Why is Booker Parroting Trump on Iran?

Cory Booker (Michael F. Hiatt via Shutterstock)

by Ryan Costello

Nine out of ten Democrats on the debate stage last night announced that they favor returning to the Iran nuclear deal, which should be commended. Trump’s efforts to kill the deal just brought the United States to the edge of a disastrous war. After staying in the deal for little benefit for over a year, Iran has begun to fray the edges of the nuclear accord. Moreover, the administration’s strategy is likely to get more extreme as National Security Advisor John Bolton and other hawks search for a pretext to enact their plans for war.

Which is why it was so strange that Cory Booker refused to raise his hand and commit to returning to the nuclear deal. With Trump eroding American credibility by the day, getting back into the nuclear deal would help save the United States from the unmitigated disaster of Trump’s approach.

In explaining his position, Booker said

We need to renegotiate and get back into a deal, but I’m not going to have a primary platform to say unilaterally I’m going to rejoin that deal… I am going to do the best I can to secure this country and that region and make sure that if I have an opportunity to leverage a better deal I’m going to do it.

Perhaps Booker is simply keeping his options open to avoid boxing himself in. Or, less generously, perhaps he has been swayed by his donors. Regardless, the Trump administration is currently trying to “leverage a better deal” as a result of its maximum pressure policy, and it is failing miserably because Trump’s approach has reduced U.S. leverage.

There is no reason to believe that Iran, merely by the force of Booker’s presence and a few better advisors, will suddenly submit to similar demands that Trump is making now after weathering the maximum pressure storm. The United States is now the isolated party due to its unilateral decision to exit the nuclear deal and impose sanctions on allies that helped negotiate the agreement. Continuing Trump’s approach of maintaining sanctions on these allies despite all they have done to maintain the accord would deeply shake their faith in the new administration. Moreover, the United States must overcome Trump’s damage to moderates in Iran who staked their political future on engagement with the West. To convince Iran of the merits of future negotiations, a future president would need to show that, contra the claims of Iranian hardliners, the United States is once again committed to upholding its international obligations, including on sanctions relief.

If someone new enters the White House in January 2021, this president will have to contend with an incredibly short political timeline. Iran holds critical presidential elections in May or June 2021, meaning that Iran is unlikely to engage in substantive negotiations under a lame-duck Rouhani administration. Rather than hold firm and risk the election of a hardliner opposed to any accommodation with the West, a future president should immediately take steps to bring the United States into compliance with the accord.

Given the profound damage Trump is doing to U.S. credibility, swinging for the fences on Iran in the opening months of a successor administration—as Booker suggests—is almost certain to end in a damaging strikeout with the game on the line.

Booker’s comments aside, however, the Democrats as a whole need to do a far better job talking about Iran and the nuclear deal. The agreement was a landmark multilateral achievement that resulted in the farthest-reaching nonproliferation restrictions ever negotiated. Iran won’t get a nuclear weapon, and the United States won’t launch a disastrous war over Iran’s nuclear program, so long as it is upheld. Republicans have been slandering it for years, not because it was a bad deal, but because their party didn’t negotiate it. When Democrats, like Amy Klobuchar, buy into their bad-faith critiques by arguing that the deal is “imperfect,” they do profound damage to their own cause.

It’s time for Democrats to own Obama’s accomplishments with Iran. Their party rolled back Iran’s nuclear program and took the United States off the path to war. Trump has put the country back on the warpath. And, just like the Paris Climate Accord, the Democrats should make clear that they are going to rejoin the Iran nuclear deal, whether the Republicans like it or not.

Ryan Costello is policy director of the National Iranian American Council. Follow him on Twitter @RN_Costello.

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  1. Only candidate who can be trusted at this time is Tulsi Gabbard. Booker along with others are in Neocons and AIPAC’s lap.

  2. What makes Cory Booker assume that the US can simply traipse back into the deal at all, willy-nilly, and without paying a cost? The JCPOA was a treaty as defined by Art 1(a) of the Vienna Convention (regardless of its characterization under domestic US law as only a political commitment) That clause states clearly: “”Treaty” means an international agreement concluded between States in written form and governed by international law, whether embodied in a single instrument or in two or more related instruments and whatever its particular designation”
    (note “whatever its particular designation” so what it is called is irrelevant, and note there is no requirement for signatures or other formalities)

    Under international law, a nation may withdraw from a treaty either in conformity with the provisions of the treaty itself —if it permits withdrawal—or with the consent of all parties. Even when an agreement does not contain an express withdrawal clause, international law still permits withdrawal if there is an implied right to do so in the text of the agreement. In those cases, under the Vienna Convention the withdrawing party must give 12 months’ notice of its intent to depart from the agreement. The JCPOA has no withdrawal clause nor have all the parties consented to withdrawal, so the US withdrawal was in violation of intl law, esp since there was no 12-month notice nor was there an implied right of withdrawal in the treaty anyway.

    The US therefore has breached the JCPOA. You don’t get to re-sign up for treaties after you breach them.

    Some say that since the agreement involved only “voluntary measures” then it was not a treaty, in which case Iran too is free to cease implementing the JCPOA and the US would have nothing to say about it. Yet the Trump administration is now demanding that Iran continue observing the restrictions in the same agreement that the US has withdrawn from

  3. @ “The agreement was a landmark multilateral achievement that resulted in the farthest-reaching nonproliferation restrictions ever negotiated.”

    No. The agreement was an exercise in avoiding the fact that Iran had neither nuclear weapons nor ambition to obtain them and avoiding calling Bibi Netanyahu a liar for claiming otherwise. The agreement was founded on Obama’s dishonest concealment of the fact that the agreement was unnecessary and his political cowardice in dealing with the real issue; the Israel’s right-wing government wanted the U.S. to declare war against Iran for a fictitious reason.

  4. The agreement will be long dead before any of these candidates has a chance to join back. EU has folded, Instex appears to be just a figment, Russia and China are fair weather friends. Iran’s only choices are to make a deal with the devil or rush towards a nuclear breakout even if it leads to a war. Trump believes that air superiority will accomplish his objectives. Can Iran take a pounding and still produce a nuclear weapon? I don’t know, let Khamenei lose sleep over it since he brought Iran to this situation.

  5. They put the Ayatollahs in power, so they would love to have them around for a lot longer. They don’t care about the human rights situation in Iran, they created the human rights situation. Democrats have a lot to answer for.

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