Iran Deal Critics Undermine American Leadership

NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 11:  U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks about the Iran Deal on August 11, 2015 in New York City.
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 11: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks about the Iran Deal on August 11, 2015 in New York City. The U.S. Congress has until September 17 to approve a bill either supporting or rejecting the deal. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

America's allies must be shaking their heads as they watch some members of Congress trying to kill the Vienna Agreement that prevents Iran from building a nuclear weapon. For nearly a decade, we've been working with our British, French and German allies to verifiably prevent Iran from achieving that objective through a combination of tough economic sanctions and smart diplomatic engagement. And last month, working together with all of the permanent members of the UN Security Council, we got that deal.

If Congress blocks the Vienna Agreement, it will be a gross betrayal of our closest allies, it will do lasting damage to America's global leadership, and it will clear the path for Iran to advance towards a weapon.

It is worth thinking back to 2008 when, burdened by the go-it-alone, my-way-or-the-highway approach of the Bush Administration, America's international reputation had suffered tremendously. From the ill-conceived and internationally unpopular invasion of Iraq to repeatedly snubbing the world on climate change, there was a lot of rebuilding to do. At the same time, Iran's nuclear program was unconstrained, largely due to a vacuum of leadership to confront it. Dealing with this threat effectively required a return to America's traditional role of international leadership.

President Obama first offered an open hand to Iran. When that was slapped back, as was expected, the administration began the slow work of building an international coalition to pressure Iran into giving up its nuclear ambitions. Backed by congressional action, for years America cajoled, pressured and pushed major economies like the UK, Germany, France, India, South Korea and Japan to cut their trade with Iran, particularly in oil. We then pressed other global powers like Russia and China to do the same -- one of the few areas where we've had success with Russia. Countries which previously had a serious financial stake in trade with Iran were convinced to break it off. With a united coalition of nations, large and small, arrayed against Iran, the story of American leadership was changing as Iran began to show real signs of desperation at their isolation from the world economy. This unified pressure brought Iran back to the negotiating table in earnest.

Talks began tentatively and secretly in 2012 and from the start it was clear how essential our leadership had been to putting us in a position of strength. Talks would eventually include the five permanent members of the UN security council, guarantors of the post-World War Two international order that America created, joined by Germany -- the so-called P5+1. Years of meetings, from the lowest level functionary to phone calls between presidents and prime ministers and all-night negotiation sessions with the Iranians finally culminated in last month's Vienna Agreement. We signed it, Iran signed it, and our allies signed it, too. The U.N. Security Council has now endorsed it, validating America's return to global leadership while achieving our core national security objective of blocking an Iranian bomb.

After all that work and cooperation, political capital spent, and sacrifice from some of our closest friends -- at our insistence -- if we just walked away from a good deal due to congressional politics, it would be devastating to American credibility. America -- including the Congress -- made this happen and we are an indispensable part of its success. Killing the deal will be a direct repudiation of our leadership role in the 21st century.

This reality extends beyond our immediate negotiating partners as well. This past week, the Gulf Cooperation Council which includes Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates, joined Egypt in fully endorsing the deal. And many former leaders of the Israeli national security establishment support the deal as well. Far from viewing the deal as a threat, these regional partners see the negotiated outcome as a critical step toward blocking the possibility of an arms race in the Middle East, one which would bring permanent instability to the region.

Walking away from the Vienna Agreement would undermine American global leadership and reduce our power at a time when we have finally recovered from the failed and costly strategies of the post-9/11 era. And it would block our ability to diplomatically prevent an Iranian bomb.

The very real benefits of the Iran deal demonstrate leadership that is dramatically more effective than the go-it-alone approach that so harmed both America's reputation and effectiveness. It puts our priorities in the right order: diplomacy when we can, force only when we must.

This piece originally appeared in The Hill's Congress Blog.