August 2015 – WASHINGTON — President Obama took on critics of the nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers in an aggressive speech on Wednesday, saying they were the same people who created the “drumbeat of war” and played on public fears to push the United States into the Iraq war more than a decade ago. “Let’s not mince words: The choice we face is ultimately between diplomacy and some form of war — maybe not tomorrow, maybe not three months from now, but soon,” Mr. Obama told about 200 people in a speech at American University. “How can we in good conscience justify war before we’ve tested a diplomatic agreement that achieves our objectives?”
Delivered in stark terms that surprised some foreign policy analysts and left no room for questioning whether the agreement is good for American security — “It’s not even close,” Mr. Obama declared at one point — the president’s speech was a striking display of certitude about a diplomatic deal that has split the American public and presented a dilemma for lawmakers, including many in his own party. Mr. Obama criticized Republicans who are pressing forward with legislation to block the accord, which is on track for a vote in September. Opposition to the agreement, he said, stems from “knee-jerk partisanship that has become all too familiar, rhetoric that renders every decision made to be a disaster, a surrender.”
He said hard-liners in Iran who chant “Death to America” were “making common cause with the Republican caucus.” Lawmakers who oppose the deal said they were not persuaded, and some said they resented the president’s tone. Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, said the speech had done a disservice to lawmakers in both parties who “have serious and heartfelt concerns.” “These Democrats and Republicans deserved serious answers today, not some outrageous attempt to equate their search for answers with supporting chants of ‘Death to America,’ ” Mr. McConnell said, adding that Democrats who had declared their opposition would be “especially insulted” by the president’s remarks. “This goes way over the line of civil discourse,” he said.
In his speech, the president invoked the legacy of John F. Kennedy, who in 1963 appeared on the same campus to push for a nuclear test ban treaty with the Soviet Union. But in making his case, Mr. Obama was also returning to a theme that helped him rise to power. As a first-term senator, Mr. Obama gained political prominence in part because of his strong opposition to the war in Iraq. It helped him win the 2008 Democratic nomination — defeating Hillary Rodham Clinton, who backed the invasion and later became his secretary of state — and the presidency. Now, as a second-term president working to defend an ambitious diplomatic nonproliferation accord with Iran and protect his legacy, Mr. Obama is conjuring the antiwar fervor that animates his party’s liberal base.
Aaron David Miller, a Middle East expert at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars who has served in Republican and Democratic administrations, said that Mr. Obama’s speech seemed intended to leave no doubt “that those who oppose it are either uninformed or, in the case of the Iraq war comparison, recklessly marching to the next war in the Middle East.” Mr. Miller called the speech a “stunning” show of boldness by a president who feels empowered in the final stages of his presidency to pursue an accord he believes could be transformational. “There is a real danger here for him in overselling” the deal to a skeptical Congress, he said. –NY Times