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Guest Column

US voters shape the Iran debate in Congress
By Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger
Aug 16, 2015 - 8:10:12 AM

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The position of US voters on the nuclear deal with the Ayatollahs -- and therefore the position of Senators and House Representatives -- is shaped by their worldview, in general, and US homeland and national security considerations, in particular.

According to RealClearPolitics' most recent polls, a major wedge has evolved between the US constituent, on the one hand, and US policy-makers, on the other hand, when it comes to foreign policy and national security: a mere 38.5% approval rating of President Obama's foreign policy. For instance, a CNN poll documented a majority disapproval of Obama's handling of Islamic terrorism, and a majority backing the use of military force against ISIS.

The chasm between most constituents and the White House is highlighted by the congressional debate on the nuclear deal with the Ayatollahs.

Thus, unlike most voters, President Obama and Secretary Kerry consider the Ayatollahs legitimate negotiation partners, contending that President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif are committed to compliance with agreements and moderation. Most critically, they refrain from linking dramatic benefits to the Ayatollahs upon a dramatic change of their anti-US, destabilizing and war-mongering policies.

In sharp contrast, the voters' deep distrust of the Ayatollahs is documented by the annual Gallup poll of Country Rating. It mirrors a realization that compliance with agreements and moderation, on the one hand, and terrorism, subversion, repression, anti-US hate-education and policies, apocalyptic ideology and systematic non-compliance, on the other hand, constitute a classic oxymoron. Iran is rated as the second least favored country by Americans with 11% favorability, ahead of North Korea -- 9% and behind Afghanistan (14%), Syria (14%) and the Palestinian Authority (17%), compared with Israel's 70%.

In addition, Gallup shows that 77% and 84% of the US constituency regard nuclearized Ayatollahs and international terrorism, respectively, as "critical threats." Gallup indicates that "Americans' views on [the Ayatollahs] have remained unchanged for 26 years."

According to the August 3, 2015 poll, conducted by Quinnipiac University Polling Institute (cited for its high level professionalism and independence), the July 14, 2015 agreement between the Ayatollahs and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany is supported by a meager 28% of the US electorate (30% support by men and 27% by women), receiving a lukewarm 52% support from Democrats.

Unlike all other democratic systems, the US Federalist system features the constituent as its chief axis. The 435 House Members and 100 Senators serve at the pleasure of their constituents, not the President or party leaders. The political life expectancy of legislators is different than the political life expectancy of the President, but their lifeline is controlled by their constituents. Adherence to the worldview of their voters, in their particular district and state, is the prerequisite for their electability, while departure from that worldview votes legislators out of office. Morally and politically, legislators are mostly loyal to their voters, who keep reminding them: "We shall remember in November."

While voters -- and therefore legislators -- are mostly preoccupied with domestic issues, the threat of the Ayatollahs is perceived as a critical concern with devastating domestic (homeland security and economic) implications. It could become a political game-changer. According to Gallup, voters' rejection of key presidential policies dealt sweeping defeats to the party of the President in the Sixth-Year-Itch election of 2006 (Bush) and 2010 mid-term and Sixth-Year-Itch election of 2014 (Obama), unseating legislators who supported unpopular policies.

For example, in 2006, veteran Republican legislators who delivered government pork for their districts, such as House Representatives Anne Northrup (KY), Nancy Johnson (CT), Clay Shaw (FL), Jim Leach (IA) and Charles Bass (NH) were swept by the anti-Bush tide -- proof of voters' dissatisfaction with President Bush's handling of the war in Iraq and Hurricane Katrina. The Bush effect also contributed to the 2006 defeat of Republican Senators Talent (MO), Burns (MT), DeWine (OH), Santorum (PA), Chafee (RI) and Allen (VA).

In 2014, Louisiana Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu was defeated, largely, due to her support of ObamaCare, opposed by the vast majority of Louisianans, irrespective of Landrieu's seniority and chairmanship of the Senate Energy Committee which produced a boon for her state and her "Blue-Dog Democrat" claims. The support of ObamaCare, in defiance of their constituents, also weighed heavy upon unseating other Democratic Senators, such as Begich (AK), Hagan (NC), Udall (CO) and Pryor (AR).

In 2015, will House Members and Senators ignore or reflect the position of their voters on the nuclear deal with the Ayatollahs, whose approval would compound the current significant threats posed by the conventional Ayatollahs: triggering an unprecedented wave of Islamic terrorism, an avalanche of toppled pro-US Arab oil-producing regimes and its economic implications, nuclear proliferation and a nuclear war?

Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger
The Ettinger Report
"Second Thought: A US-Israel Initiative"
First published in "Israel Hayom" newsletter, August 14, 2015

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