President Barack Obama and his administration are in desperate need of a foreign policy success, and the successful negotiation with the Iranians on a Comprehensive Joint Plan of Action over Tehran's nuclear program is the beginning of what could very well be a legacy achievement. The parameters of the CJPOA, according to the State Department's own fact-sheet released immediately after the agreement was reached, contains intensely strict provisions of IAEA verification; requires Tehran to dismantle 14,000 of its centrifuges; forbids Iranian scientists from stockpiling more than 300 kilograms of low enriched uranium at any given time; and allows the IAEA to investigate any facility (this is still in contention) if suspicions of cheating arise. This is by far the strongest terms that have been levied on the Iranians since the United Nations Security Council first took up the issue in 2006.
Prospective candidates for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, however, are anything but pleased about the kind of deal that the Obama administration managed to get in Switzerland. From press statements to radio spots, Republican hopefuls aiming for the presidency are absolutely convinced that President Obama is a terrible negotiator, that the Iranian government is guaranteed to cheat after it gets back all of its money from frozen bank accounts around the world, and that the region will be far more dangerous now that the United States has effectively legitimized Iran's uranium enrichment program. In short, the criticism that can summed up as: President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry could have done better if they weren't so worried about their personal legacies.
Leaving aside whether you agree or disagree with any of this criticism (I think the Republican critiques thus far have been vague so far), the administration must realize that there is a very intense sentiment swirling around that Washington not only got swindled, but swindled in a way that will add more tension to its relations with Israel and the Sunni monarchies of the Arab Gulf region. Congressional Republicans in both the House and Senate (joined by some centrist and hawkish Democrats) are steadfastly opposed to the CJPOA that was released after 16 months of negotiations, and when Congress comes back into session after an undeserving two-week Easter vacation, you can expect that they will work to ensure that they're voices on this matter are heard. President Obama can either ignore these concerns and depict all opponents of the deal as warmongers or amateurs, as he's prone to do, or he could spend the necessary political capital to embark upon a nationwide campaign aimed at persuading Americans (and their elected representatives) why this agreement is the least bad option.
For those who are supportive of nuclear diplomacy with the Iranians, one can only hope that President Obama takes that opportunity.
But, in the meantime, the 2016 GOP candidates are sounding off, and they are sounding off loudly.
Jeb Bush: "These negotiations began, by President Obama's own admission, as an effort to deny Iran nuclear capabilities, but instead will only legitimize those activities. Nothing in the deal described by the administration this afternoon would justify lifting U.S. and international sanctions, which were the product of many years of bipartisan effort. I cannot stand behind such a flawed agreement." (For more, see Gov. Bush's March 25 op-ed in the National Review.)
Scott Walker: "If I ultimately choose to run, and if I'm honored to be elected by the people of this country, I will pull back on that [the CJPOA] on January 20, 2017, because the last thing -- not just for the region but for this world -- we need is a nuclear-armed Iran. It leaves not only problems for Israel, because they want to annihilate Israel, it leaves the problems in the sense that the Saudis, the Jordanians and others are gonna want to have access to their own nuclear weapons." (For more, see Scott Walker's March 2 op-ed in the National Review)
Marco Rubio: "Our message to Iran should be clear: until the regime chooses a different path, the United States will continue to isolate Iran and impose pressure. Today's announcement takes us in the opposite direction, and I fear it will have devastating consequences for nuclear non-proliferation, the security of our allies and partners, and for U.S. interests in the region."
Ted Cruz: "We're still looking at what the exact details are of the deal. Everything that's been released so far suggests that this deal will dramatically undermine the national security of the United States. This administration does not understand the people with whom they are dealing. Iran is run by theocratic zealots who embrace death and suicide" and with such adversaries, rational deterrence isn't possible."
Lindsey Graham: "I look forward to reviewing the details and fine print of the deal announced today in Switzerland. Based upon the statements made and press reports, there appears to be major confusion and uncertainty over exactly what the deal entails. There also appears to be major differences of opinion over what impact the deal will have on the Iranian's drive to develop a nuclear weapon. While I will reserve judgment until the details are known, it is notable how far from the White House's initial negotiating principals we appear to be."
Rick Perry: "Americans and our friends in Israel and the Arab world are right to be wary of a nuclear deal with Iran that is riddled with concessions by the Obama Administration. Under this deal, Iran doesn't destroy a single centrifuge. Under this deal, Iran retains every single ounce of enriched uranium. Under this deal, Iran does not have to disclose its work on developing a nuclear warhead. This is a bad deal, and like most Americans, I have long believed that no deal is better and safer than a bad deal."
Mike Huckabee: "Each and every day, Iran undermines our allies, threatens our vital interests and murders innocent civilians across the globe. John Kerry lacks the judgment, common sense and moral clarity to negotiate any deal, much less Iran, and I am very concerned with the framework of this deal. We should be tightening our grip with the current sanctions not abdicating to the Ayatollah's interests."
Rand Paul: No statement yet.