It is not often that I feel compelled to defend President Obama. But in this case I will. The recent nuclear deal with Iran reveals that he is not a poor negotiator but rather an excellent one.
The President has been mocked for his negotiation skills throughout his tenure by the Left and the Right — from people ranging from Paul Krugman to Bob Woodward to Donald Trump. And interestingly the reasons both sides give for their assessment are as similar as they are contrary.
To the Left, Obama is simply too good to be good negotiator. He’s no mere politician, after all. He’s an ideologue! Too filled with idealism, too pure, too above the taint of politics to be talented at negotiation.
The Atlantic for example wrote in its 2011 piece, Why Obama is So Bad at Negotiations that, “The truth is, that while the president’s idealism has made him a very poor negotiator, it is what attracted me and I suspect many others to him in the first place. His lack of cynicism and belief that we could tackle our problems together as one nation was unique, beautiful and stunning in our modern political system.”
Similarly, the Right argues that Obama is a poor negotiator because, again, he is an ideologue. As GOP presidential candidate Carly Fiorina said on a recent appearance on Hannity “[Obama] has spent a lifetime in politics and ideology. That’s it. That’s his life. If you have no experience in negotiating you don’t negotiate very well. If you have no experience in problem-solving you don’t solve problems very well. If you have no experience in compromising you don’t compromise very well. What’s he good at? Giving a speech and sticking to his ideology.”
This perception of Obama as a poor negotiator has been tested by the recently announced Iranian nuclear deal. The Left has begrudgingly given the deal its approval because a) it’s Obama; b) use of force should almost never be on the table; c) the status quo was too hard to maintain; d) we’re not that fond of Israel anyway; and e) it’s Obama.
However, the deal — to the Right, and to many of our allies — is, as Prime Minister Netanyahu stated, an “historic mistake,” and has brought their criticisms of Obama’s negotiation talents to the forefront.
As details of the deal are released, it is easy to understand the Right’s position. Iran was able to extract from our negotiations more than even they could have predicted. Iran not only gets to keep its nuclear infrastructure, it gets to improve upon them, as nuclear research and development programs continue unhindered. It will be receive billions — as much as $300 to $400 billion, according to the Heritage Foundation — in unfrozen assets and additional oil revenue. The arms embargoes against it will be removed after five years and ballistic missile limits will be lifted after eight. In return Iran has to concede nothing — not even its ties and sponsorship of terrorist groups, not its threat to eliminate Israel, not even a single American hostage. One would think for $400 billion dollars Iran could have let at least one American go home to his family, but no.
But is the Iranian nuclear deal emblematic of Obama’s inability to negotiate a deal favorable to the United States and its position as the world’s superpower? This presumes that it was Obama’s intention, and when has that ever been evident?
Certainly not at the United Nations in April of 2010 when the President complained that the United States remains a dominant military superpower “whether we like it or not.” Nor was it evident when the President complained to the same UN that “no one nation can or should try to dominate another nation.”
Much of the negative reaction to the Iranian nuclear deal also presumes that Obama had a desire to prevent a Mullah-ruled Iran from ascending. Again, when has this ever been evident?
In 2009, during the time of Iran’s so-called Green Revolution, when much of the West was hoping to seize the opportunity to aid in the overthrow of the Mullahs, our President seized the opportunity to write a secret letter to the Ayatollah Khamenei, calling “for an improvement in relations” between the two nations, and to seek “a resolution of the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program.”
Furthermore, when had Obama showed any desire to maintain the sanctions against Iran? It was Obama, in fact, who stood in opposition to the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2013, which would have imposed new sanctions against Iran, even though two of its sponsors (Menendez and Schumer) are Democrats. It was also the President who defended Iran’s right to a peaceful nuclear program around this time. And it was the President, who as a candidate, legitimized the Mullah’s governance over Iran by signaling a willingness to met with them without any preconditions, a move Hillary Clinton at the time falsely characterized as dangerously naive. It wasn’t from naïveté that Obama took this position and the others. It was from a reflection of his very pro-Iranian worldview.
If President Obama was a poor negotiator, how then has he been able to outnegotiate the GOP and Congress at every turn? This Iranian deal is no exception. Obama has already promised to veto any resolution threatening to hinder the deal, and he is in a great position to have such a veto hold, as he has skillfully outmaneuvered Congress, which had sought input into the negotiations with Iran, into passing the Corker-Menendez bill, which limits their ability to do so. As Mark Levin explained, because of Corker-Menendez, “Now we need a supermajority to override the president rather than a supermajority where the president needs approval for a treaty.”
In other words, President Obama does not need 67 votes to uphold the Iran deal. Thanks the Corker-Menendez, he only needs 34.
Poor negotiator, indeed.