Screw The Popularity Contest: 5 Reasons Obama Is Being Bold With Iran
If you believe the United States needs to be more aggressive in its dealings with Iran, you are among the majority of Americans, according to a Fox News Poll directed by both Democratic and Republican research organizations.
Democratic and Republican Congressmen alike have aligned themselves against President Obama's willingness to negotiate a nuclear deal with Iran.
In an effort to appease their constituents, politicians in the House and Senate have listened, and responded, to what they believe the public wants.
Why hasn't President Obama done the same, and taken a hardline response to Iran over its nuclear weapons supply? Some individuals have said it's because he isn't facing re-election, so he's more willing to take risks.
Others have argued he has an illustrious history of making unpopular choices, as reflected by his executive order on immigration and healthcare proposals.
Obama does have a history of shirking what many people say is the popular thing to do.
But in this instance, when the proliferation and possible deployment of nuclear weapons are plausible consequences of a wrong decision, why would he take such a risk? It doesn't seem logical, unless further probing is done.
There are several reasons for the president's seemingly baffling decision, making it evident his behavior is not so confounding after all:
1. President Obama is focused on more than just a nuclear deal.
A nuclear deal is only part of the battle. Obama wants to put Iran on a path to involvement and positive engagement with the rest of the world.
His speech to Iranians during Iran's New Year tells us he envisions an Iran that will trade with the rest of the world and become economically viable.
For him, this isn't just a battle over weapons, but an ideological one in which a victory could result in an Iran that is less hostile to the West.
Theoretically, this could inspire cooperation from a strategically-located, Shiite nation in efforts against Sunni extremism, ISIS and the war in Syria. It would also make President Obama look triumphant, and serve as part of his legacy as president.
This kind of cooperation is certainly desirable. But is it feasible? The president seems to think so in his decisive, long-term vision for the nuclear state.
2. Americans are more concerned about ISIS than Iran.
Iran and the US share an interest in opposing ISIS. With Iran as a potential asset against the terror organization, Obama may be looking at the bigger picture.
In a 2014 survey conducted by Shibley Telhami on behalf of the Brookings Institute, “Seventy percent of Americans polled identify ISIS as the biggest threat facing the United States in the Middle East” compared to only 12 [percent] concerned about “Iranian behavior.”
With that said, Obama has to tread carefully. In spite of the presence of Iran-backed militias in both Iraq and Syria, CIA Director John Brennan cautions against considering the nation an “ally to the US” against ISIS.
3. Some polls indicate support for negotiation with Iran.
The Program for Public Consultation and the University of Maryland collaborated on a poll of 710 Americans, which ultimately found that 61 percent of those surveyed would support “an agreement that would limit Iran's enrichment capacity… impose additional inspections” and lift some sanctions in exchange for cooperation.
This type of deal, analogous to the one Obama is proposing, indicates that many Americans do find Obama's argument for negotiation convincing.
At the same time, the picture isn't entirely clear. Regardless, Obama is intent on ultimately engaging the American public on the matter. He has stated his goal is to first see if he can establish a deal with Iran, then attempt to garner the support of Americans.
4. Obama wants to show strength and resolve.
President Obama has faced a great deal of vitriol from Republican senators, as well as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, for his stance. This may have made him only more resolute.
Obama called Senator Tom Cotton's letter challenging his decision “ironic," and argued that the Republicans who signed the letter were allying themselves with Iranian “hard-liners.” He met the firm language of the Senators with firm language of his own.
Senior White House officials have also learned that Israel may have spied on the US during negotiations about Iran.
Israel has denied the validity of this claim, but if true, it alludes to the possibility that Israel took US secrets and “played them back to US legislators to undermine US diplomacy,” according to a senior US official.
If this really happened, the credibility of the case Israel is trying to build in the US against Iran, and the argument of US legislators potentially informed by Israel, is undermined.
Israel's willingness to spy and leverage information to manipulate American foreign policy doesn't paint its Prime Minister in the best light as he battles against the president.
5. The White House sees diplomacy as a viable option preferable to inciting further conflict with Iran.
Some people think diplomacy is a feasible option, citing what they consider historic evidence. In 2013, Iran did reach an interim nuclear agreement with the P5+1 (the six countries negotiating with it).
Iranian nuclear facilities have become more accessible, with two of them subject to daily inspection and one subject to monthly check-ins.
As a long-term agreement is negotiated, Obama may see sanctions as a credible way to hold Iran responsible for its actions. He also likely trusts the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to verify Iran's commitment to its promises.
A recent article in The Washington Post reflects Obama's idea that new sanctions would be a setback in convincing Iran to overcome “isolation and [engage] with the world.”
Obama sees diplomacy as something worth trying, and considers it his responsibility to make conditions ripe for diplomacy to succeed.
His belief in the willingness of Iran to respond to diplomatic requests, and the ability of the IAEA to enforce the terms of any negotiation, however, may prove overly optimistic.
According to the head of the IAEA, as of now, Iran has not provided “the information or access needed to allay the agency's concerns about the weapons potential of the country's nuclear program.”
By taking a seemingly unpopular path, the president subjects himself to political turmoil at home. He also risks tarnishing his image, and his foreign policy, should Iran prove resistant to the terms of any agreement. There is a great deal at stake here.
Only time will tell whether or not it's prudent to trust a country like Iran in diplomatic negotiations.
Still, it's understandable that the president prefers to attempt diplomacy in lieu of aggression, considering the potential violence and turmoil that could result.
But if this is the route he commits to, he still has a painful road ahead.
Citations: Israel Spied on Iran Nuclear Talks With US (The Wall Street Journal), Give diplomacy with Iran a chance (The Washington Post), Iran isnt providing needed access or information nuclear watchdog says (The Washington Post), Iran nuclear talks a historic opportunity says Obama in YouTube appeal (The Guardian), Linking Iran and ISIS How American Public Opinion Shapes the Obama Administrations Approach to the Nuclear Talks (Brookings), Fox News Polls ISIS Iran Obama vetoes (Fox News), Obama Iranian official slam GOP letter on deal (CNN), Iran sends troops into Iraq to aid fight against Isis militants (The Guardian), Iran reportedly sends missiles to Iraq to help battle ISIS (New York Post), CIA Director John Brennan I wouldnt consider Iran an ally in the fight against ISIS (Business Insider), Iran Nuclear Deal Backed by Large Majority of Americans Fifty one Percent See Netanyahu Speech to Congress as Inappropriate (Program for Public Consultation ), Sen Cotton Responds to Obamas Jibe About Iran Letter There Are Nothing But Hardliners in Iran (CNS News), On Iran Obama Is Ignoring Public Opinion at His Own Peril (National Journal)