The letter to Iran - too much too soon

Noah wrote about it last night in a fairly supportive manner, though I needed a while to read it over and collect my thoughts.While it’s a complex question, I do know that I’m not going quite so far as the New York Daily News. They oppose a deal with Iran under the current circumstances, but had even harsher words for the Senators who sent that letter.


As The Hill points out, there hasn’t been this much blatant outrage being expressed over anything in DC in recent memory.

Congressional Democrats joined the White House in denouncing the letter, with Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) calling it “a cynical effort by Republican Senators to undermine sensitive international negotiations — it weakens America’s hand and highlights our political divisions to the rest of the world.”

“Understand that if these negotiations fail, a military response to Iran developing their nuclear capability becomes more likely,” added Durbin, the second-ranking Senate Democrat.

Senate Republicans “should think twice about whether their political stunt is worth the threat of another war in the Middle East,” he added.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, accused Republicans of trying to “sabotage” the nuclear talks.

“This bizarre, inappropriate letter is a desperate ploy to scuttle a comprehensive agreement and the chance for a peaceful resolution, which is in the best interests of the United States, Israel and the world,” Boxer said in a statement.

Circling back to the beginning of this post, I did read Noah’s take on the letter as well as the many comments left by our readers. I can’t come to the same conclusion myself, even knowing that I’m in a distinct minority here. This situation in Washington over the matter of negotiations with Iran has spiraled out of control to a point which should really make all of us a bit sad.

First, I would just point out that I agree with the spirit of and intent behind the sentiments expressed in the letter in terms of what we should realistically expect from Iran. I can’t imagine what a “good deal” with them would look like, as I have no expectation that they will live up to their end of the bargain. I believe that they are looking us in the eye and lying, just as they lie to the rest of the world when they say they have no interest in obtaining nuclear weapons. We don’t have an honest broker on the other side of the table here and there may be no way to craft a legitimate deal. I also think – assuming the early, leaked details are true – that too many concessions are being offered to Iran. But even with all of that said, we’ve reached an impasse which highlights more of a problem at home than with any international negotiations.

Being something of a realist, I understand that the days of politics stopping at the water’s edge have long since passed. That ship has sailed. But this still seems to be something which crosses a boundary which was better left alone. If nothing else, there is supposed to be at least one party in our system which hews to the Constitution when the other fails to, and traditionally that has been the Republicans.

Let’s take a moment to revisit Article II, Section 2, regarding the President.

He shall have power, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, to make treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur

Yes, it says “by and with the advice and consent of the Senate.” (I didn’t miss that part, trust me.) But just as with nominations to the cabinet and court positions, the initial decisions are made by the Executive branch. It would be lovely if the President consulted with Congress when making those decisions, but he doesn’t have to. The Legislative branch gets to weigh in later. In fact, the entire issue of treaties isn’t even mentioned in Article I. Of course, even keeping that in mind, the question is further muddled by the fact that the Senate should be involved because they have to eventually approve it, so the President is overstepping his bounds as well.

Of course, we’ve now opened the door for the Democrats to do this to the next Republican president. There was a time when a proposal to write a letter such as this would have been outrageous. It should have been outrageous. But we’re now in an endless feedback loop where everything is an outrage, but nothing winds up being too outrageous to do because the other guy has already done it. Where does that cycle end?

The whole point is that the system seems to be breaking down, and this letter is yet another example of the United States airing its dirty laundry for the rest of the world to see. Under ideal conditions, this would all be hammered out in private between Obama and the Congress and he could then send Kerry to negotiate something they could all live with. That didn’t happen either, so this is clearly not a case of all the fault being on one side of the aisle. In fact, when the President turned around and said this wasn’t really a treaty so he could do what he liked, that was possibly an even worse sin than what Tom Cotton and his cosigners have done. Trying to change the nature of a major deal between nations by calling it an agreement rather than a treaty is just a dodge, and not a particularly artful one at that.

Still, I find myself disagreeing with Tom Cotton (who I admire very much, and have since I interviewed him during the election) and wishing that this letter hadn’t been written. If there had to be an official response, a resolution of disapproval of the negotiations (or later, of the deal itself) could have been passed on the Senate floor. That would have at least kept the communications in house, rather than having the Legislative branch dive directly into the mix with Iran. The system of how things need to work to keep Washington functional continues to break down, and this letter did nothing to help with that challenge.

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