The administration made many compromises in the effort to secure a deal — any deal — with the Islamic Republic of Iran. Perhaps the concession that most frustrated the White House was the fact that frantic negotiations exceeded the period that would have limited Congressional consideration to just 30 days. The longer the terms of this accord are exposed to public scrutiny, the White House sensibly reasoned, the less viable it would become. But last-minute appeals from Iran compelled the negotiators to remain at the table, and Congress will now have until early September to review and vote on the ratification of this treaty. It seems that the White House believes this existential threat to Barack Obama’s central second term foreign policy achievement cannot be tolerated. In their haste to ensure that this deal’s terms become a new, irrevocable status quo, the president has instead turned to the United Nations to secure its imprimatur and render the legislature’s political authority to legitimize international treaty moot.
On Thursday, Foreign Policy reporters revealed that United Nations Ambassador Susan Power began circulating on Monday a legally binding UN Security Council resolution that would cement the nuclear accord’s sanctions relief to which they agreed in exchange for supposedly giving up a nuclear weapon development program. The resolution would also force signatory states to take no actions that would “undermine” the accord. The terms of the nuclear deal were, however, only supposedly reached on Tuesday.
The president was compelled in April to consent to a legislative package that reinforced Congress’s traditional authority to ratify international treaties. Among those compromises with a co-equal branch to which the president reluctantly agreed was the fact he could not unilaterally lift sanctions on Iran during the congressional review period, but that doesn’t mean the international community cannot begin the process of implementing the deal even without the consent of the American legislature.
The UNSC is likely to hold a vote on this new binding resolution by next week.
“The decision to take the deal to the Security Council before the U.S. Congress has concluded its own deliberations on the agreement places lawmakers in the uncomfortable position of potentially breaching a binding resolution by voting down the deal,” read the Foreign Policy report. “The strategy has infuriated some Republican lawmakers, who see the administration making an end run around Congress.”
They should be. According to reporting, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Sen. Bob Corker attempted to storm into a closed-door meeting between Vice President Joe Biden and the committee’s Democrats when he learned of the White House’s attempt to undermine the legislature’s authority. A Fox News producer described Corker as “livid.” But this is hardly surprising. The text of the nuclear deal itself made it clear that the only legislative body that would be afforded any deference in this process was Iran’s.
“‘Adoption Day’ is the next major milestone, coming either 90 days after the approval of the Security Council resolution or ‘at an earlier date by mutual consent,’” read a Wall Street Journal op-ed via the American Enterprise Institute’s Frederick Kagan, who noted full adoption could come as early as October.
“At that point Iran commits to apply the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which governs enhanced international inspections. But this commitment is provisional, ‘pending ratification by the Majlis’ — the Iranian parliament,” he continued. “It is again noteworthy that no mention is made of any action to be taken by the U.S. Congress, despite the nod to Iran’s legislature.”
The Congress is an afterthought; an obstacle that must be avoided or handcuffed. Max Boot predicts that this United Nation resolution will have precisely that effect. “If the UN Security Council approves the plan, that will put added pressure on Congress to go along, lest it be accused of sabotaging an international consensus,” he wrote. Bipartisan legislators who are jealous guards of their constitutional authority will bark, Boot noted, but that will be the extent of their protest.
But there is another source of political authority to which the Congress can appeal: the public. Members of the federal legislature deserve nothing less than a long, hot summer of confrontations with their constituents over this deal. Events have been set in motion that the president will attempt to preserve with all his power, but there is a precedent for Democratic politicians bucking a president from their party and derailing a bad treaty. The late West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd personally traveled to Leningrad in 1979 to explain to Leonid Brezhnev “the requirements of our Constitution” that require Senate ratification of foreign treaty. This was no courtesy call; Byrd made the trip in order to ensure that the SALT II agreement President Jimmy Carter submitted to the Senate was an acceptable one. The deal was never ratified by the upper chamber of Congress, and Obama’s Iran gambit can be similarly delegitimized.
The Iran nuclear deal may not be derailed, but its implementation will be cautious and the Democratic Party’s 2016 presidential nominee warier of embracing it in full if a bipartisan cast of legislators revolt over their sidelining. The White House’s overt efforts to shield this deal from scrutiny even after its terms have been publicly revealed exposes the degree to which this deal merits extensive consideration. Let’s hope that the members of this Congress exercises some of the authority that the founders vested in them and do not simply bow to the will of the imperial executive.