What is President Obama going to do if he and the allies reach an agreement with Iran? It's easy to know what he will do if it turns out that the Islamic Republic has no interest in a deal. Obama will just announce that he will proceed with "crippling sanctions" and that the war option remains "on the table."
He will convey that message both publicly to the media and privately to AIPAC and the donors associated with it. The latter will push for even tougher sanctions, which he will say are under consideration. He will assure Prime Minister Netanyahu that they are on the same page and that he now understands that the Iranian regime is irrational and can only be dealt with by inflicting pain, even in the form of war.
The Iran issue will then be neutralized for the general election. Sure, the Republicans and Jewish organizations like AIPAC, the American Jewish Committee, Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations will demand that Obama inflict even more pain on Iran.
Given that the people who run these organizations tend to be pro-war and anti-Obama, they will make trouble for the president through Election Day and beyond. But they won't have an impact. Few, other than people who would never support Obama anyway, are going to buy into the idea that he is "soft" on Iran.
But what if the Iranians actually put forth an offer that is reasonable? Given that the Iranian foreign minister wrote, in a very reasonable column in today's Washington Post (that the paper buried on its opinion page) that Iran does not want nuclear weapons, it is quite possible that a deal is in the offing.
What would it look like? According to Fareed Zakaria, Iran would agree to the U.S. demand to stop enriching uranium to 20 percent, the level from which fuel can be easily converted for military purposes. Iran has already said that it would consider agreeing to enrich up to only 3.5 or 5 percent. Iran then would preserve its right to enrichment but not to weapons grade.
As for Iran's existing stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium, Iran has in the past agreed that it would ship its stockpile out of the country in exchange for completed fuel plates that are used for production of medical isotopes.
But the critical part of the bargain would be that Iran would permit comprehensive inspections of its nuclear facilities. Zakaria again:
The crucial point on which Iran should make deep concessions is comprehensive inspections... The P5 plus 1 should use that as a checklist of activities that Iran would commit to refraining from and insist that the IAEA get unfettered access to the sites until the agency is satisfied that any such military program has been shut down. Iran would have to receive some reward for accepting such unprecedented inspections, and the obvious option would be the relaxation of sanctions, step by step, as inspections proceed unimpeded.
That is pretty much it. Iran agrees not to develop nuclear weapons and permits comprehensive inspections. In exchange, sanctions would be lifted, probably in stages.
There would be no war and Obama would have won a major diplomatic victory (which means that Americans, Iranians and Israelis who would die in another Mideast war would be spared).
Except for one thing. AIPAC and its Congressional cutouts (Republicans and Democrats) will not permit that to happen.
The chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen) says she opposes any form of engagement with Iran and is not interested in an agreement. She wants sanctions and more sanctions.
Now is the time to clamp down on the regime through sanctions that close every loophole and deny Tehran any breathing room. The Administration must not fall into the regime's trap and again pursue the failed policy of dialogue and engagement.
The Iranian regime is only capable of negotiating in bad-faith, which it is happy to do in order to buy even more time for its nuclear efforts. We can't afford to fall into this obvious trap yet again.
As for the Senate, it's position was made clear when in late March only one Senator (Kentucky Republican Rand Paul) opposed an AIPAC-drafted resolution imposing new sanctions on Iran. Paul said he would use his prerogative as a Senator to block the resolution from coming to the floor unless a provision was added saying that nothing in the measure "shall be construed as a declaration of war or an authorization of use of force...."
Senate Democratic leadership, takings its cue from AIPAC, would not agree, so Paul blocked it.
The lesson is obvious. AIPAC will not permit Congress to lift sanctions no matter what the administration achieves with the Iranians. That means "no deal" unless Obama decides to stand up to the lobby, the Netanyahu government, and their cutouts on the Hill.
That seems unlikely. More likely, the United States will add some new Netanyahu-authored condition that it knows the Iranians will not accept. That would kill negotiations, preserve the status quo and prevent Obama from having to offend some of his militant Netanyahu-adoring donors.
On the other hand, Obama might do the right thing by throwing the gauntlet down on AIPAC and its Congressional followers and refuse to yield. After all, he does have the bully pulpit. He can take the issue to the country and explain that, with American lives are at stake, he will not yield to political blackmail.
I know from my AIPAC days that its biggest fear is a president who addresses the country directly and explains how and why his efforts to achieve Middle East peace are being thwarted. Actually, that may not even be necessary.
Back in 1982, President Reagan happened to be watching television when he saw footage of Israel's massive bombing of Beirut. He had his staff put in a call to Prime Minister Begin. He told Begin that the pictures he was seeing reminded him of the Holocaust. Begin was offended and said he would stop bombing in a day or two, but Reagan insisted. Here is how Reagan described what happened next in his personal diary:
I told him to stop or our entire future relationship was endangered. I used the word holocaust deliberately and said his symbol was becoming a picture of a seventh month old baby with its arms blown off. Begin called back within minutes to say that the attack had been stopped. (Source: Dutch, by Edmund Morris, p.464-465)
The lesson: if Obama decides he wants a deal with Iran, and Iran meets his terms, he can achieve it and make Israel, the lobby, and its Congressional proxies like it. Does Obama know that?