The charade that was the congressional review of the Iran nuclear deal came to an abrupt, anticlimactic end Thursday, Sept. 10, with a failed cloture vote.
If you’re paying close attention at home — and we’re sure plenty of people in Washington are hoping you’re not — a motion to close debate and end a filibuster failed to get the required 60 votes because 42 Democratic senators stood united. Thus, there will be no vote on a resolution to reject the Iran deal, no veto of that resolution by President Barack Obama, and no failed Senate vote to override that promised veto. The deal goes into effect Sept. 17 when Congress fails to act within the 60 days allowed by the Corker-Cardin law.
Yes, the House Republicans are refusing to give in, claiming that the president failed to meet the terms of Corker-Cardin, formally the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015, because of secret side deals between the International Atomic Energy Agency and Iran. Technically, that gambit has some merit; practically, it’s as pointless as all the times the same House Republicans voted to topple Obamacare.
At some point, you have to acknowledge that the final whistle has sounded and the winning team has left the field. You can keep running across the goal line and spiking the ball in celebration of your “touchdowns,” but none of it counts. It makes far more sense to go home and practice for the next game than to keep playing the one you’ve already lost.
On the other hand, those on the winning side, from the Senate to the White House to J Street and other peace-focused Israel supporters, would be wise to temper their celebrations and prepare for what’s ahead as well.
This deal may be better than no deal; it very well may be the best deal possible. Certainly, once it was signed, it was the only deal possible. But “best deal possible” and “good deal” aren’t the same thing. A nuclear-armed Iran in 10 or 15 years is better than a nuclear-armed Iran tomorrow, but it is not and never will be a good thing.
Obama’s strongest argument in favor of this deal is the time it has bought the West to gain intelligence and develop a strategy for Iran, which has confounded U.S. policymakers since before the 1979 revolution. That’s why the ending to this approval game is so disappointing.
Even though the president did not sign the Corker-Cardin law in good faith — he declared as much when he vowed to veto any rejection resolution before anyone outside the negotiations had even seen the deal — he could have appeased those who oppose him on this matter but are not his enemies.
Having engaged in the process with speeches and webcasts and a parade of administration officials testifying before Congress, Obama should have let the game play out even though the fix was in as he had 34 senators to protect any veto. Using a filibuster felt like running up the score.
Giving opponents their day of meaningless headlines about rejecting the deal and forcing the veto would have been cathartic and allowed all of us, inside and outside Washington, to focus on getting the most possible out of this deal. Instead, we’re left feeling incomplete and facing rhetorical and perhaps legal battles for months or years to come, costing us precious time to prepare for the decade after the deal.
For that reason, Sept. 10 was nothing to celebrate.