Senate Republicans hit a new low with their group letter to Iran’s leaders encouraging the mullahs to reject current nuclear talks with the United States and five other nations. It was a dumb move both in terms of its own cynical partisan goals and, more importantly, in how it might undermine national and global security.
The letter project was engineered by freshman Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark. He wrote the letter, which was co-signed by 47 other Republicans – all but seven in the Senate – including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
No Democrats signed.
The “Open Letter to the Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran” begins, condescendingly, with a jibe regarding Iran’s knowledge of the U.S. political process: “It has come to our attention while observing your nuclear negotiations with our government that you may not fully understand our constitutional system.”
Some U.S. scholars have noted that, apparently, neither do the senators who signed the letter. The letter asserts that treaties must be ratified by two-thirds of the Senate and agreements need majority of both houses of Congress. In addition, the letter states, this deal could be undone “with the stroke of a pen” by President Barack Obama’s successor.
But Secretary of State John Kerry noted during testimony Wednesday before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations that presidents often create binding agreements with foreign governments on all manner of issues without congressional approval. The arrangement with Iran would curtail Iran’s nuclear ambitions in return for phasing out economic sanctions approved by the U.S. and five other nations involved in the negotiations: England, France, China, Russia and Germany.
Observers also have pointed out that a significant number of Iran’s presidential cabinet hold doctorates from U.S. universities and probably have a passing understanding of constitutional law. In fact, this letter probably tells Iranian leaders little that they don’t already know – namely that congressional Republicans apparently would prefer armed conflict with Iran to a negotiated arrangement.
It is ironic that by flexing their muscles in this way, the 47 letter-signers offer Iran a scapegoat if the negotiations fall apart. “It wasn’t our fault the talks failed,” the ayatollahs can declare. “The Americans didn’t want them to succeed.”
And if that happens, holding the six-nation alliance together that has kept the sanctions in place will be difficult, if not impossible. The United States would have squandered its biggest negotiating advantage, leaving the destruction of Iran’s nuclear capabilities as one of the few remaining options for preventing its production of a nuclear weapon.
It is difficult to predict how a war with Iran would play out. Suffice to say, in all likelihood it would be long, extremely bloody, and would engulf the entire Middle East.
But why would the United States and the negotiating nations want to use a last resort as the first resort? Shouldn’t we give diplomacy a chance?
Beyond the tactical stupidity of the letter, there also is something unseemly about conspiring with the leaders of another country – an adversary of the United States – to undermine the diplomatic efforts of our own president. In doing so, these senators also have undermined the credibility of the nation and its ability to conduct rational foreign policy.
Letter to Iran signed by 47 Republicans undermines the president and, more importantly, the nation’s credibility.