The two sides of the hearing effectively presented the diametrical opposition of most publicly stated views on the topic. While the Obama administration presented the deal as a definite check on Iran’s long-term progress toward a nuclear weapon, committee Chairman Bob Corker opined that the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism is now in a position to get an industrial nuclear capability. According to The Chattanoogan, Corker went further by suggesting that the deal actually represented a shift in US policy toward enabling this outcome, which Iran can only be pursuing for the sake of obtaining a nuclear weapon.
The Tower highlights Democratic Senator Chris Coons’ scrutiny at the hearing, which questioned the ability of the joint commission established by the deal to bring penalties against Iran in the event of cheating. Separate from the hearings, Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies also questioned the reality of the promised “snap-back” of sanctions, adding that even if this was attempted, it would absolve Iran from its commitments under the deal, returning the international community to square one.
Critics suggest that there is a lack of international will to verifiably maintain Iran’s commitments. And this contrasts with the understanding that mutual support among Iran and its current allies will remain undiminished.
Corker’s reference to Iran’s support for terrorism is relevant in light of the long experience of American-Iranian conflict. It is all the more relevant in terms of very recent Iranian policy initiatives and statements by its officials and its allies. Agence-France Presse reported on Friday that Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem declared that Iran’s support for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad would absolutely not waver in light of the nuclear deal with the West.
Muallem went on to say that the deal could actually end up strengthening Syria, as greater wealth and power for Tehran could lead directly to greater wealth and power for Damascus, which this month approved a new one billion dollar line of credit from the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Syria is widely considered a major perpetrator of state terrorism, especially in light of its use of chemical weapons against Syrian civilians and pro-democracy rebels. Furthermore, Iranian support for the fight against both moderate rebels and Islamic State militants involves the financing and deployment of militants with the contrary extremist ideology, including Hezbollah.
This ideological underpinning of Iran’s regional activities is a clear cause for criticism of the nuclear deal. In a speech on the nuclear deal, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei declared that antagonism between Iran and the US would not mitigate and that “US policies in Iran differ from Iran’s by 180 degrees.”
Secretary of State Kerry acknowledged the “disturbing” nature of these remarks this week, but downplayed them by saying that actually policy may differ from public statements. Kerry’s narrative also insists that the current nuclear deal is the only viable alternative to war.
But some critics of Obama administration policy see Iranian belligerence as justifying an alternative policy that directly confronts Iran’s tone but falls short of a rush to war. Foreign policy experts James Phillips, Luke Coffey, and Michaela Dodge presented just such an alternative in an essay for the Heritage Foundation.
It recommends that the US Congress block the existing deal and impose unilateral sanctions to prevent Iran’s military buildup, support for terrorism, and other illicit activities. It also highlights the importance of rebuilding relations with Middle Eastern allies that are united in opposition to Iran. But as a supplement to all of this it advocates keeping a credible military option on the table.
The National Council of Resistance of Iran released a statement on the nuclear deal advocating for a similarly confrontational stance toward Iran. But it played up the ability of Western policy to affect transformative change in Iran without directly involving American or European militaries. That is, the NCRI endorsed the Heritage Foundation’s recommendation for closer cooperation with Middle Eastern allies, but also emphasized the potential for empowerment of a vigorous domestic resistance to the continued rule of the authoritarian and anti-American regime.
Contradicting Kerry’s bi-polar narrative, these statements suggest that there are multiple alternatives. And this perspective was repeated in an editorial in Noozhawk which stated that there are in fact thousands of other policy choices. The article also suggested that these alternatives have a decent chance of success, provided that the American people put pressure on the US Congress to overturn the current deal.
Noozhawk indicates that some public polls show majority support for the deal but also suggest that this support is extremely soft. The article notes that the same Washington Post¬-ABC News poll finds that 56 percent of the American people support the deal given the Obama administration’s framing, but that 64 percent believe that it may not prevent Iran from obtaining highly enriched uranium – the essential point of the deal.
The article adds that a Pew Research poll shows much different results, with 38 percent approving and 48 percent disapproving of the deal and only 26 percent having any confidence that Iran will abide by its terms. Noozhawk argues that all this suggests the American people have a better understanding of Iran than does Secretary of State Kerry, and that with adequate efforts by opponents, they could be swayed to publicly express opposition to the nuclear deal.