Regardless of President Obama’s fecklessness in negotiating a nuclear deal with Iran, 47 Republican U.S. senators engaged in treachery by sending a letter to the mullahs aimed at cutting the legs out from under America’s commander-in-chief…
The plain intent was to sabotage Obama by pushing the Iranians into balking at a deal out of fear that a turn of the U.S. political wheel could doom the pact in the not-so-distant future…
While the Democrats would be grossly wrong to prevent congressional oversight of an agreement that promises to reshape the balance of power in the Middle East and endanger Israel, the process should play out as envisioned by the Founding Fathers, not as executed by faith-breaking frauds.
“Let’s be very clear: Republicans are undermining our commander-in-chief while empowering the Ayatollahs,” Reid said from the floor.
He didn’t let up: “This letter is a hard slap in the face of not only the United States but our allies. This is not a time to undermine our commander-in-chief purely out of spite,” Reid said. “It’s unprecedented for one political party to directly intervene in an international negotiation with the sole goal of embarrassing the president of the United States.”…
“The dislike of the president is so intense by Republican leaders that this is what they’re doing,” he said. “They cannot accept the fact that this good man, Barack Obama, this man with an unusual name, was elected twice by overwhelming margins by the people of this country.”
Asked about the open letter of 47 US Senators to Iranian leaders, the Iranian Foreign Minister, Dr. Javad Zarif, responded that “in our view, this letter has no legal value and is mostly a propaganda ploy. It is very interesting that while negotiations are still in progress and while no agreement has been reached, some political pressure groups are so afraid even of the prospect of an agreement that they resort to unconventional methods, unprecedented in diplomatic history. This indicates that like Netanyahu, who considers peace as an existential threat, some are opposed to any agreement, regardless of its content.
Zarif expressed astonishment that some members of US Congress find it appropriate to write to leaders of another country against their own President and administration. He pointed out that from reading the open letter, it seems that the authors not only do not understand international law, but are not fully cognizant of the nuances of their own Constitution when it comes to presidential powers in the conduct of foreign policy.
Foreign Minister Zarif added that “I should bring one important point to the attention of the authors and that is, the world is not the United States, and the conduct of inter-state relations is governed by international law, and not by US domestic law. The authors may not fully understand that in international law, governments represent the entirety of their respective states, are responsible for the conduct of foreign affairs, are required to fulfil the obligations they undertake with other states and may not invoke their internal law as justification for failure to perform their international obligations.”
The deal could also come apart for any number of other reasons. At which point—here’s the important part—it’s vitally important for President Obama to be able to argue to America’s sanctions partners in Europe and Asia that the U.S. did everything possible to strike a deal, and to keep Iran at the table. If the talks collapse, President Obama will have to maintain, and strengthen, the broad-based sanctions coalition he built earlier in his term, with help from Congress and his erstwhile sidekick, bad-cop Bibi Netanyahu. But if America’s partners—particularly those in Asia—come to believe that it was the U.S., rather than the Iranian leadership, that subverted the talks, the cause of invigorated sanctions will be damaged, possibly grievously.
It is not in the best interest of the United States to provide Iran any excuses to walk away from the table, and to provide Russia, China, and America’s various European and Asian allies with arguments against strengthened sanctions. The smug, stomach-churning statement from the Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, in response to the Republican letter can be understood as a preemptive attempt to blame a future negotiations collapse on the U.S.
Tom Cotton and his colleagues may believe they were doing the U.S. a favor by issuing their warning to Ayatollah Khamenei, but these advocates of crushing sanctions against Iran might just have undermined their own cause.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told top clerics Tuesday a letter from Republican senators undermining a possible nuclear deal had sapped Tehran’s confidence in dealings with the United States.
Extending his criticism of the open letter, whose 47 signatories included several potential 2016 presidential candidates, Zarif said: “This kind of letter is unprecedented and undiplomatic. In truth, it told us that we cannot trust the United States.”…
While Iran and the United States are longtime foes, Zarif and his negotiating team have consistently said that the nuclear talks have been conducted in a good and serious atmosphere.
However he added Tuesday: “Negotiations with the United States are facing problems due to the presence of extremists in Congress.”
“I think Republicans have made it harder for us to approach this in a careful and bipartisan way,” said Senator Tim Kaine, Democrat of Virginia, who has been a leader in his party on pushing for congressional review of the administration’s policies on war and sanctions, and is a sponsor of a bill to review any removal of congressionally imposed sanctions on Iran.
He added: “I regret that this partisan and nutty behavior makes people focus on politics and not the substance.”…
“The whole brouhaha last week reduced from a 40 percent chance to a 4 percent chance that Democrats will vote in sufficient numbers to override a veto,” said Representative Brad Sherman, a California Democrat and one of the most ardent supporters of Israel in his caucus.
According to Dean, undermining the president in such a way “borders on treason.”
“I think this guy doesn’t know what he’s doing,” Dean said. “How long has he been a senator? Two months? This is ridiculous. It’s really outrageous. And if Tom Cotton wasn’t a veteran of the Armed Forces, I would say this borders on treason. I’ve never heard of doing this of about. You don’t undermine the president of the United States. It’s disrespectful not only to President Obama but disrespectful to the office of the presidency. You can disagree with a foreign policy, and in fact, I actually don’t think that the Iranians are trustworthy. And I worry about a deal, but to do something like this, it just is breathtaking.”
Same people who hyperventilated for a week when a former mayor questioned Obama's patriotism are going to spend a week calling GOP traitors.
— John McCormack (@McCormackJohn) March 10, 2015
This letter, though, raises less serious issues. For one thing, it doesn’t convey any message that should come as a surprise to the Iranians. They were already presumably aware that Republicans (and some Democrats) don’t like the shape of the deal that the administration wants to make with Iran. They also knew that most of the Republican presidential candidates have been critical of the administration’s stance on the matter and promised to pursue a tougher policy if they win the 2016 election. Democrats have criticized the substance of the Republicans’ position. But it would be implausible to say it’s wrong in principle for a presidential candidate to promise a new foreign policy. If presidential candidates can “undermine” a president’s policy, why can’t senators?
And anyway, it’s not illegitimate, as Biden suggests, to “undermine the ability of any future American President, whether Democrat or Republican, to negotiate with other nations on behalf of the United States,” or to conduct the foreign policy he favors. The Constitution itself undermines the president’s power by giving Congress the right to declare wars, by letting it cut off funding for anything it chooses and by requiring the Senate’s consent for treaties.
Some critics of the letter have pointed out that it may backfire. That is, it may send Iran the message that it is likely to get a better deal from this president than from the next one, and therefore make it more eager to conclude one now. Again, though, that’s information the regime already has. The real question about the letter, then, isn’t whether it’s proper. It’s whether it accomplishes anything.
Also, regardless of the lies the media is telling, lawmakers in the opposing party interfering in foreign policy is actually quite normal and far from unprecedented. In 2002, in the run-up to the Iraq War and during touchy negotiations through the United Nations to convince Iraq to allow weapons inspectors unfettered access, three top congressional Democrats went to Iraq and called then-President George W. Bush a liar.
In 2007, Nancy Pelosi, who was then the House Speaker, took it upon herself to go to Syria for “peace talks.” She actually met with that country’s leader President Bashar Assad.
Democrat Senator Ted Kennedy’s interference in President Ron;ld Reagan’s Soviet policy was the stuff of spy novels.
I could go on and on, but let me reiterate that the only unprecedented move in all of this is Obama freezing the Senate out of its constitutional requirement to validate all treaties with foreign governments by a 2/3rds vote.
Time after time, Obama has told Congress to go to hell. Now Congress is telling Obama to go to hell. It’s an entirely predictable development.
Of course, it is still a bad thing. It is not good to invite a foreign leader to address Congress in a campaign against the U.S. president. It is not good to undermine the president’s authority to conduct foreign policy. But it’s not a good thing to undermine Congress’ authority to make laws, either. And to threaten even more undermining in the future, as Obama has done.
It’s too bad for Obama that he couldn’t persuade Congress to do everything he wanted. That did not give him the right to encroach on Congress’s constitutional authority.
Now Congress is pushing back. It’s a shame it’s come to this, but that’s the way things work.
First, imagine that Senator Tom Cotton, who wrote the offending document, had written it as an opinion column rather than an open letter. Senate Republicans didn’t send the Iranian government any private correspondence as far as we know. They didn’t “send” anything at all, really, except perhaps to select reporters. They issued a press release, and then slapped the equivalent of “Dear Sirs” on top of it. If 47 Republican senators had instead co-bylined an op-ed containing all of the same factual information that appears in the letter, and with Iranian officials as its intended audience, nobody would’ve doubted its legality or legitimacy…
Cotton’s execution here was reckless and feckless in equal measure. And yes, it’s unconventional for a partisan congressional caucus to undermine a sitting president’s foreign policy like this. But you can’t untangle his tactics from his goals unless you’re willing to accept a certain level of congressional abdication from foreign policy under all circumstances. What makes Cotton reckless isn’t so much that he’s willing to go to extraordinary lengths to achieve his purpose. Its that his purpose is extremely unwise.
Suppose back in 2008 President George W. Bush had wanted to tie Barack Obama’s hands in Iraq. Did President Bush have the legal authority to sign an agreement with the Prime Minister of Iraq promising that the United States would keep 100,000 troops in his country for twenty years no matter what his successors or future Congresses might think? He clearly did not, and Congress would have rightly considered such an agreement an abuse of Presidential authority and have treated it as non-binding.
The Constitutional problem therefore isn’t that Congress is trying to micromanage the President; the problem is that the President is trying an end run around Congress on a matter of the greatest importance. President Obama has the right to conduct whatever policy he wishes towards Iran as long as he stays within the bounds of American law; he cannot, however, bind future Presidents and Congresses unless the legislative branch weighs in. Writing a letter to the Supreme Leader of Iran might not have been the best or the most tactful way to make the point, but Senators have an obligation to their institution and to the Constitution to uphold their right to review long term international commitments made in America’s name…
We don’t need a Congress that is continually gumming up the foreign policy works by intervening on every little negotiation, but a prospective nuclear deal with Iran is one of the most important questions that the nation faces. Nothing about our Constitutional system says that the executive should have a free hand to reach an agreement that binds the whole country on a matter like this without congressional concurrence. To blame the Senate for the possibility of a constitutional train wreck is to blame the victim; it is the responsibility of the President to go to Congress on a matter of this kind.
Republican lawmakers aren’t the only ones deeply skeptical of the White House’s pending nuclear deal with Iran – the American people are raising their eyebrows, too.
A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found that 71 percent of voters believe negotiations between the Obama administration and the Iranian regime will not halt the Islamic theocracy’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. Just 24 percent believe it will have an impact on the mullahs’s moves toward the bomb.