Although Obama and Corker naturally discussed their misaligned views of the agreement, White House spokesperson Josh Earnest pointedly told reporters that the conversation did not constitute a debate or negotiation on the terms of the deal. This is to say that it was essentially perceived by the president as an opportunity to try to sell the deal or chip away at congressional opposition to it.
There is little to no evidence that this effort is making any headway with congressional Republicans. But although Democrats are largely in favor of the review act and skeptical about the emerging agreement, they are also not keen to push forward with legislation over the strident objections of the leader of their party. Thus, Politico reports that some congressional Democrats are making efforts to scale back certain provisions of the review act in hopes of making it more palatable to the Obama administration.
These proposed changes include reducing or even eliminating the 60 day review period that the bill in its current form would grant during which Obama would be unable to suspend economic sanctions previously passed by the US Congress. The administration fears that this provision would make implementation of a final agreement with Iran extremely difficult. And indeed Iran has been adamant that it expects all sanctions to be removed immediately upon conclusion of a deal, even going so far as to contradict the American fact sheet by claiming that last week’s framework agreement provides for this outcome.
Certain Democrats are also proposing to remove the provision of the review act that would require Iran to avoid sponsorship of anti-American terrorist groups in order to keep the nuclear agreement in force. The Obama administration has explained that this is beyond the scope of negotiations that are narrowly focused on preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. The president does not believe that such an agreement can possibly depend on broad-based changes to the Iranian regime, such as the end of its long-standing support for terrorism.
Indeed, many analysts and commentators expect that far beyond simply continuing its current sponsorship of terrorism, Tehran will actually expand that financing and support once it gains access to new wealth as a result of the sanctions relief promised by a nuclear agreement. An editorial in PJ Media even suggests that CIA Director John Brennan, who spoke in favor of the nuclear agreement on Tuesday at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, understands that regional Islamic extremist groups will see a boost from Iran if a final deal is concluded by June 30.
The article quotes Brennan as saying that Iran’s general behavior is unlikely to change, and also that US-led economic sanctions against the regime had crippled the nation’s economy and forced Iran to the negotiating table. Taken together, these two remarks suggest that the US relinquished successful restraints on Iran’s economy without creating any assurances that those restrains would not be utilized to empower Iran’s destabilizing and dangerous activities in the region and across the globe.
This sentiment was expressed more straightforwardly by former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Schultz in an editorial for the Wall Street Journal. The two former statesmen criticized the Obama administration for operating without a strategic doctrine in the region and for essentially empowering Iran to further pursue regional hegemony in the midst of a sectarian war in which it already has the upper hand.
“Until clarity on an American strategic political concept is reached,” the article stated, “the projected nuclear agreement will reinforce, not resolve, the world’s challenges in the region. Rather than enabling American disengagement from the Middle East, the nuclear framework is more likely to necessitate deepening involvement there—on complex new terms.”
The likelihood of renewed American involvement in the sectarian conflicts in the Middle East is likely becoming more difficult for the Obama administration to deny. And the connection between this and the potential empowerment of Iran is obvious to the administration’s critics. Fox News points out that the crisis in Yemen is increasingly in danger of turning into an all-out proxy war between the US and Iran.
Iran has dispatched a naval destroyer to the coast of Yemen, claiming that this is an anti-piracy measure. But Iran’s support for the Houthi rebels that recently took power in that country is well-known, and the naval maneuver is widely understood to be a response to Saudi-led bombing campaigns against the Houthi and in favor of ousted President Abd Rabu Mansour Hadi. The direct Iranian intervention is an escalation on Iran’s financing and logistical support.
Meanwhile, the Arab coalition on the other side of the conflict stands to be newly empowered by an increase in weapons shipments from the US, effectively putting America on one side of that conflict at a time when Obama appears concerned about impeding the diplomatic process with Iran.
The US will likely have a more difficult time of opposing Iran in another theater of proxy war, but it may eventually be forced to do so. An analysis posted by The Tower on Wednesday notes that Iran-backed Shiite militias remain a strong presence in Iraq after the conquest of Tikrit, and that this actually makes the job of retaking Mosul even more difficult for Iraqi forces because of the strong Sunni presence there.
During the siege of Tikrit, the US held back air-support for fear of empowering Shiite militias, but ultimately conducted bombings anyway. Some militias withdrew in protest, but this too took on the appearance of mere bluster when those same forces returned to the fighting within days. The Tower argues that continued empowerment of such militias will adversely affect the conflict, potentially moving it toward stalemate, and that if Iraqi forces are to win back Mosul and surrounding territory from ISIL, they will have to rely on coalition building with both Shiites and Sunnis.
If the US is to help Baghdad accomplish such a transformation of the current Iraqi fighting force, it will be necessary to counteract Tehran as the driving force behind Iraq’s reliance on Shiite militias and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force.