The political fight over the nuclear agreement with Iran got underway yesterday in earnest, with a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the deal. It was an opportunity for a real, substantive debate, featuring three knowledgeable cabinet members who understand the agreement inside and out, and senators whose job it is to know what they’re talking about.
Predictably, the debate, such as it was, offered more heat than light. But that’s not to say it wasn’t important.
Early on, for example, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the Foreign Relations Committee chairman, complained, “We had a far more comprehensive and rapid inspection program in Iraq. Far more. That certainly didn’t serve us particularly well.”
In Iraq, the inspection program served us extremely well – weapons inspectors said Iraq had no nuclear weapons and no WMD stockpiles. To hear Corker tell it, intrusive inspection programs are unreliable, as proven by our experience in Iraq, but the GOP lawmaker’s own example points in the opposite direction.
Later, Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) complained bitterly about the United Nations moving forward on the international agreement before Republicans have had a chance to try to kill the deal. “We’re showing the world we don’t stand together right now,” Perdue said.
In March, Perdue signed on to a letter to Iranian officials, urging them not to trust the United States. The Georgia Republican, one of 47 GOP senators who endorsed the letter, were openly and brazenly trying to sabotage American foreign policy.
Maybe he ought to skip the complaining about “showing the world we don’t stand together right now.”
With all of this in mind, Paul Waldman argued yesterday that it’s probably time to “stop pretending Republicans have a serious critique of the Iran deal.”
This whole debate is a charade. There’s a reason no Republican has managed to answer President Obama’s challenge to articulate an alternative that would be preferable to what the six-party negotiations produced, and it isn’t because this deal is perfect or couldn’t have been better. It’s that from where Republicans sit, any deal negotiated with Iran is a bad one by definition. […][T]here was literally no deal this administration could have negotiated with Iran that Republicans would have agreed to. None. From their perspective, the substance of the deal never mattered.
Naturally, this was reflected in the quality of the debate, or in this case, the lack thereof. By the time Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) asked Energy Secretary Earnest Moniz, “Do you know what EMP is?” it was clear that the hearing served no practical purpose at all.
That said, the one thing I wanted to know going into yesterday’s discussion was whether Democrats were inclined to defend the diplomatic agreement. Other than Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), a longtime opponent of the effort, committee Dems seemed inclined to support the deal.
And for proponents of the policy, that’s probably all that matters in the end. Unless congressional Democrats abandon the administration in large numbers, the international agreement will be implemented, conservative objections notwithstanding.