Americans who want to avoid another war in the Middle East ought to be grateful to U.S. and allied diplomats for the solid peace framework that was announced today. But the hard working negotiators were predictably and instantly lambasted as "appeasers" in the halls of Congress.
However, before we get to the hometown backlash, let's look at just what was accomplished.
The framework crafted in Lausanne, Switzerland this week has impressive amounts of detail and heft.
Here are some of agreed upon steps that can close off the path to a bomb:
- Iran has agreed to reduce their installed centrifuges by two thirds.
- For at least 15 years, Iran agreed to enrich uranium only to a very low level - far short of what is needed for a weapon.
- Iran has agreed to make dramatic reductions in their uranium stockpiles.
- They've agreed to only use one enrichment facility: the Natanz site.
- For at least 10 years, they will only use older-generation, i.e. less efficient, enrichment centrifuges.
- They've agreed to rebuild the Arak research reactor so it won't produce weapons usable material.
Iran's civilian nuclear programs would be frozen in place. It would stay there, one year away from amassing enough nuclear material to build one bomb. (It would take even longer to create a single working weapon.) If Iran for some reason decided to break the agreement there would plenty of time to respond, given that the head of the UN nuclear watchdog agency has said that any violation would be detected in a matter of days.
Of course, there's more work to do to turn the framework into a final agreement. Therein lies the danger. And that bring us back to the hometown backlash. While global headlines blared about a "Landmark Accord", "Historic Breakthrough" and simply "Big Day", attacks on the deal from the peanut gallery in Congress came fast and furious.
Senator Kirk (R-IL), who has a bill with bipartisan support to pile new sanctions on Iran, was particularly brash saying: "Neville Chamberlain got a better deal from Adolf Hitler." Kirk then added, "We all know is going to end with a mushroom cloud somewhere near Tehran", perhaps implying Israel or the U.S. could end up using their own nuclear weapons on Iran's nuclear sites.
The leader of the 47 naysayers open letter to Iran, Senator Tom Cotton (R-AK) promised, "I will work with my colleagues in the Senate to protect America from this very dangerous proposal."
One line of attack is simply this: We. Can't. Trust. Iran. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), recently said that talks are based on "an undue amount of trust and faith". House Speaker Boehner argued that Iran's leaders "have no intention of keeping their word."
Boehner and Menendez are being disingenuous. They know that this framework is all about NOT trusting, but verifying. Everything related to Iran's nuclear fuel cycle, from uranium mining to nuclear power to research and development, would be subject to comprehensive and highly intrusive monitoring.
Inspectors are trained to only trust what they can see, touch and count. They will be watching over Iranian facilities like hawks. Iran's overt nuclear programs will get the once over. But even suspected or "suspicious" sites will be subject to inspection. Sensitive materials and components throughout the country will be watched to prevent diversion to a secret program.
The members of Congress who trust Iran least should be supporting this deal the most. Trust has nothing to do with it.
A bill by Senator Bob Corker (R-TN), The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, is on the calendar to be voted on in the next couple weeks. It would create a rushed process for Congressional review of the deal. It complicates the President's authority to offer the Iranians temporary sanctions relief -- an authority given the president by Congress.
Ultimately this anti-deal legislation greases the skids for a Congressional veto of the deal. This bill weakens our diplomats as they sprint towards the finish line. Why would the Iranian negotiators make concessions on critical final details if they feel that Congress may just veto the deal? The Iranians would be negotiating with diplomats that don't seem to have the backing of their own government back home.
If Congress tries to create Congressional veto power over the deal through a rushed vote, the talks could collapse. Congress - and therefore the U.S. - would own the blame. The inspectors would go home and all the monitoring would evaporate. The Iranians could easily decide to retaliate by ramping up their nuclear programs. And with the U.S. blamed for the talks' failure, the delicate international sanctions regime could collapse.
Needless to say, Congress does have a critical oversight role to play. Congressional committees can pick apart the agreement in hearings to really understand its technical complexities. Then they can monitor implementation and compliance closely. Ultimately Congress will get a vote on this arrangement because only Congress can permanently remove sanctions. But if Tom Cotton's 47 Traitors letter proved anything, it proved that the bulk of the majority in Congress are gunning for the deal in a hasty, partisan fashion. Democrats, and more moderate pro-diplomacy Republicans, are lying to themselves if they think the Corker bill will provide for responsible oversight.
Senator John McCain and former UN Ambassador John Bolton among others are already banging the drums of war. They are making clear that the Plan B for critics of these talks is war. Congress therefore has clear choice: diplomacy or war. People who want Congress to support diplomacy can take action here.
At a time where there seems to be new violence and conflict somewhere in the world each day, a final nuclear deal would be a bright spot. Polls bear this out, and show that the vast majority of Americans want a diplomatic agreement, not war. Congress must hold its fire and give the budding shoots of peace a chance to bloom.