GOP’s letter to Iran: Treason or just stupid?
Republicans are being excoriated across the country — and rightly so — for sending a letter to “the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran” trying to sabotage in advance any deal President Obama might make with Iranians on limiting Iran’s nuclear program.
I’m sure “Tehran Tom” Cotton of Arkansas and the other 46 GOP senators who signed the ill-fated letter thought they were pulling a fast one on the president, pointing out to Iran that Obama is a short-timer now, while they’ll be in the Senate for time immemorial. But their stunt is not going over well.
According to a story in Politico, the next religious ruler in Iran could “reject a deal just as easily as the next U.S. president.”
“The next ayatollah who becomes supreme leader of Iran could do exactly the same thing — and many signs are that he is going to be more of a hard-liner. Ironically, opponents of a nuclear deal in Washington could well be contributing to this outcome by creating an atmosphere of mistrust in Tehran that only consolidates the power of the conservatives there,” the Politico story says.
Create an atmosphere of mistrust? The GOP?
Foreign policy experts in the U.S. also concluded that the Republican letter is unhelpful, unprofessional, and unprecedented, according to a story in the Washington Post.
“If you are a country in the Middle East or Asia relying on Washington, this raises questions about America’s predictability,” said Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations who served in the George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush administrations, according to the Post story. “I hear this all the time. I just know it makes others around the world more uncomfortable and contributes to a more dangerous and disorderly world.”
Those views were echoed by former Indiana GOP Sen. Richard Lugar, who served as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (“an unfortunate venture”) and Phil Zelikow, a senior adviser to former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (“It is never a good idea for elected leaders to give foreigners, and especially foreign enemies, a formal invitation to join our domestic arguments”).
The growing controversy and backlash over the letter has become the political story of the day, unless you count the brouhaha over Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email account when she was secretary of state. Email-ghazi, if you will. Or, as some are calling it, the 2015 Political Reporter Full Employment Act.
Some of the signers are having second thoughts. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who famously sang “Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran” during the 2008 campaign, is now admitting that the letter might not have been the most effective response. “Maybe that wasn’t the best way to do that,” he said on Fox News, still insisting that it was important to tell Iran that the Senate has a role to play.
Well, sure it does. It’s called cooperation and consultation — words that seem to have permanently disappeared from the minds of congressional Republicans.
“TRAITORS!” screamed the front page of the New York Daily News with pictures of some of the GOP senators. “The senators who signed the letter should be ashamed,” said the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “Has Congress gone crazy?” asked the Louisville Courier-Journal.
Some even suggest that the senators violated the Logan Act by negotiating with foreign leaders. The Logan Act, enacted in 1799, says that “Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.” Pretty hard to make that stick for half the Senate.
In a 1936 ruling on a case involving the Logan Act, the U.S. Supreme Court spelled out who can talk for the United States — and it ain’t Congress. Justice George Sutherland wrote: “The President alone has the power to speak or listen as a representative of the nation. He makes treaties with the advice and consent of the Senate; but he alone negotiates. Into the field of negotiation the Senate cannot intrude, and Congress itself is powerless to invade it.”
I guess the ill-fated invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wasn’t enough to undermine foreign policy. Of course, that seems to be backfiring; Bibi’s sinking in the polls.
Still, Tehran Tom and the rest don’t really care. They know anything they do that is anti-Obama plays well to the crazies back home. One Arkansas Republican even thinks the letter proves that Tehran Tom is presidential material; he wants to change state law to allow candidates to run for president and the House or Senate at the same time, hoping for a Cotton 2020 candidacy.
Apparently, Republicans also think it will be a fundraising bonanza. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida is already sending letters to prospective donors touting his vote. Some of the lesser lights in the 2016 GOP presidential race, such as Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, no doubt in a desperate bid for attention and relevancy, say that they endorse the letter and would love to sign it. Except no one asked them.
Some GOP aides who (understandably!) chose to remain anonymous, even claimed that the letter was a “cheeky” reminder of the Senate’s prerogatives. “The administration has no sense of humor when it comes to how weakly they have been handling these negotiations,” said a top GOP Senate aide.
Sense of humor? No, there’s nothing funny about trying to undercut the commander in chief. Treason? No. Stupid? Yes. Childish? Absolutely. Democratic Pennsylvania Sen. Tim Kaine summed it up nicely:
“The question is this — it’s a serious one: Is the Senate capable of tackling challenging national security questions in a mature and responsible way?”
Let’s hear it for the grownups. Who, apparently, don’t make up the majority of Republican senators in the U.S. Senate.