Update – September 4, 2015, 10:02
I’ve always thought it was a matter of time — or should I say timing? — before Michael Bennet pledged to support the Iran nuclear deal.
As I put it in an earlier version of this column, it could happen at any moment. And it has.
The other day I joked-Tweeted that I had Bennet as the 38th Democratic senator to commit in my Iran-nuclear-deal pool. The 34th Democrat assured an Obama veto would hold and the agreement would stand. That was Barbara Mikulski, who’s safely retiring. The 41st – if they get that far – would give Democrats enough votes for a successful filibuster, meaning the bill wouldn’t even make it to the Senate floor and Mitch McConnell would have another very bad day.
I figured 38 was a relatively safe slot for Bennet, who was hoping to draw as little attention as possible to his vote. So, it looks like I have a winner. And Bennet? Well, that’s a tougher call. As he knows, it’s basically a lose-lose proposition politically no matter how he voted on this deal in a swing state like Colorado.
But I would have been shocked if Bennet hadn’t supported the plan — and not just because Gary Hart went rogue and leaked to the world that Bennet was leaning toward supporting it.
Here’s what I’ve known for months:
If Congress had rejected the agreement, it would have been a catastrophe, diplomatically, strategically, politically and in a dozen other ways. And even though Bennet is regularly assumed to be the most vulnerable Democratic Senate incumbent running in 2016 — and Republicans, if they ever get a legitimate candidate, would welcome this chance to frame Bennet as an Obama acolyte — he really had no choice.
Rejection would have meant a betrayal of America’s partners in the deal — Britain, Germany, Russia, China, France. They’re the same partners who stuck out their collective neck first to impose the tough sanctions that forced Iran to negotiate seriously and then to keep up the pressure to make them finish the deal. I’m no expert, but the experts I read have said there is no chance – as in none – that sanctions would be reimposed if the deal goes down. I’ll accept the words of Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar, the bipartisan ex-senators who are expert in all things nuclear. Writing in support of the agreement in Politico, they said that to think otherwise is to live “in a dream world.”
But more crucially and in a much worse dream, rejection would have meant a likely showdown with Iran — Iran pushing to create a weapon, America forced to drop bombs on the nuclear sites. The deal is meant to stop Iran from developing a bomb for 15 years. How many rounds of nuclear-site-bombing would that cover?
Yes, Iran will still be a sponsor of terror and, yes, it will have more money to put to bad use. But however many senators Bibi Netanyahu calls, the prospect of war doesn’t change. And neither does the fact that the people calling most forcefully to reject the agreement are dependably those who pushed hardest to go to war in Iraq. And if the agreement does, in fact, keep Iran from developing a bomb for 15 years, who wouldn’t take that chance?
I don’t trust the Iranians. Who would? But imagine if you’re the Iranians and you’re thinking the next president could be Donald “Kurds or Quds” Trump.
When the Bennet people kept saying the senator was “undecided,” it always sounded to me as if he’s only undecided about when to announce his position. Let’s just say there has been time to study the issue. In fact, there’s been enough time for Bennet, a smart guy, to study it and then write a thesis on it. And once the matter was basically decided, Bennet was stuck somewhere between supporting the deal or finding an explanation for how he ended up on the same side as those coming to town for the Cruz/Trump rally. Like I said, he didn’t really have a choice.
We’ve seen how easy it is for a senator to look unserious on Iran. Cory Gardner, you recall, was one of the Senate GOP’s Tehran 47 who sent that letter to the Iranian mullahs advising them that Republicans would undercut any deal Obama made with them. And that was before there was an agreement. Bennet at least gets to say he actually gave some thought to his position.
And the Democrats who have come late to the deal provided Bennet a path. You say the deal is “imperfect” or “flawed” or “deeply flawed,” but still better than no deal. In announcing his support, Cory Booker went for “deeply flawed.” Mark Warner went for “imperfect,” Heidi Heitkamp for “not perfect.”
Bennet went for “flawed,” said the deal was better than no deal and then took it another step and said he was introducing a bill with Ben Cardin (who will presumably be No. 39) to enhance Israel’s security. It was the best he could do. The vote was much too important for him to do anything else.
Photo credit: Mark Warner, Creative Commons, Flickr.