President Obama visited American University today to deliver what was billed as one of the most important speeches of his presidency. The topic was the proposed nuclear deal with Iran that is currently under consideration by the Congress. The venue was significant; Obama invoked history, namelyPresident John F. Kennedy’s June 10, 1963commencement speech in which he announced that the United States, Soviet Unionand United Kingdom would begin formal negotiations seeking a limited nuclear test ban. But Kennedy’s diplomatic success 52 years ago only underscores Obama’s poor showing in selling his nuclear deal with Iran.
Kennedy sought a ban on atmospheric nuclear testing, which both sides had undertaken extensively and which created nuclear fallout problems. He negotiated the test ban as a formal treaty, and presented it to the Senate for ratification as the Constitution dictates. It sailed through in September 1963 by a vote of 80 to 19 with strong bipartisan support. By contrast, the Obama administration never sought to do the hard work of negotiating and ratifying a formal treaty with Iran, and the proposed pact faces strong bipartisan opposition on Capitol Hill. President Obama invoked the later SALT agreements with the Soviet Union, but his proposed Iran deal has lowerpublic approval than the SALT II treaty did before Jimmy Carter withdrew it from the Senate in 1980.
President Kennedy’s speech was publicly addressing Soviet strongman Nikita Khrushchev (who notably said “We will bury you”) in an attempt to get him to the negotiating table. President Obama’s speech today targeted a small group of undecided members of his own political party who could mean the difference between his deal being rejected with a veto proof majority, or simply being rejected.
James S. Robbins writes weekly for USA TODAY and is the author of The Real Custer: From Boy General to Tragic Hero. In addition to its own editorials, USA TODAY publishes diverse opinions from outside writers, including our Board of Contributors. To read more columns like this, go to the Opinion front page.