If you can imagine trying to do two complicated math problems simultaneously while a rabid dog gnaws on one ankle and a furry animal pees on the other, you've got a good idea of the task before Secretary of State John Kerry and his team, working with five other countries to get a framework agreement with Iran on their nuclear program and relief from sanctions.
Here are my observations on the process so far. You'll be happy to know that I have nothing to add on the technical topics … I wouldn't know a centrifuge from a woodchipper.
Iran. Iran is benefiting simply by being at the table. Their people appear reasonable and likable. Plus, they speak English. It will be increasingly difficult to demonize them and their country.
Obama. President Obama is paying the price for his failure to cultivate good friends in Congress. There have been times when a supportive word for the process of engaging Iran from well-respected people with strong ties to the Jewish community like Senators Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein, or Chuck Schumer, would have been helpful. It's not the Obama way. He doesn't do the little relationship-building gestures that are the stock and trade of most politicians.
Netanyahu. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a force … there's no doubt about it. He won his election by doing what he had to do. It wasn't pretty, but he won. Just this week, he will be hosting Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner for separate makeout sessions in Israel.
Netanyahu is the beneficiary of a pathetically docile American press on Israel and the Middle East, and the strongest lobby in Washington … the recently-concluded AIPAC convention drew 16,000 knowledgeable and committed attendees who are willing to put their money where their mouths are. Netanyahu is fond of saying that, “It's easy to move America.” So far, he's proven himself right. On the issue of Iran, he has control of the Republican Caucuses in both the House and the Senate.
Process. Congress will ask for the right to approve whatever is agreed to with Iran. They don't have that right under the Constitution. The President has the right to execute agreements with other countries, as Nixon did when he broke decades of precedent and began the process of normalization of relations with China.
The 47 Republican senators who wrote the screwball “open letter” to the leadership of Iran conceded as much when they stated, “Anything not approved by Congress is a mere executive agreement.” Sounds good to me.
Plus, the President controls our vote in the United Nations, and is free to direct that we vote for sanctions relief if such action is warranted.
The problem for Obama is if Congress decides, when they return from recess in mid-April, to impose new sanctions. This is precisely what Netanyahu wants the Congress to do, and precisely what they will do. The votes are not there to defeat that effort.
That, however, is not the end of the story. It's safe to assume that Obama would veto any bill that added new sanctions on the grounds that it would blow up the ongoing negotiation. The key vote will then be on a motion to override the President's veto, which must pass each house by a two-thirds majority.
Nancy Pelosi. Obama should be sending House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi flowers and chocolates every day. She will be key to denying Netanyahu, Boehner, and McConnell the two-thirds vote they would need to override the President's veto in the House.
Pelosi was deeply offended by the secret invitation to Netanyahu to address a Joint Meeting of Congress, and the fact that he used that opportunity to undermine the President. She is extremely well-liked by her caucus, and will be a formidable ally for Obama in a veto override fight.
In addition to flowers and chocolates, it might not be a bad idea to send her some Secret Service protection.
I'm sure the lobby is doing the math right now on where the votes are. If they don't think they can win override votes in both houses of Congress, they might take a different tack. Plus, I'm sure it has occurred to some of the brighter lights in that community that one can lose by winning … especially if you have an endearing character like Benjamin Netanyahu out front leading your efforts.
I will post again on Wednesday, May 13, 2015 (or before, if the news flow dictates) and, for the time being, I will try to post on the first Wednesday of each month.
Comments are welcome at tomc[at]wednesdayswars[dot]com. Comments will be addressed in subsequent posts.