Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) gave a powerful statement of support on Thursday for the historic nuclear agreement reached between the world powers and Iran. A strong supporter of Israel and a rising star in the Congressional leadership, Van Hollen's ringing endorsement may be the tipping point in the fierce battle over how best to stop Iran from getting the bomb.
In the midst of hyperbolic, partisan attacks on the deal, Van Hollen's statement stands out for its thoughtfulness and eloquence.
I have concluded that this agreement advances the national security interests of the United States and all of our allies, including our partner Israel. This agreement is the best path to achieve our goal - that Iran never obtains a nuclear weapon. Indeed, I firmly believe that, should Congress block this agreement, we would undermine that goal, inadvertently weaken and isolate America, and strengthen Iran.
He is right. The deal shrinks Iran's nuclear complex down to a fraction of its current size and wraps it in a permanent inspection and monitoring regime. Experts agree: If Iran tries to cheat, we will catch them. Iran is also permanently banned from building a bomb. Should Iran try to cheat during the deal or bolt out after 20 or 25 years and go nuclear, we will have every one of the diplomatic and military tools currently available to us, plus an important new capability: an exquisite target set, thanks to the unprecedented access provided by this deal.
However, military action now -- the option pushed by many deal opponents -- would be folly. Van Hollen's analysis is sobering:
If Congress were to block the agreement and the Iranians were to resume nuclear enrichment activities, the only way to stop them, at least temporarily, would be by military action. That would unleash significant negative consequences that could jeopardize American troops in the region, drag us into another ground war in the Middle East, and trigger unpredictable responses elsewhere.
Moreover, the United States would be totally isolated from most of the world, including our Western partners. The folly of that go-it-alone military approach would be compounded by the fact that such action would only deal a temporary setback to an Iranian nuclear program. They would likely respond by putting their nuclear enrichment activities deeper underground and would be more determined than ever to build a nuclear arsenal.
Van Hollen also addressed his hawkish colleagues in Congress, many of whom decried the deal even before fully reading it, who have been quick to move the goalposts of the agreement to include everything Iran does that we find objectionable:
There are some who oppose the agreement because it does not prevent Iran from engaging in adversarial actions throughout the Gulf, the Middle East, and elsewhere. That conduct, however, was never within the scope of these negotiations nor the objective of the international sanctions regime aimed at preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
President Reagan understood the distinction between changing behavior and achieving verifiable limits on weapons programs. He negotiated arms control agreements with the Soviet Union, not because he thought it would change the character of "the Evil Empire" but because limiting their nuclear arsenal was in the national security interests of the U.S. and our allies. That reality is also true today.
Van Hollen's backing is the latest in a series of strong Congressional endorsements of President Barack Obama's diplomatic solution to Iran's nuclear ambition.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) recently described the agreement as a "diplomatic masterpiece."
Where does my confidence spring from? First of all, from the quality of the agreement. Second of all, to the seriousness and thoughtfulness with which my colleagues have approached this, and more and more of them have confirmed to me that they will be there to sustain the veto. They have done this not blindly, but thoroughly and over the last two and a half weeks reviewing the documents, not only the agreement, but the accompanying documents in the intelligence space.
And it's really pretty exciting. It's probably one of the most important endeavors that Members will be engaged in. I recalled to them how awful it was when we had the vote on the war in Iraq and I told people that the intelligence does not support the threat. Overwhelmingly, Democrats in the House voted against that, but for those who didn't, it's serious gum stuck to their shoe.
Statements like those from Leader Pelosi and Rep. Van Hollen are indicative of a larger groundswell of congressional backing for the deal. They have been echoed by members such as David Price (D-NC), Dan Kildee (D-MD) and Sander Levin (D-MI), the longest-serving Jewish member in Congress.
Levin announced that he was endorsing the Iran nuclear deal because "Israel, the region, and the world are far more secure if Iran does not move toward possession of a nuclear weapon. I believe the agreement is the best way to achieve that." Price said that "I am confident that this deal will verifiably prevent a nuclear-armed Iran and make the world a safer place." And Kildee wrote that, "It's very clear to me that the agreement is the best path forward."
Rep. Kildee represents the district that is home to the longest-held American prisoner in Iran, Amir Hekmati. Amir's sister, Sarah, praised Kildee, saying that he personified "how a public servant should represent his constituents."
Van Hollen's endorsement could be the tipping point. He is a well-respected member of the House Democratic leadership now running for the Senate in Maryland. As such, he is buffeted by many of the forces now hitting members, including a multi-million dollar fear campaign launched against the deal. If he can stand up to this campaign and put American national security interests first, so can others.
"In this town, people have an amazing capacity to sort of argue that up is down and left is right," said Senator Martin Heinrich, a former engineer now representing New Mexico, the home of the first atomic bomb. But after careful examination, he too concluded that the deal was by far the best national security choice and that "there are much worse risks in not embracing this deal."
In Van Hollen's own words, "This agreement blocks all of [Iran's] paths to acquiring weapons-grade nuclear material and puts in place an inspection system that assures the detection of any violation and future dash to acquire a nuclear weapon... For all of the reasons given above, I've concluded that this is an historic agreement that should be supported by the Congress."
The agreement is not a cure-all. It does not resolve all the issues we have with the repressive regime ruling Iran. It solves only one problem, but it does it very well. It stops Iran from getting the Bomb. And that is why Congress, in the end, will not prevent this global agreement from going into effect.