Commentary Magazine

Booker’s Folly: Iran Deal Supporters’ Logical Conundrum

(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) --- Image by © Andrew Harnik/AP/Corbis

Today, Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland announced his opposition to the Iran nuclear deal. As the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, Cardin’s decision might have had some impact on the outcome of the vote on the pact. But since he waited until after President Obama had already secured the requisite 34 votes to sustain a veto of a motion of disapproval, it is essentially meaningless. Yet his statement explaining why he is going to vote against the president — assuming, that is, that Democrats fail to filibuster and prevent a vote — is another damning indictment of the administration’s failure. In reading it, what was most striking was how much of its language echoed that of yesterday’s statement from Senator Cory Booker explaining why he was voting for the deal. Both agreed that the agreement legitimized Iran’s nuclear program, rewards the Islamist regime for its bad behavior and that the easing of sanctions will make it difficult if not impossible to keep the nuclear scofflaw and the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism in check. Booker’s decision to vote for the deal in spite of these drawbacks demonstrates not only the illogic but also the abandonment of principle on the part of the minority of the House and Senate that will vote for the president’s policy. If, as I wrote earlier this week, this partisan vote now means that the Democrats will own Iran and its future misconduct for the foreseeable future, then these statements will haunt the party for years to come.

Booker was thought to be a prime candidate for opposing the deal yet in the end he caved to administration pressure. Caught between the pleas of many of his constituents in New Jersey (as well as his senior Senate colleague Robert Menendez) and that of the president, he chose the latter. The reason may be his national ambitions. No one who is thinking of a serious future run for the presidency, as Booker is likely to be considering, would go out of his way to antagonize the left-wing base of the Democratic Party. The abuse hurled at New York’s Chuck Schumer for opposing Obama’s Iran policy has clearly chastened many other Democrats.

Since Booker probably has little to fear in terms of future challenges to a seat that is likely to be safely his as long as he wants it, crossing friends of Israel won’t do him much damage. That’s especially true since up until this point he had been considered among the Jewish state’s and the Jewish community’s best friends in the Senate. But he and anyone else who thinks he may someday seek his party’s presidential nomination, has a lot to fear from liberals who buy into the notion that those who oppose the deal are neo-con warmongers.

But what is most embarrassing was Booker’s attempt to have it both ways in his announcement. Perhaps he hopes the doubts he expressed yesterday will enable him to pose as a skeptic once Iran demonstrates how naïve President Obama’s hopes for détente with the Islamist regime really are. But it will be difficult to ever take seriously again a politician who admits that the deal doesn’t achieve the objective of stopping Iran and that its impact will strengthen the regime, foment terror and ultimately bring them closer to a bomb anyway.

Nevertheless, Booker says he must back the agreement because “we have now passed a point of no return that we never should have reached” and that there is no alternative to “a deeply flawed deal.” He’s right that we never should have reached this point but fails to point out that we are left with this difficult choice because President Obama deliberately abandoned all of the West’s economic and military leverage over Iran in pursuit of his goal of détente with Tehran. The deal he’s voting for doesn’t so much delay Iran’s bomb as ensuring that it will get one either by cheating an easily evaded inspections process or by merely waiting patiently for it to expire. The dynamic of the agreement in which the West will now pour investment into Iran makes monitoring the agreement difficult and its revocation under any but the most extreme provocations, impossible.

As Cardin explained in his statement the talk of no alternative is false. With resolute American leadership, the West could be rallied to reimpose sanctions that would force Iran to give up what it has obtained from a feckless Obama administration.

That will have to be the task of the next administration, but if the Democrats hold the White House, the assumption will be that there can be no going back on Iran. All the caveats and weasel words said now won’t prevent the Democrats from being held accountable for every act of Iranian terror and their progress toward a bomb.

The fact that the two parties have come to a parting of the ways on Iran is no cause for anyone on the right to celebrate even if it does expose the Democrats to future criticism. By breaking the heretofore-solid bipartisan consensus in favor of resolute action to stop Iran, the president has introduced a toxic element into the discussion of foreign policy that won’t soon be forgotten.

But those like Booker, who are voting for a deal that they publicly acknowledge to be terrible, bear the responsibility for what will follow. Booker’s right that a “point of no return” has been reached but, it is not the one he thinks. The Iran debate might have been a moment when Congress could have finally shed its well-earned reputation for dysfunction and lack of principle. But by choosing to go along with the president and his left-wing ideological cohort, senators like Booker have passed on an opportunity that may not come again. Though they made their decisions largely on the basis of short-term political considerations, the majority of Democrats who, like Booker, have twisted themselves into pretzels to vote for something they know is wrong may long be remembered for this after everything else they will be forgotten.

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