With the Obama administration on the verge of signing an unprecedented nuclear deal with Iran, former Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman says "the Constitution and history" argue that Congress should be able to review any agreement with a foreign power that affects national security.
In an opinion column for The Wall Street Journal
, Lieberman throws his support behind the bipartisan legislation proposed by Republican Sen. Bob Corker and Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez that would allow Congress to approve or reject an accord with the Islamic Republic.
"The White House has threatened a veto, arguing that a deal with Iran would be a 'nonbinding' executive agreement and therefore congressional review would represent an inappropriate intrusion," wrote Lieberman, the vice presidential nominee in 2000.
"Not so. The Constitution and history, not to mention common sense, argue that it is entirely proper for America’s elected representatives in Congress to review a far-reaching agreement with a foreign government of such national-security significance.
"The president as commander in chief deserves deference in devising national-security strategy, but Congress has clear constitutional standing and an institutional prerogative not to be cut out of the process."
The four-time Connecticut senator noted that in the Constitution there are "checks and balances" between the president and Congress in terms of foreign policy authority, specifically pointing to the selection of ambassadors and drawing up international treaties, which both need Senate agreement.
"The legislation now before the Senate, which may be taken up as early as next week, would allow Congress to assume its rightful role in a responsible, measured way," said Lieberman, the senior counsel at the law firm Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman.
"The Obama administration instead intends to treat an Iran deal like a status of forces agreement, known as a SOFA, which spells out rules for U.S. soldiers deployed in a foreign country. These are typically nonbinding executive agreements that do not involve a congressional vote.
"But the analogy is flawed. Unlike SOFAs, which tend to be administrative and technical in nature, a nuclear deal with Iran would represent a historic and highly controversial strategic commitment — precisely the kind of national decision in which congressional involvement is most warranted."
Lieberman went on to say that Congress should also be able to scrutinize an Iran agreement because of the direct role it has already played in creating the policies that a nuclear arrangement with the Middle East country would change.
"The essence of any deal would relieve the Iranians from (economic) sanctions in exchange for certain restrictions on their nuclear activities. The sanctions under negotiation, however, are overwhelmingly the creation of Congress — put in law through bills passed by large bipartisan majorities.
"Given that Congress built the sanctions against Iran, it is unreasonable to bar it from any review or oversight in how that architecture is disassembled."
Lieberman said that the country’s most successful leaders have recognized the need to win the support of Capitol Hill, or at least its acquiescence, for ambitious national security policies — like Cold War-era, U.S.-Soviet arms control agreements — to ensure the support of the American people and to make it more likely those initiatives will survive.
He added, "Congress has every right to review any agreement with Iran that the Obama administration reaches. The administration would benefit greatly if any deal it negotiates passes muster on Capitol Hill as well as in Tehran."
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