The president’s congressional victory on the nuclear agreement with Iran had many sources, not least of which were the nature and tactics of the opposition. It might have been more difficult to achieve if the Republicans as well as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his allied American group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), had given any sense that they had thoughtfully considered the deal that six nations reached with Iran, or if they had offered any alternative. But the agreement with Iran collided with the current state of American politics.
Once the nuclear deal was presented to Congress in July, there was little question that it would fall into the deep crevasse that had developed between the two political parties. Ever since Barack Obama took office in 2009, the Republicans have opposed everything he wanted to do. In keeping with this strategy, within days of the deal’s being announced, numerous Republicans, without bothering to read the agreement or consider it seriously, jumped to oppose it.
The debate on the deal throughout was only ostensibly on its merits. The Republicans’ contempt for Obama—as a Democrat, as a black person, as, in the view of many of them, an illegitimate president—was clear to any close observer. For the first time in US history, the opposition party thumbed its nose at the president by inviting the head of another nation—Netanyahu—to address Congress to urge rejection of an international measure the president supported. When Secretary of State John Kerry, a former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, appeared before it to testify on the agreement, he was greeted with overt contempt by its Republican members. The current chairman, Bob Corker of Tennessee, told him, “You’ve been fleeced.”
The fight in Congress over the Iran deal will go down as one of the major foreign policy struggles in this country’s history. Legislative fights involving grave issues of the security of this nation are supposedly conducted on a higher level than more typical legislation. But never before in memory was the vitriol so strong as it was in this one. To the extent that this didn’t stem from disrespect for the president, its cause was largely that Iran infuriates politicians more than perhaps any other nation except North Korea. Every time an ayatollah says “Death to the Great Satan,” numerous Republicans get very agitated and want to take action—of some sort.
A great deal of money went into the struggle over the agreement. The lead in opposing it was taken by AIPAC, which aligns itself on Israel’s security matters with the Likud party and its leader, Netanyahu. (When the more peace-minded Yitzahk Rabin was prime minister, his relationship with AIPAC was rocky.) Until this fight AIPAC was seen as a fearsome organization with the muscle and money to almost always get its way with Congress. AIPAC and its allies have been reported to have spent as…
This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Try two months of unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 a month.
Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our complete 55+ year archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 a month.