Image 01 Image 03

What will happen if Congress says No to Iran Deal?

What will happen if Congress says No to Iran Deal?

Status Quo better than a bad deal, fearmongering be damned.

With each passing day, it looks more certain that Obama will get his way on Iran.

The Republicans in Congress will not persuade enough of their blue colleagues to defy Obama. Not that this comes as a surprise. The President has run circles around Republicans for as long as anyone can remember. Why should now be any different?

But even Obama’s luck can run out eventually. A report suggests that a senior French diplomat is having second thoughts; there are whispers that other European leaders may be seeing the light. We can wistfully ponder the possibilities Congress might open up if, by some miracle, that light reaches its Democratic precincts.

As it were, the sensible alternative to no deal is actually not war, but no deal. Full stop.

John Kerry may hold forth that no deal spells war. But what he really means is that only those who want war could possibly oppose him. It’s a primitive scare-tactic.

Comparing reasoned misgivings to Iraq-style war-mongering is intellectual laziness and gaudy propaganda. Even a “progressive” senator who is backing the deal called it imperfect.

The Obama-Kerry team drums up fear of Iraq to shield their “achievement” from proper scrutiny. Indeed, the deal so favors Iran that even The New York Times, which usually hastens to Obama’s rescue in a most Pavlovian fashion, couldn’t hide that the President abandoned most of his “demands.”

If the deal falls, the sky won’t: there was no war before the deal and there won’t be without it. If Congress says no, then status quo sanctions will simply remain in place—Obama be damned—while we wait for Iran to come sulking back to negotiate, probably with a less accommodating president.

It’s not unthinkable that Congress could even ratchet up harsher sanctions, and that Obama would have no choice but to bite his tongue and sign them, lest he come off a sore loser. Though the President has sprung like lightning to disassemble the P5+1 coalition, Congress still holds the glittering prize.

Iran desperately wants to be reconnected to the West’s international banking network, and wants its $150 billion assets that remain frozen in banks throughout the world. Congress can deny it this, even if America’s international partners ease up a bit. The US Congress is still the 800 pound gorilla in the world financial system.

And as Bret Stephens explained a month ago in The Wall Street Journal, there is still more financial leverage to be had:

“Then again, serious sanctions were only imposed on Iran in November 2011. They cut the country’s oil exports by half, shut off its banking system from the rest of the world, sent the rial into free fall and caused the inflation rate to soar to 60%. By October 2013 Iran was six months away from a severe balance-of-payments crisis, according to estimates by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. And that was only the first turn of the economic screw: Iran’s permitted oil exports could have been cut further; additional sanctions could have been imposed on the “charitable” foundations controlled by Iran’s political, military and clerical elite. Instead of turning the screw, Mr. Obama relieved the pressure the next month by signing on to the interim agreement now in force.”

Iran didn’t come to the table because it sought some kind of detente; it negotiated because for all its religious bluster, the Great Satan’s economic clout proved too much for it. Iran came around once, and it will come around again; it would be suicidal to make a mad dash for the bomb and let the economy unravel at the seams. Iran is steered by confident, patient, and calculating men; they saw, along with everyone else, how all the nukes in the world couldn’t save the Soviet Union from its inferior economic model.

What’s more, political dynamic is critical in assessing the efficacy of sanctions. If the Iranian people stood a hundred percent with their government, then Iran could weather much colder isolation. But the Khamenei regime is enfeebled and unpopular; public discontent simmers beneath the surface. Under the right conditions, it might burst forth.

The West has crippled the Iranian economy; but the pain must persist long enough to excite social and political unrest. Inflation will spiral out of control, food prices will rise, and GDP growth will grind to a halt; suppressing populist anger will be a full-time job. The regime must fear for its throne.

There is only one way to get a good deal out of Iran: to make it pick. It can have a nuclear weapon or a Mullah rule, but not both. When push comes to shove, it will grit its teeth and dismantle its nuclear program. It will have no choice.


It wants a nuclear weapon to achieve regional hegemony; it doesn’t want an endless cat-and-mouse sanctions game with the IAEA. A nuclear weapon will do its ambitions no good if its people can’t afford to buy bread or pay their rent. Sadly this will embitter and immiserate the Iranian people, but only in the short-term; over the long haul, the fall of their theocratic dictatorship is surely in their interests.

With the current deal though, Iran knows that it can have it all: it can part with just enough centrifuges to get the West off its back, but not enough to really gut its program; the West can inspect intrusively, but not so intrusively as to expose the inner secrets.

An atomic weapon is the royal flush of geopolitics. Iran is a country of 75 million Shiite Muslims, and in vicious demographic decline. It is surrounded by 500 million Sunni Muslims who distrust it and are swelling in numbers.

But Iran’s society and civilization are uniquely sturdy amidst a sea of drowning Arab nation-states. There is a window of opportunity, and the rising sun beckons for Persian ascendancy. It would be strategically incompetent for Iran not to seek a nuclear weapon. That is why a few rounds of sanctions will not be enough to deter it; only sustained sanctions that pose an existential threat to the regime will make it rethink its political calculus.

It is doubtful that Barack Obama can get a better deal in the short time he has left. If his signature foreign policy achievement is defanged by Congress, surely he won’t just concede defeat. He will huff and puff and work to implement it as much as he can. But Congress can ride him out, and we can all wait for a better negotiator to try again.


Jared Samilow is an undergraduate at Brown University. 


Donations tax deductible
to the full extent allowed by law.


Pure theater.

    Estragon in reply to platypus. | August 9, 2015 at 5:45 pm

    Yes, with the UN sanctions off, our own have little meaning since we haven’t done business with Iran since 1979.

    But even beating the deal isn’t enough. Obama can still release the estimate $100 billion in pre-mullah Iranian assets frozen in US banks unless Congress stops him – and like beating the deal, it will take overriding his veto to do.

    Democrats won’t be able to hide from these votes, though.

      walker in reply to Estragon. | August 9, 2015 at 6:48 pm

      The US sanctions certainly matter: The most important one is banking. So long as we keep our sanctions in place, anyone doing business with Iran is going to have to be very careful where the money is routed.

      And if Congress manages to override 0bama’s veto and keep the sanctions in place, chances are good that the whole deal will collapse and the UN sanctions will stay in place.

Not A Member of Any Organized Political | August 9, 2015 at 1:51 pm

They’ll have to put Barry and Kerry in those white rubber suits with the extra long sleeves.

What is, barry will genuflect before the nearest mullah and kerry will return to the Mekong Delta, for $1000.00 Alex?

Masochistic Democrats to Iran: “Beat me! Beat me! Make me feel cheap!”

Like most words that pass through the lips of Obama, his constant cries that “the only alternative to this deal is war!” are complete and utter bullshit.

The best alternative is to continue the sanctions that have been crippling the Mullahs for years. And to continue the arms embargoes that have prevented them from attaining ICBM and advanced SAM and Anti-Ship missile technologies.

You know, the same sanctions that had the Mullahs on the ropes and ready to topple had Obama given even verbal support to the Green Movement when he had the chance.

But of course, Obama’s failure to support the Green Movement told the world all it needed to know about where his loyalties lie. Obama is truly Valerie Jarrett’s little bitch.

    Ragspierre in reply to Paul. | August 9, 2015 at 3:14 pm

    All true, but I’d add one more thing…

    I can’t name a dictator that Barracula has not either embraced or ignored, including Assad (despite some verbage), and excepting G’Daffy, who was Hellary’s project. He LOVES him some Castro, and he loved Chavez.

    Conversely, I can’t think of a democratic ALLY of the US he has not hosed.

      Estragon in reply to Ragspierre. | August 9, 2015 at 5:48 pm

      We have measurably WORSE relations with every single country in the world than when Obama took office – with the sole exceptions of Cuba and Iran, because Obama gave away the store to buy some temporary toleration from those dictatorial regimes.

      Not A Member of Any Organized Political in reply to Ragspierre. | August 10, 2015 at 3:20 pm

      I think Obama’s got some weird, perverted “Daddy” obsession…he must fantasize at night about…..

I hate seeing people rant about demographic decline. A few short years ago Iran had an extremely lopsided bias towards the young. Huge numbers of young people coming to age relative to the numbers of old people. All that’s happened is a) they didn’t die in yet another war, yet, and b) they didn’t impoverish themselves by having unlimited kids, yet.

    Ragspierre in reply to JBourque. | August 9, 2015 at 8:49 pm


    They’re below replace now. Like Russia, Japan and several EU nations.

    Unlimited, indeed.

Subotai Bahadur | August 9, 2015 at 3:40 pm

I sense optimism here. It is not warranted. Many of the sanctions are under the control of the president. He can lift those and simply refuse to enforce the remainder like he has refused to enforce any law he disagrees with for his entire term. And he can just ignore any Iranian nuke progress until it hits the US or Israel. Then he will celebrate. And he will do it all with impunity.

The Republican leadership is already planning to surrender on the coming budget, allowing increased domestic spending and higher taxes. They are willing to take that massive hit and infuriate their voter base yet again over that to avoid the dreaded “government shutdown”.

They have already publicly prioritized “no government shutdown” over everything else, this far out. That is pre-emptive surrender, and tells the Democrats to pile on and the Republicans that there will be no resistance.

If they are willing to do that, they are not going to fight over the Iran treaty. Especially after they deliberately made it impossible for themselves to fight with the Corker bill. They will not fight over anything.

    Jared Samilow in reply to Subotai Bahadur. | August 9, 2015 at 3:58 pm

    I think you might be too pessimistic. There is certainly executive discretion, but I don’t think the President can bring down the entire sanctions edifice if Congress gets that 2/3 override.

    Estragon in reply to Subotai Bahadur. | August 9, 2015 at 5:50 pm

    What sanctions?

    The UN sanctions are going, we have no control over that now. US sanctions are meaningless – we don’t do business with Iran.

    Obama can use executive authority to release their frozen assets. That could be stopped, but once again needs 2/3 in both House and Senate to override the veto. 290 in the House, 67 in the Senate = Democrats needed.

    Especially after they deliberately made it impossible for themselves to fight with the Corker bill.

    That is simply not true. Repeating it won’t make it true.

Sammy Finkelman | August 9, 2015 at 4:26 pm

The question is, first of alr, what does Iran do if Congress overrides a veto?

A) Iran could declare the deal void. In which case the sanctions remain.

Obama seems to claim that what will happen then is that the sanctions will wither away; Iran will kick out the inspectors it now has; Iran will not go back to the table; alternatives to military action will be exhausted; and there will be some form of war – not tomorrow, not in three months from “but soon” – meaning he himself will issue the orders to bomb Iran.

But, he claims, that won’t set Iran’s nuclear program back as much as this deal would. He seems not to consider the possibility that Iran would go back to the table after bombed. Or the possibility of repeated bombing. And this was actually the policy toward Iraq between 1991 and 2003. Sanctions and bombing. And Obama’s position is that that worked.


B) Iran could abide by the deal even without the U.S. lifting all sanctions. It’s not like the deal requires much U.S. participation.

If that were to happen, we would have all the benefits of the deal, whatever they might be, and simultaneously, all the benefits of not having the deal!

    Hi Sammy: I read one of the posts from a few days ago and there were 50 comments – you wrote 31 of them. Think you can refrain from this habit of writing one email after another? Perhaps you ought to consider getting a blog to satisfy this urge. Reminds me of an old saying: “When all was said and done he was still talking.”