Democratic Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey issued a stunningly frank and brutal assessment of the Obama administration's Iran policy in open hearings this morning, stating that the White House's talking points sound as if they'd been formulated and disseminated by the Iranian regime itself:
"You know, I have to be honest with you. The more I hear from the administration and its quotes, the more it sounds like talking points that come straight out of Tehran. And it feeds to the Iranian narrative of victimization when they are the ones with original sin: An illicit nuclear weapons program going back 20 years that they're unwilling to come clean on."
In his State of the Union Address last night, Obama vowed to veto additional sanctions against Iran, which have broad bipartisan support:
"New sanctions passed by this Congress, at this moment in time, will all but guarantee that diplomacy fails?—?alienating America from its allies; and ensuring that Iran starts up its nuclear program again. It doesn’t make sense. That is why I will veto any new sanctions bill that threatens to undo this progress. The American people expect us to only go to war as a last resort, and I intend to stay true to that wisdom."
This posture implies that Iran is a good-faith negotiating partner (they absolutely are not), that real progress is being made that benefits American interests (dubious at best), and that tougher sanctions are somehow akin to outright war (sanctions are a "stick" in the array of non-shooting-war options). National Journal reports that Menendez has "clashed" with the administration in private over this issue, warning that Iran continues to cheat as they string Western negotiators along. The Senate may have the votes to override an Obama veto, as Menendez isn't alone among alarmed Democrats. The Kirk-Menendez sanctions would only apply if Iran walked away from the negotiating table without agreeing to a deal. Obama argues that this pressure would anger the Iranians and scuttle talks; as the Wall Street Journal put it, he's insisting that Congress not strengthen America's hand. He prefers to continue to afford Tehran as much time as the regime likes, without ratcheting up the sense of urgency over talks that have dragged on since 2013. The Journal's editors remind us that Team Obama assured skeptical Americans when the interim deal was announced that they would never countenance precisely what's playing out today:
‘If Iran does not fully meet its commitments during this six-month phase, we will turn off the [sanctions] relief and ratchet up the pressure.” That was President Obama in November 2013, pledging he would not allow an interim nuclear deal with Tehran to become an opportunity for the mullahs to play for time while wringing economic concessions from the West...“The United States and our partners will not consent to an extension merely to drag out negotiations,” wrote Secretary of State John Kerry in a Washington Post op-ed last summer. Yet two deadlines to finalize a deal have come and gone. The next one expires in June.
Congress is trying install a backbone into America's Iran policy, and the Obama administration is loudly resisting. Absent moral clarity from the White House, House Speaker John Boehner has decided to invite another guest to the chamber to discuss the subject:
Rebuffing President Barack Obama on Iran, House Speaker John Boehner said Wednesday he had invited Israel's prime minister to address a joint meeting of Congress next month about the threats from Tehran and radical Islam. The Republican leader released a letter extending the invitation to Benjamin Netanyahu for Feb. 11. Boehner also told a private meeting of GOP lawmakers that Congress would proceed on new penalties against Iran despite Obama's warning that any legislation would scuttle diplomatic negotiations over the country's nuclear program. "You may have seen that on Friday, the president warned us not to move ahead with sanctions on Iran, a state sponsor of terror," Boehner told colleagues, according to his office. "His exact message to us was: 'Hold your fire.' He expects us to stand idly by and do nothing while he cuts a bad deal with Iran. "Two words: 'Hell no!' ... We're going to do no such thing," the speaker said.
Last fall, senior Obama administration officials insulted Netanyahu in the press, bragging that the US had convinced him to hold off on attacking Iran's nuclear program, and that now it was too late to do so. Here's hoping that Netanyahu accepts the invitation and unleashes some much-needed truth in that chamber after last night's dangerously fantastical farce. In case you'd forgotten, Iran is the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism, is responsible for countless American deaths, has flouted international laws and agreements in pursuit of an illegal nuclear program for years, and is run by murderous, anti-American, antisemitic fanatics who slaughter their enemies and own people alike.