Three-dimensional chess


President Barack Obama presented a polished and  impassioned defense last week of the international nuclear agreement with Iran that is being considered by Congress. For those who are trying to understand the agreement and what exactly separates its backers from its bashers, the speech offered a clear view of  the deal’s supporter-in-chief’s vision.

Inside the Beltway, however, Republican minds are already made up. So Obama’s speech at American University put the spotlight on Democrats who hold the key to the deal’s fate. Congress has until late September to vote on the agreement, and the president has promised to veto any attempt to kill it.

But there are signs that political maneuvering has begun. A number of prominent Democrats have announced support of the deal: Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Tim Kaine (Va.) and Bill Nelson (Fla.) as well as Reps. Adam Schiff (Calif.) and Sander Levin (Mich.).

Then on Aug. 6, Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.) along with U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel (N.Y.) said they oppose the deal. Both men are in the top Democratic leadership in their respective houses of Congress and are among the most watched Jewish lawmakers in Washington. Schumer, under heavy pressure from AIPAC and other groups to oppose the deal, certainly sent a strong signal by coming out against it.

Or did he?

Some political watchers see Schumer’s announcement as part of  a game of three-dimensional political chess, in which players can be against something and for it at the same time. “How can a powerful Democrat’s opposition be a good sign [that the deal will survive a vote in Congress]?” James Fallows asks in The Atlantic.

“Because it suggests that Schumer has already calculated that the administration can do without his vote.” Schumer can thus assuage his deal-opposing supporters while not damaging his president’s foreign policy objective.

As of now, at least one thing is clear:  This game is far from over, and more strategic moves are bound to follow.

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