Give Obama’s Iran deal the treaty treatment

Secretary of State John Kerry testifies before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Thursday.
Secretary of State John Kerry testifies before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Thursday. AP

Whether you support President Obama’s proposed nuclear deal with Iran, oppose it, or are withholding judgment until you read the fine print, surely there is one point on which everyone can agree. This proposal is clearly the most important foreign policy document of the post-Cold War era.

Even under the weight of severe economic sanctions in place for the last four years, Iran has emerged as the force to be reckoned with in the Middle East. It has been, for decades, the leading sponsor of terrorism on the planet and is now rivaling both Russia and China as the foremost threat to American security. For this reason President Obama has made rapprochement with the Islamic Republic of Iran his number one foreign policy priority and has resolved to delay if not deny its quest for a nuclear weapon. Surely a noble goal even if the means to achieve it are questionable.

Why then with a pending agreement of this global magnitude about to be laid before Congress and the American people are we considering an Executive Agreement and not a bona fide treaty?

The answer, not surprisingly, is political expediency. Treaties as defined in Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution are formal, binding contracts between nations. They are rigid in nature and once ratified remain in force long after presidents and members of Congress fade away. The best example of this may be the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty agreed to by Washington, London, and Moscow in 1969 and ratified by the Senate a year later.

Treaties then, though rarely put in play these days, are reserved only for those compacts between sovereign nations which are too important to be left to the ebbs and flows of political influence. That is why for a treaty to be ratified by the Senate, two thirds of the members (67) must give consent. Clearly the framers of the Constitution reserved this option for only the most serious of diplomatic covenants. And although they could not have known it at the time, surely limiting the spread of nuclear weapons would have met their high standard.

Under the legislative protocols spelled out in the proposed Executive Agreement with Iran it will only take one third (34) of the Senate to approve this deal, assuming a simple majority votes it down, the president then vetoes the bill, and it returns to the Senate to be overridden. This is a much easier and usually speedier path for the executive branch to trod than a formal treaty process. Had Woodrow Wilson been able to use an Executive Agreement to implement the Treaty of Versailles the USA would have joined the League of Nations in 1920 with international consequences we will never know. So from a practical point of view, the Obama administration was smart to circumvent the treaty process.

And yet is not the possibility of a nation which since 1979 has chanted “Death to America”, blown up our embassies, promised to annihilate Israel, and is still holding four of our citizens in prison, obtaining nuclear warheads and the missiles to launch them on, a situation which deserves a little more time than a 60-day review followed by a one-third approval vote in either body of Congress?

Since 1947 American politicians have been invoking the advice of Republican Senator Arthur Vandenberg who, in supporting the Truman doctrine, said “partisan politics must stop at the water’s edge.”

Shouldn’t the same standard apply to the nuclear precipice?

Grandy starred on “The Love Boat,” then was a Republican member of Congress from Iowa, then hosted a radio talk show. He lives in Charlotte.