President Obama launched a blistering denunciation of opposition to his Iran deal Wednesday, arguing that none of the criticism stands up to scrutiny and warning that if Congress blocks the accord it will put the US on the path to another Middle East war.
"The choice we face is ultimately between diplomacy and some form of war," Obama said in an address at American University. "Maybe not tomorrow, maybe not three months from now, but soon."
Seeking to isolate his critics, Obama said the rest of the world supports the Iran accord, with the notable exception of Israel. He reaffirmed his support for Israel's security and said he doesn't doubt the sincerity of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, one of the fiercest opponents of the agreement.
But he said of Netanyahu, "I believe he is wrong."
The president's address was part of an intense summer lobbying campaign by both supporters and opponents of the nuclear deal. Members of Congress will vote next month on a resolution either approving or disapproving the pact.
Obama drew on history to bolster support, saying the accord builds on an American tradition of "strong, principled diplomacy" with adversaries, including the former Soviet Union. He spoke at the same university where John F. Kennedy called for Cold War diplomacy and nuclear disarmament.
Recalling more recent American history, Obama cast the upcoming vote in Congress as the nation's most consequential foreign policy debate since the 2002 vote to authorize the Iraq war. He said many of those who oppose the Iran pact are the same as those who pushed for the war, which is now known to have been based on flawed intelligence.
While Obama was an early opponent of the Iraq war, several of his top foreign policy advisers voted for the 2002 authorization, including Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination. They now say the war was a mistake.
The agreement between the US, Iran and international powers aims to dismantle much of Tehran's nuclear program in exchange for billions of dollars in relief from economic sanctions. The White House says the deal would cut off all of Iran's pathways to a bomb and mandate robust inspections that would catch Tehran if it cheats.
Challenging those who say the US should have layered tougher sanctions on Tehran and held out for a better deal, Obama said they "are either ignorant of Iranian society or they're just not being straight with the American people."
"If Congress were to kill this deal, they would not only pave Iran's pathway to a bomb, they would accelerate it," Obama said.