize that the world will be just as united then as it is now in refusing to accept it as a nuclear power, and only the United States can prevail on the other nations of the world to hold firm to that principle. Only when a new generation of moderate leaders who convincingly renounce possession of nuclear weapons emerges in Iran — if ever — can the curtain on this drama come down.