Schumer Defies Obama on Iran Deal

But steps back from leading the opposition.

After weeks of deliberation, New York’s senior Senator Chuck Schumer decided finally to oppose President Obama’s disastrous nuclear deal with Iran. That is a good first step, which he announced late on August 6th. However, before getting to the substance of Senator Schumer’s fairly lengthy statement explaining his rationale for opposing the deal, which accompanied his announcement, a concern that needs to be addressed is how committed he will be in forcefully advocating his position to other members of the Senate and House of Representatives. Will Senator Schumer actively rally them against the deal? Will he join in a vote to override President Obama’s certain veto of a congressional resolution of opposition to the deal, should it pass both houses of Congress? Will he oppose a planned Democratic Party-led filibuster in the Senate to block an up or down vote on the deal?

The early signs are not encouraging. Consider, for example, New York junior Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s announcement in support of Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran before Schumer’s announcement of opposition. Schumer had endorsed Gillibrand both for an interim appointment and for the 2010 special election to fill the New York senate seat left vacant by Hillary Clinton when she became Secretary of State. In the 114th Congress, Schumer and Gillibrand have “voted together on 256 of 262 roll call votes in which neither abstained, representing a voting similarity of 98%,” according to the Open Congress website. Yet Gillibrand chose the vote on the nuclear deal, which Schumer considers “momentous,” as the very rare occasion on which to come out on the opposite side of her patron’s position. This oddity alone indicates that Schumer is not going all out. He is doing the least he can possibly do to stop Obama’s deal in the Senate, while simply registering his personal opposition. Schumer’s passivity in the face of Gillibrand’s announced support for the deal is in keeping with his declaration that he intends to leave it up to each member to reach his or her own conclusion.

Nevertheless, Senator Schumer did say that he would share his views on the deal with his colleagues. Thus, it is worth examining his stated rationale for opposing the deal in some detail. 

Schumer employed the simple standard of whether we would be better off with or without the deal. In answering this question, Schumer examined the deal in three parts: “nuclear restrictions on Iran in the first ten years, nuclear restrictions on Iran after ten years, and non-nuclear components and consequences of a deal.”

Schumer concluded that during the first ten years, “there are serious weaknesses in the agreement.” Most notably, he pointed to the absence of “anywhere, anytime” inspections and the opportunity for Iran to delay inspections of undeclared suspicious sites for as much as 24 days. He did not buy President Obama’s argument that anything nuclear-related Iran tried to conceal during that 24-day period would leave detectable traces. That is probably true in the case of radioactive isotopes, the senator said, but not true for “the tools that go into building a bomb but don’t emit radioactivity.” Schumer also questioned the inability of the United States to demand inspections unilaterally. With Russia and China likely to vote against requiring such inspections, the U.S. would have to rely on obtaining the votes in support of inspections from its European allies. Schumer expressed doubt whether the Europeans would go along once they “become entangled in lucrative economic relations with Iran.” And Schumer dismissed the so-called snapback mechanisms in the deal to automatically re-impose sanctions in the case of Iran’s violation of its commitments as “cumbersome and difficult to use.”

Senator Schumer conceded that there was some merit in the deal supporters’ argument, with respect to the first 10 years of the deal, that even imperfect inspections and the sanctions snapback mechanisms are better than none at all. While concluding that on balance the concerns he raised with the effectiveness of both measures weakened the supporters’ argument, he was willing to accept that “when it comes to the nuclear aspects of the agreement within ten years, we might be slightly better off with it.”

However, with respect to the nuclear restrictions on Iran after 10 years and the non-nuclear components and consequences of the deal, Schumer was unequivocal in his opinion that we would be better off without the deal.

Senator Schumer’s examination of the nuclear restrictions remaining on Iran after 10 years led him to conclude that “the agreement would allow Iran, after ten to fifteen years, to be a nuclear threshold state with the blessing of the world community. Iran would have a green light to be as close, if not closer to possessing a nuclear weapon than it is today.”  Iran would constitute such a potentially dangerous threat while, as a result of sanctions relief, “Iran would be stronger financially and better able to advance a robust nuclear program.”

Schumer pointed out that the deal will effectively codify Iran’s status as a nuclear threshold power. Thus, he concluded, “after ten years, if Iran is the same nation as it is today, we will be worse off with this agreement than without it.”

The non-nuclear components of the deal gave Senator Schumer “the most pause,” he said. He is not convinced that the regime will change after 10 or 15 years, which means that it will use the billions of dollars freed-up as a result of sanctions relief to continue even more aggressive use of military force and terrorist proxies in the Middle East and, perhaps, beyond. Moreover, since the deal will lift the UN missile embargo unconditionally in no more than 8 years, “the hardliners can use the freed-up funds to build an ICBM on their own as soon as sanctions are lifted (and then augment their ICBM capabilities in 8 years after the ban on importing ballistic weaponry is lifted), threatening the United States.”

One of the deal’s major pitfalls, Schumer explained, was its failure to put into place restrictions limiting how Iran could use its new resources resulting from the sanctions relief. 

In sum, Senator Schumer said he decided to vote to disapprove the nuclear deal with Iran because he fears that “the very real risk that Iran will not moderate and will, instead, use the agreement to pursue its nefarious goals is too great.” He believes that “Iran will not change, and under this agreement it will be able to achieve its dual goals of eliminating sanctions while ultimately retaining its nuclear and non-nuclear power.”

Schumer’s alternative is “to keep U.S. sanctions in place, strengthen them, enforce secondary sanctions on other nations, and pursue the hard-trodden path of diplomacy once more, difficult as it may be.”

Senator Schumer took his time to reach his decision, but he came out on the right side of the issue. Unfortunately, however, his statement explaining his decision contained gratuitous praise for President Obama. Highlighted in his own text is the following undeserved shout-out to the president:

“So whichever side one comes down on in this agreement, all fair-minded Americans should acknowledge the President’s strong achievements in combatting and containing Iran.”

Obama deserves condemnation, not praise, for his surrender to Iran’s demands, his lies in explaining the terms of the deal to the American people and his slurs against opponents of the deal. Does Obama now lump Senator Schumer, a declared opponent, with the Republican caucus, whom Obama claimed were in “common cause” with the Iranian hard-liners?  Obama asserted in his August 5th speech defending his deal at American University that “many of the same people who argued for the war in Iraq are now making the case against the Iran nuclear deal.” Does Schumer’s carefully thought-out explanation of his reasons for opposing the deal sound like the same reasons used by those whom had advocated for the war in Iraq? 

Moveon.org, the far-left organization that Obama has asked to be aggressive in taking on the opponents of his deal, is already doing Obama’s dirty work in denouncing Schumer’s decision. They attacked his decision as “outrageous and unacceptable.” They said that Schumer does not deserve to become a Democratic Party leader and announced a “Democratic Party donor strike… to withhold campaign contributions from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and from any Democratic candidate who succeeds in undermining the president’s diplomacy with Iran.” They accused Schumer of siding with the “partisan war hawks.” 

Senator Schumer’s explanation of why he is opposing Obama’s nuclear deal has eviscerated President Obama’s narrative, echoed by Moveon.org, that attempts to make a congressional vote against the deal with Iran a partisan issue. However, Schumer needs to do more than just issue his statement of opposition and register his vote of disapproval. He should publicly denounce Obama’s demagoguery, which tries to paint all opponents of his deal as war-mongers. He should demand that the president publicly disassociate himself from Moveon.org’s diatribe. And Schumer should use all the tools at his command to lobby his fellow senators and representatives to stand up for principle and oppose Obama’s fatal submission to Iran’s demands. He can start by forcefully persuading the junior senator from New York, Kirsten Gillibrand, to reverse her craven support for Obama’s deal and join the senior senator from New York in opposition.   

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