WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama rallied supporters of the Iran nuclear deal in a conference call Thursday evening, urging them to make their voices heard in the effort to convince Congress to ratify the agreement.
According to participants in the call, the president warned listeners, which included members of a number of progressive and anti-proliferation organizations, that they were battling $20 million in ads intended to sway Congress against the deal.
White House organizers listed a number of groups whose supporters participated in the conference call, including Americans United for Change and MoveOn.org, and the Truman Project, although there were a number of other organizations participating, including J Street.
In the conversation, Obama repeatedly drew parallels between the current Congressional review of the Iran deal and the run-up to the highly unpopular US involvement in Iraq, saying “some of the same forces that got us into Iraq” were now actively campaigning to quash the controversial deal. Obama told listeners that one of his key goals as president, alongside nonproliferation, was to “end the war in Iraq but also to end the mindset that got us into the war.”
The president talked up the deal itself, arguing that “I am absolutely convinced that this is not just the best in a series of bad alternatives but actually a very good deal that we should be proud of and that achieves critical security objectives not just for the US but for our allies and the world, including Israel.”
But while Obama devoted time to the administration’s talking points, explaining why the deal was effective — and reinforcing his commitment to Israel’s security — his final message was more of a call to arms.
The president told activists to challenge those who oppose the deal by asking what they would have done better or differently, while casting doubt on the motivations of those leading the opposition to his landmark foreign-policy initiative.
“Every argument that has been put forth with this deal is inaccurate or presupposes that what we should be doing if we were to negotiate is to get a deal in which Iran forgoes any peaceful ability to get nuclear power,” Obama stated, saying that such a deal only existed “in dreams.
“There is no expert who suggests that Iran would have agreed to that,” he argued. “In the real world, this is a deal that gets the job done.
“What you have to say is that Iran would not do that, and the only way to do that effectively is if we were to go to war,” he added.
Obama warned that Congress might be swayed by the “20 million dollars of advertising paid for by lobbyists” — a monetary figure he repeated throughout the conversation. The figure is identical to the amount that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee was believed to be prepared to devote to its effort to oppose the deal during the period of Congressional review.
J Street recently said that it would up its budget in support of the deal, but the total amount represents less than 20% of AIPAC’s reported budget for opposing it.
Congress is expected to vote in September on either a resolution of approval or disapproval of the nuclear deal. Obama has vowed to veto any disapproval, and the White House must ensure that at least one-third of the members of one of the two Houses vote in favor of the deal in order to sustain a presidential veto.
Obama criticized “columnists and former administration officials that were responsible for us getting in the Iraq war and were making these same claims in 2002-2003 with respect to Iraq.”
The same theme was used repeatedly to rally listeners to action.
“You are going to see the same forces that got us into the Iraq war leading us away from an opportunity for a diplomatic solution,” Obama warned again.
He urged the participants to call members of Congress and make their support for the deal known, implying that right now the loudest voices being heard were those who oppose the deal. “One of the frustrations I’ve always had about the Iraq war is everybody got really loud and really active after it was too late,” he said.
Obama noted that, unlike in the run-up to the Iraq war, “the advantage is that now we have a president in the Oval Office who is on your side,” but added a warning: “As big as a bully pulpit as I have, it’s not enough.
“When you have a bunch of folks who are big check writers to political campaigns, and billionaires who give to super PACS… this opportunity could slip away,” he added.