8 Key Constituencies That Back Obama's Diplomacy and Nuclear Arms Deal with Iran
The Obama administration’s nuclear disarmament deal with Iran cleared the biggest Republican-led attempts to scuttle it in Congress on Thursday, when the Senate cast a procedural vote that ended debate on a resolution opposing the deal.
“Today, the Senate took an historic step forward,” President Obama said in a statement. “Going forward, we will turn to the critical work of implementing and verifying this deal so that Iran cannot pursue a nuclear weapon, while pursuing a foreign policy that leaves our country —and the world — a safer place.”
Vocal opponents of the nuclear weapons deal—from Republican presidential candidates to GOP leaders in Congress to former Vice President Dick Cheney to many pro-Israel lobbyists—vowed to take other steps to try to derail it, such as threats in the House to block funding for it or even filing a federal lawsuit.
“This debate is far from over,” Speaker of the House John Boehner said Thursday. “Frankly it’s just beginning."
As the political fight shifts from the Senate to the House, it is worth noting who has come out in support of the deal that lifts international economic sanctions in exchange for Iran pledging not to develop nuclear warhead fuel and allowing strict nuclear monitoring.
That list was underscored Thursday as the leaders of England, France and Germany co-authored a commentary in the Washington Post that restated the case for the deal. On the 2016 trail, Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders were supporters—although Cinton was more hawkish. Meanwhile, polls found that most American Jews support the deal, in contrast to the pro-Israel lobby. And scores of ex-ambassadors, intelligence officials in the U.S. and Israel and Iranian dissidents have stood by the deal.
1. European leaders. British prime minister David Cameron, French president FranÃ§ois Hollande and German chancellor Angela Merkel wrote in the Washington Post, “Two years of tough, detailed negotiation have produced an agreement that closes off all possible routes to an Iranian nuclear weapon in return for phased relief from nuclear-related sanctions.”
“It achieves the goals we had set ourselves,” they continued. “This is not an agreement based on trust or on any assumption about how Iran may look in 10 or 15 years. It is based on detailed, tightly written controls that are verifiable and long-lasting. Iran will have strong incentives not to cheat: The near certainty of getting caught and the consequences that would follow would make this a losing option.”
2. 42 Senate Democrats and Independents: The last undecided Democratic senator was Washington’s Maria Cantwell, who announced on Tuesday night that she would support the deal, bringing the total number of votes to 42. That number voted to end debate on a GOP-sponsored resolution opposing the deal (it needed 60 votes to continue), stopping it and giving the Obama White House a foreign policy victory via a procedural vote. Only four Democratic senators oppose the deal: Maryland’s Ben Cardin, New York’s Chuck Schumer, New Jersey’s Bob Menendez, and West Virginia’s Joe Manchin.
3. The top two Democratic presidential candidates. Speaking on the Senate floor on Thursday, Bernie Sanders called the deal’s opponents warmongerers. “Those who have spoken out against the Iran agreement, including many in this chamber, and those who have made every effort to thwart the diplomatic process, are many of the same people who spoke out forcefully and irresponsible about the need to go to war with Iraq, one of the worst foreign policy blunders in the modern history of our country,” Sanders said. “I fear that many of my Republican colleagues don’t fully understand that war must be a last resort not the first resort. It is easy to go to war. It is not so easy to fully comprehend the unintended consequences of that war…Yes, the military option should always be on the table, but it should be the last option.”
Hillary Clinton, in a Washington foreign policy speech, stood by the deal that began when she was Secretary of State, but took a more hawkish line toward any infraction. “Is it a strong agreement? Yes, it is, and we absolutely should not turn it down. If we walk away now, our capacity to sustand and support sanctions will be severely diminished. We will be blamed, not the Iranians,” Clinton said. “My approach will be distrust and verify. The United States will never allow you to acquire a nuclear weapon. As president, I will take whatever actions are necessary. I will not hesitate to take military action if Iran attempts to obtain a nuclear weapon.”
4. A majority of Jewish Americans, but not Jewish-American leaders. According to a mid-August WaPo opinion piece by Todd Gitlin and Steven Cohen, the only nationwide poll of religious and non-religious Jewish Americans found a clear majority supported it. “Of the three-quarters who said they knew enough to offer an opinion on the deal, 63 percent supported it. Simultaneously, the same polling agency asked the same questions of a sample of all Americans. Of those who said they knew enough, 54 percent supported the deal, while 46 percent opposed it.”
Writing earlier this summer in the Atlantic, longtime foreign affairs correspondent James Fallows listed the numerous pro-Israel organizations that opposed the deal. As a vocal opposition campaign has mounted in recent weeks—including remarks by Republican presidential candidates and Cheney—the Pew Research Center has found that overall public support has slipped, when surveying polls.
5. Numerous Israeli military and intelligence analysts. Americans following the news know that Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vigorously opposed the deal, even criticizing Obama during an address to a joint session of Congress. But as Fallows noted this summer, the deal’s Israeli supporters include “various members of the IDF’s general staff; a former head of Mossad; a former head of Shin Bet; a scientist from Israel’s nuclear program; a former head of the IDF’s intelligence branch; a former deputy national-security advisor; another former IDF official; the think-tank Molad; Marc Schulman of HistoryCentral.com; and many more.”
6. Scores of former top U.S. ambassadors and diplomats. Throughout the summer, former U.S. ambassadors to Israel, serving Democratic and Republican presidents, and four former under-secretaries of atate signed a letter to Congress backing the deal. “We are persuaded that this agreement will put in place a set of constraints and monitoring measures that will arrest Iran’s nuclear program for at least fifteen years and assure that this agreement will leave Iran no legitimate avenue to produce a nuclear weapon during the next ten to fifteen years,” the former Israeli ambassadors said.
More than 100 other ex-diplomats signed a similar letter supporting the deal. “We firmly believe that the most effective way to protect U.S. national security, and that of our allies and friends is to ensure that tough-minded diplomacy has a chance to succeed,” it read. Another letter that made the same point was signed by 60 U.S. “national security leaders,” included prominent Republicans: ex-special trade representative Carla Hills; former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill and ex-Kansas Sen. Nancy Landon Kassebaum.
7. Former Bush dynasty military advisors. Brent Scowcroft is a retired Air Force general who was national security advisor to Presidents Ford and George H.W. Bush and chaired President G. W. Bush’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. In an August WaPocommentary, he wrote, “Let us be clear: There is no credible alternative were Congress to prevent U.S. participation in the nuclear deal. If we walk away, we walk away alone.”
Colin Powell, who was Secretary of State under President George W. Bush and a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President George H.W. Bush, told NBC-TV’s "Meet the Press" that he listened to both sides and said it was a “pretty good” deal. “The great concern from the opposition is that we’re leaving open a lane for Iran to create a nuclear weapon in 10 to 15 years,” Powell said. “The reality is that they have been on a superhighway for the last 10 years to create a nuclear weapon…with no speed limit.”
8. Many Iranian dissidents back the deal. They say that easing sanctions undermines the power of that country’s hardline rulers. In These Times compiled a list of comments by Iranian dissents who say continued sanctions would only make average Iranians more sympathetic to the hardliners’ complaints about America and the West.
“We hope an agreement is reached and that it is signed, so that our nation can take a breath after all this prolonged pressure,” said Shahla Lahiji, publisher of Roshangaran. “Problems caused by the sanctions are palpable in every home right now,” said Ahmad Shirzad, university professor and former member of Parliament. “[Failure to reach a deal will result in] an intensification of anti-West political tendencies in Iran [which] will help the overall anti-Western currents in the region, even if indirectly,” said a civil rights lawyer in Tehran.
“The failure of the negotiations would equal the failure of moderates and the strengthening of the radical camp,” said a journalist in Tehran and former political prisoner. “Continuation of sanctions would place the country in a defensive mode … [and] the domestic security organs would increasingly pressure the media and journalists in order to silence any voices of dissent.”