It’s not exactly a secret that congressional Republicans and GOP presidential candidates are disgusted by the diplomatic nuclear agreement with Iran, so much so that Republican policymakers still hope to derail the international policy, consequences be damned.
But the deal itself was multilateral, not bilateral. The talks that produced the agreement were given the “P5+1” label because the United States was joined by allies and negotiating partners – the five members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany – in crafting the policy.
Are other countries also struggling with opposition from their own conservative officials? Apparently not.
Given the sound, fury and millions of dollars swirling around the debate in Washington over the Iranian nuclear deal, the silence in Europe is striking. It’s particularly noticeable in Britain, France and Germany, which were among the seven countries that signed the deal on July 14.Here in France, which took the toughest stance during the last years of negotiation, the matter is settled, according to Camille Grand, director of the Strategic Research Foundation in Paris and an expert on nuclear nonproliferation.
The New York Times report quoted Grand saying, “In Europe, you don’t have a constituency against the deal. In France, I can’t think of a single politician or member of the expert community who has spoken against it, including some of us who were critical during the negotiations.”
He added that he was “surprised by the depth and the quality of the deal.” In his country, “The hawks are satisfied, and the doves don’t have an argument.”
U.S. supporters of the agreement have emphasized the observation that the only fierce opponents of the deal in the world are Iranian hardliners, U.S. Republicans, and officials in Israel. Conservatives in America tend to be bothered by the comment, though we’re occasionally reminded of how true it is.
But I also think there’s a larger point to this: among major political parties in Western democracies, Republicans really are unique.
Regular readers are no doubt familiar with this anecdote, but in late 2010, President Obama and much of the foreign-policy establishment around the world eagerly waited for the U.S. Senate to ratify the New START nuclear treaty. The agreement, reached earlier in the year after lengthy negotiations with Russia, was championed by Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) and Bush administration veterans, but Senate Republicans were prepared to kill it.
Pierre Vimont, the then-French ambassador to the United States, noted at the time that he and other diplomats warned European officials that Congress might very well reject the treaty. “People ask us, ‘Have you been drinking?’” Vimont said.
It seemed implausible to believe American officials would deliberately derail a treaty that advances America’s interests, and eventually, the Senate did ratify the treaty (though most Republicans voted against it). But what I remember from the debate is the degree to which the world watched with astonishment – observers around the globe found it hard to believe just how radical congressional Republicans had become.
Nearly five years later, the GOP has arguably moved even further to the right, to the point that even uncontroversial international treaties are met with insurmountable Republican opposition.
And now the nuclear agreement with Iran is bringing the dynamic into even sharper focus. America’s European allies aren’t even having a debate anymore because the consensus in support of the policy is so broad. (British tories have no use for incessant whining about Neville Chamberlain.)
But here, an entire major party is not only complaining bitterly, it’s also actively involved in an organized campaign to kill the international agreement, while its presidential candidates vow to destroy the deal, either on their first day in office or soon after.
The fact that today’s Republican Party is radical by historical standards is under-appreciated, but the fact that the GOP is radical by international standards is acknowledged even less.