Obama draws comparison between Iraq War, Iran vote
President Obama on Wednesday made a forceful case for congressional approval of his nuclear deal with Iran, arguing a vote on the agreement is the most consequential foreign policy decision for lawmakers since the Iraq War.
Obama, who ran for president in 2008 opposing the unpopular war, used a sweeping address to dismiss politicians who oppose the Iran deal as the same people who authorized the conflict in Iraq.
“Many of same people who argued for the war in Iraq are now making the case against the Iran nuclear deal,” Obama said in a 56-minute address from American University, a site chosen by the White House to draw comparisons to President John F. Kennedy.
In his toughest comments, Obama linked congressional Republicans opposed to the deal with Iranian hardliners who chant “death to America,” saying they are “making a common cause with the Republican caucus.”
The president’s rhetoric inflamed critics of the deal.
“President Obama’s speech today is just another example of his reliance on endless straw men to divert attention from his failed policies,” Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said in a joint statement.
“Those of us who have warned President Obama about his past mistakes are warning him again about the consequences of this deal with Iran,” they added.
The GOP in the House and Senate are almost uniformly against the Iran deal, which lifts sanctions on Iran in exchange for concessions on that country’s nuclear program.
Congress is expected to vote next month on a measure to kill the deal, and Obama is focused on building Democratic opposition to a resolution of disapproval.
In his speech, Obama made a play for the liberal wing of his party — both with his denunciation of Republicans and his comparison to the war with Iraq.
The president told members of Congress that derailing the agreement would set the nation on a path toward war.
“Let’s not mince words. The choice we face is ultimately between diplomacy or some form of war,” Obama added. “Maybe not tomorrow, maybe not three months from now, but soon.”
Obama drew parallels to the Kennedy’s 1963 speech from American University in which he called for negotiating with the Soviet Union in order to avoid war between two nuclear powers.
If Congress votes against the agreement, Obama said, it will not just forfeit the U.S.’s last chance to limit Iran’s nuclear program through peaceful means.
“We will have lost something more precious: America’s credibility as a leader of diplomacy,” he said. “America’s credibility is the anchor of the international system.”
The president’s speech is part of an intense lobbying campaign on both sides to sway lawmakers during their August recess.
The measure disapproving the Iran deal is expected to pass the House, but it is not clear whether it will survive a filibuster in the Senate.
If it does win 60 votes and clear the Senate, the question will be whether opponents can muster two-thirds majorities in each chamber to override a promised Obama veto.
While the White House has expressed confidence it has enough votes in the House to uphold a veto, Obama recently said he’s worried support from Democrats has become “squishy.”
During his speech, he pleaded with the public to contact their members of Congress to “remind them what we stand for.”
The White House picked up support from four key Democratic senators this week: Chris Murphy (Conn.), Tim Kaine (Va.), Bill Nelson (Fla.) and Barbara Boxer (Calif.) But a trio of Jewish Democrats in the House, Steve Israel (N.Y.), Nita Lowey (N.Y.) and Ted Deutch (Fla.) all rejected the deal.
Other key members, most notably Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), remain on the fence.
Obama admitted that, out from under the yoke of international sanctions, Iran could funnel more money toward terrorist groups such as Hamas and U.S. adversaries like Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
But he said if the deal falls apart, Iran could benefit from a decimated sanctions regime and could rush toward building a nuclear bomb, posing a much greater threat to the Middle East and the world.
“Walk away from this agreement, and you will get a better deal — for Iran,” he said, in one of just a handful of lines that drew applause.
Obama’s decision to invoke the Iraq War may irk some undecided Jewish lawmakers, who are under heavy pressure Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and some influential American Jewish groups to oppose the deal.
Several Jewish leaders confronted the president during a closed-door meeting Tuesday over his suggestion that opponents of the deal favor war with Iran, saying many Israelis feel that is an “incendiary charge,” according to one participant.
Obama said “no one can blame Israelis for having a deep skepticism about any dealings with the government like Iran’s,” which has called for Israel’s destruction.
“A nuclear armed Iran is far more dangerous to Israel, to America, and to the world than an Iran that benefits from sanctions relief,” he added.
The president said U.S. officials have held talks with Israel about a new 10-year security assistance program.
This story was updated at 2:18 p.m.