"Without a deal, the international sanctions regime will unravel with little ability to reimpose them."
"There really are only two alternatives here. Either the issue of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon is resolved diplomatically through a negotiation or it's resolved through force, through war. Those are -- those are the options."
- President Obama, July 15th 2015
The Obama administration's latest argument for the Iran deal -- support it, or there will be war -- is shameful. It is borderline political blackmail. It reveals an administration desperate to avoid debating the deal on its merits, preferring instead to intimidate its critics into acquiescence by accusing them of being warmongers.
What should be said in response? Three things:
1. Anyone who claims war will break out if the deal is rejected must explain why the United States and its allies are powerless to avoid it. One scenario is that Iran decides to race to a bomb, forcing U.S. or Israeli airstrikes on its nuclear facilities. But President Obama has already all but ruled out airstrikes, claiming last month that there is no military solution to the problem -- and nobody believes that this president would actually take military action against a country he has spent his entire presidency courting in the hope of vindicating his belief that rogue states can be reformed through diplomatic outreach. The president has also ruled out an obvious non-military way that the West could respond to an Iranian escalation of its program, which is new sanctions and embargoes that cripple Iran's economy and force the regime to choose between its survival or domestic stability and the nuclear program. Yet Obama and Kerry have said explicitly that additional sanctions will not force an Iranian capitulation. Thus, by ruling out both military action and new sanctions, the administration has constructed a preferred reality -- a false one -- in which the only option is supporting the deal. Step out of this false reality, and there are several options for avoiding war: A military threat that is actually credible; increased sanctions; embargoes; sabotage; helping allies and partners roll back Iranian expansion in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon, and Gaza; and a tougher negotiation that achieves, if it's possible, a genuinely good deal.
2. Over the past two years, Obama administration officials, including the president and the secretary of state, have repeated on dozens of occasions the following claim: "No deal is better than a bad deal." This concise go-to talking point was meant to reassure Americans that the president was not negotiating out of desperation, because we had options other than a bad deal. It meant that the alternative to a bad deal is not war, but maintaining pressure on Iran through sanctions, political isolation, and other measures. There was never a war corollary. Yet now, suddenly there is: support the deal or there will be war. If this new talking point is actually true, it means that the original talking point was false, and what the administration should have told the American people is that a bad deal is better than no deal, because no deal will cause a war. As it turns out, neither the past nor the present talking point is true -- and so targets of Obama's war threats may wish to remind the president that here, he has a serious credibility problem.
3. The claim that the sanctions regime would not survive the rejection of the deal is a contrivance of an administration that is throwing every threat it can think of into its effort to bludgeon Congress into approving a bad deal. There are a half-dozen U.N. Security Council resolutions and numerous U.S. and EU laws that comprise the sanctions regime, and there is no clause written into any of them stipulating that congressional rejection of a deal rescinds the sanctions regime. President Obama has been ruthless and singleminded in pursuing the things that he wants -- Obamacare, executive action on immigration, Palestinian statehood, Iran negotiations, etc. Yet we are now to believe that when it comes to enforcing sanctions, the President of the United States is suddenly transformed into a powerless bystander compelled to accept the violation of dozens of laws with impunity?
This doesn't pass the laugh test -- and neither does the administration's larger threat that Congress must approve its terrible deal lest it spark a war.