With letter to Iran, GOP senators place spite before diplomacy

U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas penned the letter seeking to undermine the administration’s diplomatic efforts with Iran.
U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas penned the letter seeking to undermine the administration’s diplomatic efforts with Iran. The Associated Press

President Barack Obama has nearly two years left in office, but Republicans don’t think he counts. They said as much in a duplicitous, disrespectful letter to Iranian leaders that sought to undermine delicate international negotiations and the authority of the White House.

The administration has been in talks with Iran about how to prevent that country from acquiring nuclear weapons. A nuclear-armed Iran is one of the most important global security concerns. Even Russia and China are at the table, and they have not exactly seen eye-to-eye with the United States on a whole lot else lately.

Negotiations with Iran demand a healthy dose of skepticism. Any agreement must include verification protocols. But that is getting ahead of things. For now, the fact that they are willing to talk is a promising sign.

Yet while the Obama administration pursues diplomacy, Republicans want nothing of it.

Forty-seven GOP senators signed a letter to Iran’s leaders written by Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton that was a mix of intimidation and condescension. It warned that any agreement Obama reaches is only as good as the willingness of the next president to enforce it. In addition, a Republican-controlled Congress could throw up roadblocks.

Kansas Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran as well as Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt were among the signers.

Republicans repeatedly have shown they do not respect Obama. Before this, Republicans ignored diplomatic protocol and invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak before a joint session of Congress without involving the White House.

The president is well within his authority to conduct international diplomacy. This congressional meddling is unprecedented and skirts the line of the Logan Act, which forbids Americans from negotiating with foreign powers.

Even Iranians saw through their game. “This letter has no legal value and is mostly a propaganda ploy,” said Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif.

The official Iranian response continued, “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.”

Republicans are correct that Congress has the power to interfere with a deal that the president strikes. If it’s a treaty, it could decline to ratify; and if it is an executive agreement, it could pass laws that prevent implementing some parts.

Republicans also are correct that the next president could undo an executive agreement “with the stroke of a pen.”

But part of what makes American democracy succeed is that presidents do not willy-nilly undo the work of their predecessors. If Iran honors a deal with the international community, would a Republican president elected in 2016 dismantle it out of spite? Would a new leader return the world to a precarious position just to deny one piece of Obama’s legacy?

Maybe that won’t be an option. Republicans have diminished the odds that a peaceful course forward will be found. Mission accomplished.