Will Obama’s deal with Iran bind our next president?

A reader wonders whether, assuming that President Obama does not submit his nuclear deal with Iran to the Senate for ratification, the deal would bind our next president. In my opinion, it would not.

The administration apparently does not intend to submit the deal to Congress. Secretary of State Kerry justifies this decision on the theory that the president has the inherent authority to execute foreign policy.

If so, the next president has the same inherent authority and can exercise it by reversing course. Only a ratified treaty would legally constrain the next president, in my view.

Rick Perry, who conceivably could be our next president, agrees with me. In a video obtained by the Weekly Standard, Perry stated:

If President Obama signs an agreement that the Congress cannot support, our next president should not be bound by it. An arms control agreement that excludes our Congress, damages our security, and endangers our allies has to be reconsidered by any future president. We must not allow the incompetence of one administration to damage our country’s security for years and decades to come.

Presumably, Iran understands that, absent Senate ratification, the next U.S. president could disregard the deal. But this reality is probably not of great concern to the mullahs for two reasons.

First, the deal would, at a minimum, buy Iran nearly two years to revive its economy without having seriously to hinder its nuclear program. That’s worth plenty to the mullahs.

Second, even if the next U.S. president decided to abandon the deal, what would his or her options be? The main option would be to reinstate sanctions. However, it’s unlikely that an effective sanctions regime could be revived because it’s unlikely that other major powers would cast the agreement aside. Without international cooperation, sanctions are unlikely to have a great impact.

Given a choice between an ineffective sanctions regime and whatever inspections Obama’s deal permits, the next president may be reluctant to void Obama’s deal. In any event, the mullahs probably don’t fear a U.S. attempt to reimpose sanctions two years from now.

As for a military strike, the next president would almost surely not undertake one absent a clear and major breach of Obama’s agreement by Iran. Even then, it’s likely that the U.S. would seek to resolve the breach through talks, rather than through military action.

If, however, the next president decided to take military action in response to a breach by Iran, he or she probably would not declare Obama’s agreement invalid. Instead, the president would rely on the breach.

Barack Obama used to talk about “the fierce urgency of now.” As he works fervently, and often unlawfully, to impose his will and narrow his successor’s options, I finally understand what he means.

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