Professional Capitol Hill watchers still can’t accurately handicap the fate of Senate Resolution 1881, the Kirk-Menendez-Schumer bill designed to torpedo negotiations with Iran. But Tuesday was a very good day for those opposing it.
First of all, California Democrat Dianne Feinstein gave an eloquent speech on the floor of the Senate, whose centerpiece was a personal and historical overview of how nations can and frequently do change their policies and orientations, how Iran gives every indication of being on the cusp of such changes, and how Kirk-Menendez-Schumer would “play into the hands of those in Iran who are most eager to see diplomacy fail.” She referenced Germany and Japan, Spain and Argentina, South Korea and Vietnam, all states whose nuclear programs have been modified or political orientation transformed. Her words were at once broad-reaching and personal, so unlike the tired and ritualistic AIPAC talking points regurgitated by the bill’s supporters. (Of course those inclined to quibble with Di-Fi could point out that we more or less flattened Germany and Japan, and then occupied them. Iran hawks think for some reason we can bomb, but not occupy.)
Secondly, five major “mainstream” newspapers editorialized against the bill: the New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, and Minneapolis Star Tribune. As a former newspaper editorial page editor, I know such endorsements are less than monumentally important, but when five of them line up together like that, it’s a good indication of where the mainstream consensus lies. (Note: The Washington Post ed page has long had a neoconservative bent, so the editorial may reflect the thinking of new owner Jeff Bezos.)
Thirdly, Jeffrey Goldberg wrote a very good “Iran Hawk” column against Kirk-Schumer-Menendez. I’m by no means a Goldberg fan, but readily acknowledge his influence and journalism ability. Here he points out what our AIPAC corner of legislators never manages to get its brains around: the current regime of sanctions in Iran has been effective because it has been international, and the United States, with great effort, managed to secure sanctions support from other nations as a way to get Iran to the negotiating table. That has been accomplished, but it certainly doesn’t mean the international community supports the Israeli (and Saudi) wish list of complete dismantlement off Iran’s nuclear energy program. Key Goldberg ‘graf:
The most dangerous consequence of these Senate sanctions would manifest itself in places such as Tokyo, Beijing, Seoul and New Delhi. In order to work, sanctions must have the support of the world’s main industrial powers. If countries such as China and India decide that the U.S. is making a concerted attempt to subvert negotiations, their enthusiasm for sanctions will wane dramatically.
These are but one day’s events over a long campaign. AIPAC may decide that trying to destroy the negotiations now through the Kirk-Menendez poison bill isn’t going to work, and will let quietly slip that it’s not putting out a full-fledged lobbying effort for the bill. I’m sure the group is uncomfortable with the level of attention it’s drawing. I believe that never in its history has AIPAC seen five major newspapers oppose one its favored pieces of legislation.
And don’t forget, negotiations are inherently difficult, and might fail anyway. Iran’s President Rouhani has his own hard-liners entrenched in the Iranian parliament, who take it as axiomatic that any negotiation with the Great Satan is bad for Iran (as it probably is bad for their political fortunes in Iran). But right now Senate support for the bill seems stalled in the high fifties, short of veto-proof, and well short of the 70 signatures which an AIPAC staffer once boasted could be rounded up within 24 hours. Tuesday was a good day.