WASHINGTON -- Hillary Rodham Clinton, former US first lady, senator from New York and secretary of state, outlined her policy on Iran and its nuclear program on Wednesday in a quiet setting: A think tank full of her peers. She knew the names of several journalists and scholars in the audience. She spoke softly, chalking her tone up to allergies— "Republican histamines are everywhere," she joked.
Contrast that with the spectacle that unfolded outside the United States Capitol, attracting thousands of opponents of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the formal name for the nuclear accord reached this summer with Iran in Vienna. Tea Party conservative protesters here want the deal scrapped entirely— an implausible scenario, now that Congress has returned from its summer recess with 42 senators publicly supporting it.
Nevertheless, the candidates they support for president in 2016 have vowed to "tear up" the agreement or "police the hell" out of it— killing it, in one way or another. Not a single Republican presidential contender has said he would work to uphold the agreement.
They understand their constituency: According to a Pew Research poll released on Tuesday, only 6 percent of Republicans approve of the agreement, while 78 percent oppose. Meanwhile, only 42 percent of Democrats approve of the deal. Overall, American support for the agreement is at a mere 21 percent.
Amid the speechifying across Washington, and as the House Foreign Affairs Committee convened another hearing on the nuclear agreement, over 1,000 activists with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee descended on Congress once again to pressure members to oppose the deal. Blocks away from the National Mall, under the shade of trees on the Senate side of the Capitol, hundreds of rabbis organized by the Orthodox Union gathered to join them in a last-ditch effort.
The deal is certain to survive efforts to thwart it in Congress. US President Barack Obama needs only 34 senators to uphold a veto of a resolution of disapproval, which may not even reach a vote if 41 of the 42 senators in favor of the deal choose to filibuster the debate.
"The single most important issue in 2016 will be preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon," Cruz said, calling the deal "catastrophic" and "the single greatest national security threat facing America."
With passage of the deal, Cruz charged, "the Obama administration will become, quite literally, the world's leading financier of radical Islamic terrorism."
Remarks by Republican presidential contender Donald Trump were short, unscripted, and largely focused on Israel, referring to calls from Iran earlier in the day to disappear the Zionist state within 25 years.
"Israel will not survive," he said, with America's existing, "incompetent leadership."
Noting his history of brokering successful business deals, Trump told the crowd: "You're going to have so much winning." He did not elaborate.
Signs in the rally were antagonistic not only to the Obama administration, but to Republican leadership, tying the Senate and House majority leaders to the failure to stop the deal in Congress. In reference to the Black Lives Matter movement sweeping the country, which is focused on police practices in black communities, one sign read: "Jewish Lives Matter."
In her policy speech earlier in the day, Clinton, who initiated cautious and quiet diplomacy with Iran during her sunset years at the State Department, said her policy toward the Iran deal would be "yes, and"— not a ringing endorsement of the deal, but an acceptance of the reality she would enter as president of the United States.
"I support it as part of a larger strategy toward Iran," she said. "We've got to start looking ahead to what comes next: Enforcing the deal, deterring Iran and its proxies, and strengthening our allies."
She described her approach to a post-JCPOA world in terms of five pillars, outlining specific goals she had for degrading Tehran's proxies, particularly Hezbollah and Hamas. The political and military wings of Hezbollah must be treated as one by the European Union, she said; And US allies in the region must be pressured to collaborate in efforts to halt shipments of weapons to both terrorist organizations.
Israel, she said, will have full access to the most advanced American offensive and defensive military technologies: Missile defense programs and munitions for the country's North and South, fighter jet deliveries, and a broadened, expedited ten-year security package were all policies she said she enthusiastically supports.
She also proposed encouraging countries such as Oman and Iraq to begin policing its airspace against illicit Iranian weapons shipments to Yemen, Syria and Lebanon.
No less than three times during her event at the Brookings Institution, Clinton expressed her respect for those with "genuine" concerns regarding the deal. She praised her former colleague, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, who opposes the JCPOA. And she said that Israel's concerns were legitimate, given the minute "margin for error" the state has with respect to protecting itself.
But she also said the deal would improve, not endanger, Israel's security.
"I say that with humility," she said. "I'm not Israeli. I don't know what its like to live under constant threat from your neighbors in a country where the margin for error is so thin. I know that my saying this deal makes you safer won't alleviate the very real fears of the Israeli people."
Despite years of "honest" disagreements, Clinton said she would work to return the US-Israel relationship back to a time when policy arguments were aired in private. Tough love on Israel is counterproductive, she argued, as it gives license to those seeking to delegitimize the state.
"The most important thing we can do to keep Iran from cheating, or trying to wait us out, is to shape Iranian expectations right from the start," Clinton said. "The Iranians and the world need to understand that we will act decisively if we need to."
"So here's my message to Iran's leaders," she continued: "The United States will never allow you to acquire a nuclear weapon. As president, I will take whatever actions are necessary to protect the United States and our allies. I will not hesitate to take military action if Iran attempts to obtain a nuclear weapon. And I will set up my successor to be able to credibly take the same pledge."
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