Obama’s Deal That Protects Iran’s Nuclear Program is a Treaty, and Congress Must Treat It Like One

This morning, the United Nations Security Council voted to approve the Iran deal.

The President of the United States of America has elected to bypass the American legislative process and secure commitment from the United Nations’ leadership council. The terms of the UNSC resolution give the United States 90 days to approve the deal and begin clearing the way to lift our sanctions on Iran.

Congress has not approved the deal, however. It has not even begun its debate about the deal. It would appear that the President has put the United States in some danger of violating a United Nations Security Council resolution. Why would he do that? He knows that there are concerns about the deal in Congress, as his initial statement about it contained a veto threat should his opponents resist. Moving to obtain a binding Security Council resolution before Congress could debate his deal shows contempt for what is, under the Constitution, a co-equal branch of the American Federal Government.

We must ask just what would happen if the Congress decides, in the course of doing its duty, that the deal is too dangerous to approve. They might well decide that, especially given the last-minute changes agreed to by the State Department that will allow Iran access to heavy weapons and ballistic missiles.

Andy McCarthy of the National Review has suggested that the inclusion of such extraordinary and hazardous provisions on the most dangerous weapons change the nature of the deal so profoundly that it must be debated, and voted upon, as a full-scale treaty under the Constitution’s Article II, Section Two. This seems correct.

The deal has changed into an agreement that will leave Iran an increased capacity to produce nuclear weapons and to erect a nuclear umbrella using modern Russian ballistic missiles. That needs to be considered carefully, and the United States should only embark upon such a path if we all agree that Iran is likely to be happily transformed by being given such power. Its history is not encouraging.

So, what happens if Congress in the performance of its duty turns down the White House?

So far, the administration’s spokesman has said that the President will use Congress’ refusal to give Iran everything “scot-free.” Iran will get access to money and sanctions relief in return for nothing, in other words, if Congress doesn’t submit to the President’s will. That is not necessary, of course. The President could recognize the legitimacy of the Senate’s Constitutional role of advising and consenting on international agreements of this depth. Yet his spokesman tells us that he will not.

Would the United Nations Security Council take steps to force the United States to comply with the deal? After all, there is now a binding resolution obliging us to act on sanctions relief within 90 days. The Security Council has expansive powers, including the powers to impose new sanctions – this time on the United States, not Iran! – and even to authorize military action.

While it is impossible to imagine any American President not wielding our veto power at the Security Council to block military action against the United States, we have to wonder if this particular President would act to block economic sanctions punishing Congress for not approving his deal. If that sounds harsh, consider that a very similar provision is at work in the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal that the Obama administration is negotiating. As has concerned many of the President’s own party, the TPP treaty appears to license international courts to economically punish Congress or American state legislatures for passing certain kinds of laws. The imposition of UN sanctions on America to force Congressional submission would only be another act of the same type.

It is clear that we are witnessing power politics at the highest level. We have gone beyond veto threats and debate. A great deal of force is being brought to bear to ensure that Iran receives its state of the art nuclear program, access to heavy weapons, and to ballistic missiles. Congress must think this through, and ask why it is so important that we run this risk.