The Iranian agreement and the fight that now ensues in Congress will likely shape the 2016 race and affect American Jews’ political loyalties for years to come. If it is an inflection point in the Middle East and for U.S. security only if it passes muster, the fact of the agreement already is causing domestic tectonic plates to shift.
Let’s start with the GOP presidential race. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky., who opposed sanctions and wanted to give time for President Obama to negotiate, is a nonstarter in the presidential contest for most Republicans. The question now is, when the 2016 election largely turns on national security, and Iran specifically, whether he faces a primary challenge and/or a Democratic opponent who is domestically moderate and to his right (not hard) on foreign policy. To say the libertarian moment is over is to understate the degree to which naive faith in negotiation and retreat have been discredited on the right.
As for the rest of the field, the deal ideally should return some sobriety and sense to the race. Not only is it essential for Republicans appalled and frightened by the Iran deal to win the White House, but they also must have a serious, steely-spined commander in chief who will not flinch from reversing the considerable damage Obama will have done. No buffoons, shoot-from-the-hip pols or foreign policy novices need apply.
In the wake of a gay marriage ruling that gravely disappointed many evangelicals, the defense of Israel and opposition to the Iran deal are more than reason to stay in the political game, rally their co-religionists and work assiduously to block the deal and elect someone committed to voiding it. Any nominee vowing to repudiate the deal will have the capacity to enlist millions of enraged voters who as a matter of faith are committed to Israel’s defense.
Then there are the Democrats. Hillary Clinton proclaimed that based on what she now knows the deal is “an important step” to putting a lid on Iran’s nuclear program. Mmm. I thought the idea was to dismantle it. In any event, in a Democratic primary she will be forced to embrace the deal, leaving only the tiniest wiggle room to escape being blamed as an apologist for an egregiously flawed deal. As the secretary who put in motion Iran engagement, there is no escaping responsibility for the deal. That will likely put her at odds with former colleagues with whom she was simpatico on foreign policy. She moves from the camp of Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) to that of J Street, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and unilateral disarmament advocates such as Global Zero, which cheered the deal.
The Democratic Party is now presented with a choice. For years, support for Israel has been declining in their party, and the election and support for a president openly hostile to Israel made the claims of “bipartisan support for Israel” hard to maintain. The largely Democratic American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) bent over backwards to gain bipartisan support for resolutions, honor Democrats and Republicans alike and tout its access to the presidents of both parties. That is now out the window. Kaput. For pro-Israel supporters — on an issue that is a true red line, the existential threat to Israel — there can be no mincing words. You either are for the deal or against it. There is no fudging this. If Clinton supports the deal and is greeted with applause at the next AIPAC confab, the entire organization is discredited. When even the very liberal Anti-Defamation League decries the deal, you know this a line-drawing moment. (“We are deeply disappointed by the terms of the final deal with Iran announced today which seem to fall far short of the President’s objective of preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear weapon state. The thrust of the deal relies entirely on Iran’s good faith and the ability of the IAEA to effectively carry out its inspection obligations.”) The Israel Project, a nonpartisan pro-Israel group, put out a statement, which read in part:Today’s announcement of this nuclear agreement with Iran is a realization of the deepest fears and the most dire predictions of skeptics who have, for two years, been warning against exactly this outcome — a bad deal that both enriches this tyrannical regime and fails to strip Iran of nuclear weapons capability. The deal will give Iran billions in cash and sanctions relief to fuel its terror and war machines, shred the hard-won sanctions regime beyond repair, and enable the Iranians to get away with hiding the full extent of their nuclear work, infrastructure, and know-how. It will not have an enforceable inspections regime or a workable way to re-impose pressure on Iran when it cheats.
If Democrats support the president, the jig is up. One simply can’t credibly be for Israel and for a deal that gives Iran the bomb in 15 years, lifts embargoes on missile and weapons that will flow directly to Hezbollah and Hamas and gives Iran more than $100 billion to work toward the Jewish state’s destruction. If the deal prevails with Democrats’ support, the bipartisan support for Israel is finished.
Does this mean Clinton will “lose” the Jewish vote. Of course not. The vast majority of liberal Jews who convinced themselves Obama was good for Israel will do the same for her. Delusion is a powerful force. Many who puff their chests and posture as great friends of Israel will still give her money and support. But the jig is up for them as well. They cannot credibly fashion themselves as pro-Israel while backing a president and a nominee who support this deal. She will, however, lose some support, and perhaps this will matter in some critical areas.
In short, this is a point of demarcation for candidates, supporters for Israel and political parties. A vote in favor of the deal will represent a point of no return. Candidates and lawmakers should choose wisely.
UPDATE: In a slyly worded statement, Menendez leaves little doubt where he will come down. A sample: “We began by saying the Iranians could not have the capacity for nuclear weapons; they had no right to enrich; and they needed to dismantle their illicit nuclear infrastructure. But the agreement allows them an implicit ability to continue enrichment, keep their nuclear infrastructure in place, and have a pathway to pursuing a nuclear bomb in 10 to 15 years. I’m also troubled that the agreement lifts the arms embargo in five years, which is something we should never capitulate on because it allows Iran to earn billions of dollars in newly-available oil revenues to continue to fund terrorism and further destabilize the overall situation in the Middle East.”