The November election will be decided on abortion, guns, and democracy. Anyone concerned about an imaginary crisis at the border or considers inflation is the number one issue is watching Fox News and is beyond persuasion.
For many of us, antisemitism will also be an issue. The most dangerous form of antisemitism is government-sponsored antisemitism. Only the Republican Party is running candidates for statewide office who engage in and condone antisemitism. Only the Republican Party refuses to condemn antisemitism within its ranks. Only the Republican Party twice nominated an antisemite for president.
So why am I talking about Iran? Well, call me old-fashioned, but I think we should be concerned about the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran. In nearly all districts, it will rank as a low voting priority. But it's important, and we need to understand what is at stake.
Pretending that both sides of an argument have equal merit is a nice rhetorical trick to create the illusion of balance, but if the U.S. returns to the JCPOA, Congress will have to vote for or against. In attempting to present “both sides,” we should not give equal weight to unequal positions.
Two Israeli security experts analyzed every option--sanctions, covert action and sabotage, regime change, a regional security architecture with Gulf and other Arab states, and military action--and concluded that returning to the JCPOA is the best option. The choice, they write, "is not between the old deal and a putative better one, but between the old deal and none at all, meaning no realistic means of slowing Iran’s steady march towards an operational nuclear capability." This is the article to read if you still have doubts.
Thanks to Donald Trump's geopolitical genius, the U.S. withdrew from the original deal while Iran was still in compliance, and if we return to the JCPOA, the sunset provisions will not be extended by the period we were out of the deal. The same deal will be the same deal, but the knowledge Iran gained while both sides were out of compliance cannot be erased, so even under the same conditions, Iran's breakout time will be pushed back to six months, not one year (experts say that six months is sufficient).
The choice is not between the deal as it will be or the deal as it once was–the choice is between the deal as it will be or no deal at all; between some restrictions that ease over time or no restrictions right now; between a breakout time measured in months or a breakout time measured in days--in other words, between reentering the JCPOA or the status quo.
This is a black and white issue: The vote in Congress will be up or down on the rejoining the JCPOA. There will be no option to vote “maybe,” no shades of gray. That’s why political organizations that care about this issue will take positions for or against.
Supporters of returning to the JCPOA do not claim that the JCPOA will end Iran's malign activities, turn Iran into an ally, or allow the U.S. to turn to other matters. Some gains Iran has made since Trump left the deal are irreversible. In some respects, Iran will be worse off under this deal than if Trump had not withdrawn because while the sunsets remain the same and thus are closer with the passage of time, Iran was subject to three years of sanctions it would not have been subject to had Trump stayed in the deal--and Iran will not be compensated for that lost revenue. In addition, the Biden administration will probably keep about a third of the new sanctions that Trump imposed.
Attacks from Iran-backed groups increased 400% since Trump left the deal. That’s not a reason to stay out of the deal–it’s proof that “maximum sanctions” did not work and a reason to get back in: Would we rather these malign activities be conducted under an Iranian nuclear umbrella?
Many restrictions imposed on Iran under the JCPOA will last more than ten years and some, including robust inspections, are permanent. President Biden is not making concessions to Iran, and the U.S. deemed Iran's latest response as "not constructive." We will not reenter the deal at all costs. But if we can, we should. Last week, I explained why returning to the JCPOA is smart policy.
Supporting return to the JCPOA is also smart politics. Recent polling shows that Americans are more likely to support members of Congress who prioritize diplomacy. Jewish voters support reentering the JCPOA 68% to 32%, similar to the more than 2-1 margin by which Jewish members of Congress supported the original deal in 2015.
No members of Congress who supported the Iran Deal in 2015 lost in 2016. We've seen this year that AIPAC is loath to oppose incumbents. The only incumbent they've opposed in this cycle is Rep. Andy Levin (D-MI), and he was challenged by another incumbent, Rep. Haley Stevens (D-MI), who would have won if AIPAC hadn't spent a dime.
Most recently, Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) campaigned on his support for the 2015 Iran Deal and easily defeated Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), who voted against the 2105 deal, in the most heavily Jewish district in the country. As Laura Adkins wrote, Nadler's decision to support the Iran Deal gave "him the edge he needed to defeat a fellow incumbent."
Anti-JCPOA activists will make noise and create headaches for many members of Congress. Fundraisers will be canceled and threats will be made. But few voters will change their minds about who to vote for and to the extent anyone outside our bubble pays attention, it will inure to the advantage of those who support the JCPOA.
AIPAC's talking points are updated versions of talking points that were debunked in 2015 and proven false while the deal was in effect. No Democrat who supports the deal will lose because they support the deal or pay any political price other than aggravation in the moment (which for some could be significant). A former Obama administration official recently advised that “AIPAC should remember that making the same mistake and expecting a different outcome is the definition of insanity before they once again waste $30 million on this losing endeavor.”
Opponents of reentering the JCPOA will run the same playbook they ran in 2015: Attack it by asking one seemingly reasonable question after another, some that cannot be answered with certainty, some laced with false assumption, and others that will stick in the public's mind even if they later prove irrelevant. The goal is to plant doubt by flooding the zone with details that will cause us to lose sight of the bigger picture.
For example, similar to the original JCPOA, Iran will get sanctions relief on a compliance-for-compliance basis--contrary to false assertions, sanctions relief will not be frontloaded.
In 2015, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), whose penchant for lying was well-documented, falsely claimed that Iran would get $150 billion in sanctions relief, and the anti-Iran Deal crowd ran with it. In fact, we gave Iran access to its own money. It was not a payment from the U.S., and the amount of sanctions relief came to about $50 billion (the $1.7 billion additional payment we sometimes hear about was to settle unrelated litigation with Iran, and that payment saved U.S. taxpayers money).
Once again, opponents of JCPOA are exaggerating the amount of sanctions relief and are not taking into account that Iran will have to use some of the relief to pay down debt and rebuild its economy. But this time around they aren't even pretending to have any basis for their false claims. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says the amount of sanctions relief will be $750 billion over ten years. But why stop there? Why not claim $1 trillion?
You don't have to ask--this congressional letter went there (the letter is rife with misleading statements: The administration has been saying for months that Congress will have a chance to review any deal and vote it down, and the $1 trillion figure cannot be taken seriously). The good news is that only 34 Democrats signed the letter, and as the truth about the JCPOA emerges, many of them will support the deal (and would not have signed if the letter opposed returning to the JCPOA instead of expressing concerns and asking questions--no harm in asking, right?).
In recent years, we've seen little correlation between sanctions and the amount Iran spends on terrorism. To the extent Iran engages in non-nuclear malign activities, we will still have the economic and military tools available to us today--with the advantage of not facing the imminent likelihood of a nuclear-armed Iran.
Russia will see little economic benefit from the lifting of non-nuclear sanctions against Iran, in part because Iran and Russia are mainly economic competitors, and the effect of sanctions on Russia will not be diminished. Moreover, any Iranian bank or company that tried to help Russia violate sanctions would be sanctioned. Returning to the JCPOA would not prevent the strict enforcement of sanctions targeting Russia. “Iran can try to help Russia evade sanctions without the JCPOA or with the JCPOA. And we’ll obviously look for ways to frustrate that regardless,” according to a senior Biden administration official.
But no matter what the question and no matter what the answer, two follow-up questions are essential: 1) If you don't like the answer will you oppose the deal? and 2) If you will oppose the deal, what do you suggest instead, given that Iran is weeks away from breakout, sanctions have not deterred their progress, and military action can at best delay Iran's quest for nuclear weapons for one to three years? What level of sanctions relief would cause you to conclude that you'd rather live in a world where certain sanctions were kept in place and Iran had nuclear weapons as opposed to a world where Iran had more money but no nuclear weapons? The inability of opponents of the JCPOA to coherently answer those questions is why Congress did not block it in 2015 and won't block it now.
Last week's newsletter.
ICYMI. Read or watch President Biden's speech on the continued battle for the soul of the nation--one of the most important presidential speeches of the 21st century. Then ask your friends at AIPAC to read or watch it before they explain why they have not yet rescinded their endorsements of 109 MAGA insurrectionists.
Tweets of the Week. Joe Biden and Mark Leuchter.
Twitter Threads of the Week. Jack Raines and Nicholas Miller.
Video Clip of the Week. Chelsea Pope.
Upcoming Events. Politics with Dana and Steve, the #1 Jewish political advocacy group in the Chicago area, is co-hosting Illinois congressional candidate Eric Sorenson on Sunday, September 18 at 4:00 pm in Highland Park (outside). Our co-host for this event is Advocates for Change. The event is free, but contributions are encouraged. RSVP here.
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