Obama’s search for a legacy
Back as far as his initial run for the White House in 2008, US President Barack Obama has been telegraphing his intent to welcome Iran back into the family of nations — and, if possible, with as few preconditions as he could get away with.
His obsession with the issue is something of a mystery. It is true that Valerie Jarrett, his closest presidential adviser and the widely acknowledged power behind the president, was born to American parents living in Shiraz, Iran. As a political crony of Obama’s going back to his Chicago days, she may have influenced his thinking on the matter but it obviously goes deeper than that. More than anything else Obama’s desire to be seen as the global peacemaker who helps lift Iran up out of its status as an international pariah is part of his search for a legacy, something with which every occupant of the Oval Office has been concerned.
Obama surely knows his legacy will be defined primarily by his being the first black American to be elected president of the United States. Psychologically this must be very limiting as it has nothing to do with anything he did during his eight years in office. In a way his contribution to history was labelled the moment he took office, making everything that followed something of an anticlimax.
Bringing Iran in out of the cold, something no president has been able to do in the nearly 35 years since the shah was overthrown and the Islamic leadership took power, would burnish his reputation considerably. The problem, and this is frankly a global concern, is that he doesn’t seem to care much how he does it.
This has led Obama to make several significant political mistakes, the least of which was to telegraph repeatedly how much he and US Secretary of State John Kerry wanted a deal. This gave the Iranians more power in the negotiations than they deserved, allowing them to virtually dictate the terms of any deal by threatening to walk away.
That process has not stopped, by the way. The Iranian parliament is demanding that it too have a say in the agreement, meaning that whatever is finally approved in Tehran may bear little resemblance to what the members of the P5+1 think is the deal on paper.
The US Congress is also concerned, and justifiably, that not enough has been done to prevent Iran from joining the ranks of the nations that possess the capability of fielding nuclear weapons. Most Republicans, and perhaps many Democrats as well, say Tehran’s track record as a state sponsor of terrorism makes it a poor fit for the global nuclear club and that every effort should be made to keep it from obtaining membership.
The agreement does little in that regard, which is why it faces an uphill battle on Capitol Hill. The president did not do himself any favours by sending the agreement to the UN Security Council for its approval before Congress was able to act.
This was, frankly, an insult to the American national legislature, a body that has been quite specific regarding what it believes are its own prerogatives regarding the agreement.
The question ultimately is not whether Congress will cast a vote of disapproval but whether that disapproval will be strong enough in both the House of Representatives and the Senate to override a presidential veto.
In the end it is likely Obama will once again get his way but only by putting further strain on the traditional checks and balances that influence the operations of the US government at the highest and most significant levels. And, as many policymakers and influencers throughout the country are saying, without doing anything to enhance safeguards for US interests in the Middle East.