Sen. Joe Donnelly’s decision to support the U.S.-Iran nuclear treaty couldn’t have been an easy one. The Indiana senator was one of about a dozen Democrats whose votes are considered key to keeping the treaty on track. As a moderate Democrat in a conservative state, it might have been tempting to Donnelly to join his Republican counterpart, Dan Coats, in opposition.
But while Coats seems to have been against the treaty from the beginning, Donnelly’s carefully measured announcement of support Wednesday shows that he weighed both sides of this crucial argument before siding with the Obama administration.
Coats has expressed concerns about where the anti-nuclear proliferation deal would leave us after it runs out in 15 years. Donnelly, too, acknowledged the fear that Iran would then be ready to produce and use a bomb. But he grasps a point that those who would tear up the agreement ignore: The opportunity to halt Iran’s progress toward a bomb now carries the day.
"While I share the concerns expressed by the agreement’s critics about what may happen 10, 15 or 20 years from now," Donnelly said in his statement of support, "I cannot in good conscience take action that would shift the potential risks of 2026 and 2031 to 2016."
Though both sides profess to have the nation’s military interests at heart, Donnelly, a tireless advocate for veterans, has it exactly right: "I owe it to the men and women of our armed forces and to the people of Indiana to have exhausted every other option to stop Iran before we would consider putting any of our service members in harm’s way."
Former Sen. Richard Lugar is among a small but more thoughtful minority of Republicans who agree with Donnelly.
In an article for Reuters last week, Lugar and L. Bennett Johnson, a former Democratic senator from Louisiana, argued that rejection of the treaty would undermine U.S. leadership and credibility. With Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany unlikely to resume sanctions or go back to the negotiating table, and with the treaty’s inspections program scrapped, the United States or Israel might well end up having to attack Iran.
But "paradoxically," they wrote, "full U.S. military action against Iran would achieve only a three- to five-year delay in an Iranian surge toward a bomb, while the international nuclear deal would allow 15Ã¢ years to test whether the agreement was on track to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon."
The congressional vote next month on the treaty with Iran could truly make the difference between peace and war in the Mideast. The clear reasoning of Donnelly and Lugar can help Congress make the right choice.