Guest Opinions

Martin Schram: A nuclear idea even Washington can unite behind

Martin Schram
Martin Schram TNS

There is just one lens through which the undecideds, semi-decideds, wavering/quavering-decideds and the 24/7 punditocracy need to be viewing the Iran nuclear deal.

It is the only lens that will allow us to discover whether that internationally crafted, imperfect deal merits a yes or no vote.

(Frankly, it is mind-boggling that President Barack Obama and his sales team haven’t been imploring us to use this lens from the outset. It’s pathetic that Republicans were so eager to attack Obama’s deal before they read it or peeked through this lens to see the peril of their just-say-no ways. And it is sad that Israel’s hardline leaders and followers haven’t taken a clear-eyed look at the self-fulfilling destiny they were inviting.)

This lens enables us to see with our mind’s eye what would happen if Congress rejects the international Iran nuclear deal and somehow finds a way to make its rejection stick.

Look into the lens. Here’s what you'll see:

You'll see America’s European allies ending their tough sanctions on Iran (a get-tough era forged by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton). You'll see Europe’s capitals, one by one, rejecting Washington’s diplomatic pleas to renew those tough sanctions. You'll see U.S. allies in Europe, India and South Korea – and, of course, Russia and China — buying Iranian oil. And you'll see Iran cozier than ever with Russia in supporting Syria’s murderous regime.

Now zoom out a bit. You'll see the United States becoming more isolated than ever from its erstwhile European and Asian allies. That, too, heightens Israel’s global insecurity.

And you'll see what isn’t happening. Nuclear inspections of Iran’s nuclear sites aren’t happening. U.S. and international inspectors are officially blind to what’s going on inside Iran’s nuclear program. The deal’s monitored limitations on Iran’s bomb-building capabilities have vanished; Iran may acquire plutonium the deal banned and surely is enriching lots more weapons-grade uranium than the deal permitted.

If what you just saw through this lens about America’s isolation from its allies seems vaguely familiar, it’s because you actually saw it once before. Back on Sept. 3, you learned it from The New York Times, in an excellent and rare example of the sort of explanatory news reporting we don’t see much anymore. Correspondents Carl Hulse and David M. Herszenhorn told us what convinced skeptical Senate Democrats to back the Iran deal: Diplomats from Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia had bluntly told a group of Senate Democrats the deal was “the best they could expect” and said their countries won’t negotiate a new deal.

“They basically said unanimously this is as good a deal as you could get and we are moving ahead with it,” The Times quoted Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., as saying. “They were clear and strong that we will not join you in re-imposing sanctions.”

That convinced a number of Senate Democrats to agree to approve the deal. If those Democrats actually keep their promises, Republicans won’t be able to override an Obama veto.

The done deal will begin many provisions that are stronger than the world once expected: Iran must give up its effort to acquire plutonium nuclear fuel; Iran must accept strong limits on its weapons grade uranium production; United Nations inspectors can monitor Iran’s fuel cycle daily.

The deal has flaws: Iran can delay for 24 days U.N. inspections of any military facilities that aren’t designated nuclear program sites. Also, Iran can’t be prevented from using its new access to its old once-sanctioned money to finance new terrorist efforts.

On Wednesday, an otherwise beleaguered Hillary Clinton finally and forcefully declared her support of the nuclear deal she originally set in motion as secretary of state. She warned that Iran may try to cheat on the deal and said her approach is to “distrust and verify.” Clinton declared the United States, which has a new generation of powerful bunker-busting bombs, will never allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon. “I will not hesitate to take military action” to assure that, she vowed – and so will future presidents. “It’s permanent,” she said.

Clinton’s commitment should become more than just a partisan campaign speech. Republicans as well as Democrats should unite to assure her message becomes the basis of a powerful (but nonbinding) bipartisan congressional resolution.

Let Senate and House members rally behind it, even as they then go their separate ways in voting on the deal itself. Their bipartisan resolve can become a message heard ‘round the world, even as the long-awaited but also flawed Iran nuclear deal becomes a global reality.

Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive. Readers may send him email at