Yesterday, the peace movement won its biggest victory in recent memory. In a 58-42 vote, opponents of the nuclear deal with Iran failed to garner the 60 votes necessary to end debate and move to a final vote on a resolution disapproving of the deal. The vote means that, for now, no bill to disapprove of the Iran deal will make it to the President’s desk, let alone amass enough support to override a veto. There is now no doubt that the biggest diplomatic achievement of the millennium thus far is about to be implemented.
Nearly two years ago, when the interim agreement or the JPOA was signed, many believed that its chances of success were slim to none. Few believed that Iran would be willing to make the concessions necessary to assure the world community that it would not seek a nuclear weapon, and perhaps fewer believed that Congress would go along with the agreement if one were reached.
Indeed throughout negotiations, Congressional opponents of diplomacy were at times only a handful of Democratic votes away from derailing the entire process by passing new sanctions on Iran. In tandem with sanctions, political stunts became a core tactic of the opposition. Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) circumvented the White House and invited Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress just weeks before the Israeli election. Days later, Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) sent a letter with 46 other Senate Republicans to the leaders of Iran saying they shouldn’t trust our government to stand by this agreement. Luckily, lawmakers and citizens alike ultimately saw these stunts for what they were: egregious attempts to pull America into another protracted war in the Middle East.
Last week, it became clear that the deal had enough support in the Senate to sustain a presidential veto of any resolution of disapproval. On Tuesday, the total number of Senators supporting the agreement hit 42. But even then, it was unclear whether all 42 Senators would vote against cloture in order to keep the disapproval resolution off of Obama’s desk. Had Obama been forced to veto the resolution, the world would have questioned America’s commitment to stand by this agreement and any diplomatic agreement it negotiates in the future.
Tuesday night, House Republicans huddled together at Tortilla Coast, a popular restaurant on Capitol Hill, and called an audible, opting for the political equivalent of a Hail Mary pass. The Republican plan had been for both houses of Congress to pass resolutions of disapproval to demonstrate that a majority of both houses were against the deal. Instead, House Republicans said they would hold three votes: a resolution of approval (to put Democrats on record in support of the agreement and demonstrate that a majority of Congress was opposed), a resolution expressing a sense of the House that President Obama had failed to hand over the entirety of the agreement (referring to the a separate parallel confidential agreement between the IAEA and Iran), and finally a resolution revoking Obama’s authority to waive sanctions on Iran (obviously a deal breaker).
The resolution of approval failed as expected, but 162 Democrats, well over the 146 needed to sustain a veto should it have come to that, voted to approve the nuclear deal. Only 25 Democrats in the House voted against approval.
The resolution arguing that Obama failed to deliver the entirety of the agreement to Congress passed in an entirely partisan vote (245-186), but without Senate passage and a veto-proof majority in both Houses, the resolution will never become law. Likewise the resolution to prevent Obama from waiving sanctions on Iran passed the House 269 to 162. This bill has the same dim prospects of being enacted.
Next week, the House will return to the original plan and vote on a purely symbolic resolution of disapproval, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will hold another vote to try to end debate and move on to a resolution of disapproval, but there’s no reason to believe that any Senator will vote differently than this week.
One bill that does still have a chance of undermining the deal was first floated by Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), who was the third Senate Democrat to announce his opposition to the deal. The bill as he initially proposed it would give Israel bunker buster bombs (MOPs), and would pave the way for more sanctions on Iran. The stated purpose of the bill is to strengthen the agreement, but the real purpose is to undermine it. Cardin hopes to convince enough moderate Democrats who backed the deal that his bill is a way for them to still look tough on Iran.
The point is, no matter what Republicans or hawkish Democrats try to do now, there isn’t a snowball’s chance in hell that they will block the Iran deal from moving forward. As we’ve come to expect, that won’t stop them from trying. Even after the deal is implemented, they are likely to wage a losing legal battle against the Obama administration for (according to them) failing to present Congress with the full agreement. They are likely to make their opposition to the Iran Deal their signature foreign policy platform throughout the 2016 election cycle. And should a Republican somehow find their way to the presidency, they will likely be on the lookout for any excuse to walk away from the agreement. As many political commentators have noted, the Iran Deal will likely become the next Obamacare, with Republicans trying to undermine and obstruct it at every turn, but that doesn’t change the fact that yesterday, they lost and the peace movement won.
This deal will go down in history as one of the most significant foreign policy achievements of our time. A majority of political battles taken on by the peace movement are about stopping something terrible: ending the Iraq war, or preventing airstrikes in Syria. While this political battle was about preventing war with Iran, it was also about promoting something good. It was about promoting diplomacy as a means of conflict resolution. Peace is not some utopian dream in which everything is perfect. According to peace activist C.T. Lawrence Butler, “If war is the violent resolution of conflict, then peace is not the absence of conflict, but rather, the ability to resolve conflict without violence.”
The success of this deal reminds us that we have that ability. Just as war begets war, diplomacy begets diplomacy. Since the deal was announced, doorways to diplomatic resolutions to the conflicts haunting the Middle East have been unlocked. With the deals implementation now assured, the peace movement has the momentum to thrust open those doors and make diplomacy rather than war the gold standard of our foreign policy. That is our next mission.