Senator Corker and the Nuclear Agreement
Corker tries to cast a general aspersion on the negotiations by stating that “since negotiations began in earnest” all sorts of nasty things have happened in the region that involve Iran in some way: that Iran has “doubled down on its support of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad,” and “cemented Hezbollah as an expeditionary shock force” while lots of people have died in the Syrian civil war and ISIS has been doing bad things in Iraq. Nothing whatever is provided in the way of either evidence or reasoning that any of this has anything to do with either the negotiations or the agreement that emerged from them. Besides the absence of logic and evidence, this blurt contradicts Corker's use in the next paragraph of the now shop-worn theme that sanctions relief will give the Iranians “hundreds of billions of dollars”—a gross overestimate—to do those proverbially nefarious things in the region. If that theme were valid—i.e., that Iran's regional policy will be dictated by its available financial resources—then we should have seen a reduction in Iranian regional activity when the sanctions began to bite, and a further reduction when oil prices plunged. But Corker, in his effort to suggest that bad things happen whenever one negotiates with Iranians, is telling us that the opposite has occurred. In fact, if there is any pattern at all in Iranian regional activity over the last several years it is that the activity is reactive, with the Iranians responding to civil wars or the emergence of extremist mini-states or and any other events that affect Iranian interests.
Corker winds up by talking about “leverage” as if the more sanctions that are in place, the more leverage we have. That represents a fundamental misunderstanding, or misprepresentation, of leverage and where it comes from. Leverage comes from the ability and prospect to reward someone if they do as we want or to punish them if they were to act contrary to our wishes. The prospect of sanctions relief is what gave our side the leverage to induce Iran to agree to place its nuclear program under extraordinary restrictions. The prospect of reimposition of sanctions will be one of the incentives (though not the only one) for the Iranians to abide by their obligations in the agreement. Sanctions per se give us no leverage. The belief that sanctions will stay in place no matter what gives Iran no incentive to concede, to comply, or to do anything else in accordance with our wishes.
Bob Corker has an important role to play in Congressional oversight of implementation of the nuclear agreement, especially assuming continued Republican control of the Senate and thus continuation of Corker's chairmanship of the foreign relations committee. He can still play that role positively and constructively. He has been responsible enough and careful enough not to tie himself in the kind of constraining rhetorical knots that several of the presidential candidates have. Let us hope that he can discard the crummy arguments and, once the agreement is implemented, perform his oversight function vigorously. Meanwhile, his posture on the agreement is a demonstration of just how weak the arguments against it are.