“The Hypocritical Folly Of Congress’ Capricious Interest In Foreign Policy”: Exclusively In The President’s Domain — Except When It Isn’t
Senate Republicans want to get involved in President Barack Obama’s nuclear negotiations with Iran, as they demonstrated when the vast majority of them signed Tom Cotton’s forceful letter. Senate Democrats want to get involved, too — including Ben Cardin, Robert Menendez, and Chuck Schumer, the likely successor to Harry Reid as Senate Democratic leader.
Congress has some legitimate prerogatives here. And the framework of the nuclear deal is risky, even by the United States’ reading. These senators are not wrong to demand oversight.
At the same time, a large contingent of these senators don’t really want a deal that could be realistically achieved by diplomatic means in the foreseeable future. Some want to condition meaningful sanctions relief on Iran becoming a “normal” country. But the reason we’re pushing to restrict and inspect Iran’s nuclear program in the first place is precisely because Iran is not a normal country.
But here’s the particularly striking thing: The GOP-controlled Senate demands some say in the Iran nuclear deal, but is content to allow Obama to wage war against ISIS in Iraq without a congressional vote, the second such unauthorized war of his presidency. And here, Congress’ prerogatives are unmistakable: The Constitution gives the legislative branch the power to declare war.
Forty-seven Republican senators signed a letter asserting that Congress must have a role in the Iranian negotiations. They’ve merely debated authorizing the ISIS war — after the bombing was well underway.
Congress has largely abdicated its clearest role in foreign policy, its voice on matters of war and peace. Half the Democrats in the Senate deferred to George W. Bush on Iraq. But at least he sought congressional approval for his wars. The last two Democratic presidents have gone to war without such approval, though at least congressional Republicans tried to restrain Bill Clinton. They have been derelict in this duty with Obama in the White House.
Republicans were willing to go all the way to the Supreme Court to defend the view that the president can’t decide when the Senate is in recess. Some Republicans sued Clinton over Kosovo. And now Republicans are clamoring to have final say over any deal with Iran. But there are few Republicans who seem to think it’s bad that Obama is bombing ISIS without congressional approval, except insofar as it involves working with Iran. (See newly declared presidential candidate Marco Rubio on this point.)
In fact, many lawmakers now argue that foreign policy is exclusively in the president’s domain — except when it isn’t.
A lot of these questions do really turn on the merits. If the Iran deal detracts from American national security, Republicans are right to try to subvert it. If the deal enhances national security, it’s a bad thing to undermine it. And it’s at least understandable that Republicans will be less angry about a president bombing jihadists who have killed Americans in gruesome fashion, even if there was no congressional vote.
But the process matters too — especially if you claim to be the party of constitutionally limited government. If presidents usurp the power to declare war, it is inevitable that not all of the wars of their choosing will be wise or just. And conservative critiques of the imperial presidency lose some of their force when coupled with arguments that the president is an emperor when it comes to going to war.
At minimum, some of the reasonable arguments made against executive power grabs begin to look like partisan posturing — which, in turn, makes it easier for presidents to successfully grab power. Why? Because some voters and opinion leaders will take the arguments against these executive actions less seriously.
That includes arguments against the Iran deal. While the final details will ultimately be the result of work done by the administration and our allies, the diplomatic process itself is a product of bipartisan policies pursued by two administrations.
Republicans would be more convincing in their arguments against Obama’s Iran framework if they demanded he come to Congress before using military force, not just when he is clearly trying to avoid the use of force.
By: W. Jamees Antle, III, The Week, April 17, 2015
“Tom Cotton And The GOP’s Wimpy Fear Of Iran”: The Republican Party’s Judgment Has Been Grossly Distorted By Fear
When did the Republican Party become such a bastion of cowards?
That’s what I wondered the moment I heard about the letter to the Iranian government, signed by 47 Republican senators, that aims to scuttle U.S.-led negotiations over the country’s nuclear program.
Oh, of course the letter is meant to look like the opposite of cowardly. It’s supposed to serve as the latest evidence of the GOP’s singularly manly swagger, which the party has burnished non-stop since George W. Bush first promised to track down Osama bin Laden “dead or alive.” (Or maybe it goes back to Ronald Reagan insinuating that Jimmy Carter lacked the resolve to stand up to Leonid Brezhnev. Or to Barry Goldwater indicating that he alone had the guts to use atomic weapons against the godless Commies of North Vietnam.)
But it’s actually a sign that the Republican Party’s judgment has been grossly distorted by fear. That’s why critics who are railing against the letter for its supposedly unconstitutional subversion of diplomatic protocol miss the point. The problem with the letter isn’t that it broke the rules. The problem with the letter is that it’s gutless.
The ringleader of the senatorial troublemakers, freshman Tom Cotton of Arkansas, wants us to believe he and his colleagues have seen through Barack Obama’s dangerous willingness to capitulate to the mullahs in Tehran, and that they alone are tough enough to derail the bad deal the president is prepared, and even eager, to make.
But really, who’s wimpier? A party so terrified by the prospect of normalizing relations with a vastly less formidable foreign power after 36 years of rancor and distrust that it engages in unprecedented acts of diplomatic sabotage, thereby crippling the president’s ability to conduct foreign policy? Or that president himself, who believes that after those 36 years of rancor and distrust this vastly less formidable foreign power can be negotiated into delaying its nuclear ambitions for a decade?
I think the answer is obvious.
As The Week‘s Ryan Cooper has cogently argued, the GOP’s position seems to be based on the assumption that if Iran produced one nuclear device or a handful of them, it would launch them at the United States. I’ll admit, that’s a scary thought. But it’s also completely deranged. In the time it would take for an Iranian nuclear missile to reach its target, the United States could launch dozens if not hundreds of vastly more powerful and accurate retaliatory strikes that would leave Persian civilization in ruins.
Actually, that’s not true. There would be no ruins. Just uninhabitable, radioactive dust.
And here’s the thing: Iran’s leaders know this.
It’s one thing for a single terrorist to embrace suicide for what he takes to be a noble ideological goal and the promise of heavenly reward. It’s quite another for the leaders of a nation of 77 million people to act in such a way that every last inhabitant of the country and every product of its culture would be instantly incinerated. That, quite simply, isn’t going to happen.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s fears about Iran’s intentions aren’t quite as pusillanimous as Tom Cotton’s. Iran, for one thing, is much closer to Israel than the U.S., which means that it can be targeted with much less sophisticated rockets that would reach their destination much more quickly. Moreover, one or two nukes is all it would take to wipe out Israel’s major population centers, making the country far more existentially vulnerable. And then there’s the burden of Jewish history, which understandably inspires more than a little paranoia.
But just because something is understandable doesn’t make it sensible. Paranoia, after all, is an irrational fear — and reason tells us that while Iran would very much like some day to succeed in building a single nuclear device, Israel already possesses dozens of nuclear warheads, as well as something even more valuable: its status as a staunch ally of the United States. Iran has every reason to believe we would respond to a nuclear strike on Israel just as severely as we would respond to an attack launched against us. That means that no such suicidal assault against Israel is going to happen either.
As usual, The Onion may have conveyed the absurdity of the situation more effectively than anyone, in a satirical headline from 2012 that’s gotten renewed play in recent weeks: “Iran Worried U.S. Might Be Building 8,500th Nuclear Weapon.”
When leading politicians in the most militarily powerful nation on the planet believe they see a mortal threat in a country with a GDP roughly the size of Maryland’s and lacking even a single bomb — well, that’s a sign of world-historical spinelessness.
Democrats should be saying so. Loudly and repeatedly.
By: Damon Linker, The Week, March 11, 2015
“Open Letters Without Envelopes Don’t Count”: The Worst Excuse Yet For The Senate Republicans’ Iran Letter
As last week progressed, and the scope of the fiasco surrounding the Senate Republicans’ letter to Iran became more obvious, many GOP officials on Capitol Hill furiously tried to think of excuses. The scramble was understandable: Republicans had tried to sabotage American foreign policy, and the stunt hadn’t gone well.
Over the course of three days, congressional Republicans came up with at least four different excuses, including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) blaming a D.C.-area snowstorm the week before. None of the arguments was particularly persuasive.
But National Review’s Deroy Murdock yesterday presented the most amazing excuse yet: the 47 Senate Republicans shouldn’t be criticized for sending a letter to Iran since they didn’t literally, physically “send” anything.
Before U.S. Senator Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) and 46 of his GOP colleagues are frog-marched to the gallows and hanged for treason, one vital point of confusion must be cleared up. Say what you will about the Republicans’ open letter “to the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran.” The Cotton/GOP letter regarding Tehran’s atom-bomb talks with Obama was not sent to the ayatollahs.
Had Cotton & Co. actually delivered their communique to Iran’s mullahs – perhaps via a Swiss diplomatic pouch or something even more cloak and dagger – their critics would be on less swampy ground in calling them “traitors,” as the New York Daily News screamed.
The National Review piece added that “the Cotton Club” – Tom Cotton and his 46 GOP cohorts – “did not send its letter anywhere.” Murdock added, “Cotton & Co. never even dropped an envelope in the mail.”
How do we know for sure this is an unpersuasive argument? Because Tom Cotton himself says so.
The National Review argument emphasizes the fact that the Republicans message was an “open letter,” published online. As such, if we parse the meaning of the word “send” in the most charitable way possible, then maybe the GOP senators didn’t actually communicate with Iranian officials, at least not directly, during sensitive international talks.
Indeed, the National Review piece said those who claim the Republicans “sent” a letter are guilty of spreading a “gross inaccuracy.”
Does the argument have merit? Actually, no, it doesn’t. Tom Cotton himself, presumably well positioned to speak on behalf of the “Cotton Club” given his role as ringleader, specifically said he and his Republican partners “sent a letter to Iranian leaders.”
Or put another way, if the Republicans involved in this ridiculous stunt themselves say they “sent” a letter, it’s not unreasonable to think the rest of us can make the same claim.
I can appreciate the creativity behind the defense. In fact, it almost brings me back to an undergraduate course on metaphysics – if someone publishes a letter but doesn’t send it, does it really reach its destination?
But this is the wrong way to resolve the fiasco. The letter was specifically addressed “to the Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran.” Officials in Tehran noticed, read the message, and responded. The GOP signatories themselves acknowledge that they “sent” a letter intended to derail American foreign policy.
The right may find this embarrassing a week later, but arguing that open letters without envelopes don’t count is the wrong way to go.
On the contrary, the National Review piece arguably makes matters worse for its allies. Murdock wrote that if “Cotton & Co.” had “actually” sent a letter to Iran, the left would be more justified questioning the Republicans’ patriotism.
But according to Cotton, he and his colleagues did send a letter to Iran, which leads to a conclusion National Review may not like.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 17, 2015
“A Politician Failing A Test Of Self-Awareness”: Cotton Worries About US Interference In Foreign Negotiations
On the Senate floor yesterday afternoon, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) shared some striking concerns about U.S. foreign policy. He also offered a rather profound example of a politician failing a test of self-awareness.
Earlier in the day, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki told reporters that when it comes to the U.S. policy towards Israel, “We’re currently evaluating our approach.” The comments were important, but not surprising – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent antics were bound to carry some consequences.
But Cotton, the right-wing freshman in his second month in the Senate, called Psaki’s comments “worrisome“ – for a very specific reason.
“While Prime Minister Netanyahu won a decisive victory, he still has just started assembling a governing majority coalition. These kinds of quotes from Israel’s most important ally could very well startle some of the smaller parties and their leaders with whom Prime Minister Netanyahu is currently in negotiations.
“This raises the question, of course, if the administration intends to undermine Prime Minister Netanyahu’s efforts to assemble a coalition by suggesting a change to our longstanding policy of supporting Israel’s position with the United Nations.”
Hold on a second. Cotton is now concerned about U.S. officials “undermining” foreign officials “currently in negotiations”?
Not to put too fine a point on this, but it was literally just two weeks ago that Cotton took it upon himself to organize a letter to Iran from 47 Senate Republicans. The point of the correspondence, by Cotton’s own admission, was to target international diplomacy, undermine American foreign policy, and disrupt officials during their ongoing negotiations.
I’m going to assume the Arkansas Republican remembers this. It caused a bit of a stir.
And yet, there Cotton was yesterday, expressing concern that a State Department official, simply by stating a simple fact about U.S. foreign policy, might “startle” officials abroad. These officials are “currently in negotiations,” so the GOP senator apparently believes Americans should be cautious not to interfere.
The irony is simply breathtaking. The mind reels.
Update: In his remarks on the Senate floor, Cotton added, “I fear mutual respect is of little concern to this administration. The president and all those senior officials around him should carefully consider the diplomatic and security consequences of their words.”
I mean, really. Is this intended as some kind of performance-art statement on the power of irony?
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 20, 2015
At the beginning of a week where action was scheduled to begin on a FY 2016 congressional budget resolution, it looked like Republicans were on the brink of a big split between fiscal hawks in the House who wanted to maintain caps on defense spending negotiated with the Obama administration and/or to require specific cuts in domestic spending to offset adjustments, and defense hawks in the Senate who wanted above all to blow up the defense caps forever and blast them to hell as a first step towards a 1980s-style defense buildup.
Those intra-Republican dynamics remain in place, but the fight has broken out much earlier than expected, in the House itself, and in fact in the House Budget Committee, where Paul Ryan’s successor as chairman, Tom Price of GA, can’t seem to get the votes to report a budget resolution. The Hill‘s Vicki Needham has the arcane story:
Negotiations to resolve a dispute over defense spending blew up Wednesday night in the House Budget Committee, as the panel came up short of approving a nearly $3.8 trillion Republican blueprint.
Budget Chairman Tom Price (R-Ga.) saw the chances of pushing through an amendment to boost defense spending without offsets fade quickly in the waning hours of a markup of the GOP’s budget proposal, in the latest misstep for House Republicans.
Without a resolution, the Budget panel packed up for the night with Price saying the committee may reconvene Thursday, after even House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) wasn’t able to break the impasse.
House leadership had tested the waters for an amendment from Rep. Todd Rokita (R-Ind.) — which would bump up funding to $96 billion for an emergency account earmarked for overseas conflicts without a pay-for — in an effort to attract reluctant defense hawks.
Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) and his chief deputy, Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), started reaching out to GOP Budget Committee members about whether a proposal to appease defense hawks could pass the panel even before Price kicked off his budget mark-up, according to aides.
Basically, Republicans anticipated trouble on the floor passing a budget resolution that already included a big chunk of change for an off-budget “contingency fund,” and tried to get an extra $20 billion thrown in to placate the defense hawks, but fiscal hawks on the committee–including that highly symbolic freshman, Rep. Dave Brat of VA, the man who slew Eric Cantor–said no.
Meanwhile, outside the hothouse–yes, pun intended–of the lower chamber, defense hawks were already complaining about the gimmicky nature of the contingency fund and are demanding a straight-up major boost in defense spending. Neocon WaPo blogger Jennifer Rubin was shrieking yesterday that the initial House budget resolution represented a “political betrayal” and a “disaster for national security.”
Trouble is, it’s not easy to find a way to accommodate still more defense spending in a budget that already (a) has the aforementioned phony-baloney “contingency fund,” (b) achieves its “balanced budget” targets only via “dynamic scoring” BS and by assuming revenues from implementation of Obamacare even as it proposes to abolish it, (c) proposes partially privatizing Medicare and dumping Medicaid on the states, and (d) stipulates vast but unspecified additional “entitlement” savings outside Social Security and health care.
There’s just no obvious way out of the budgetary math problems the GOP has invented for itself. If Republicans cannot come up with a consensus budget agreement, we’ll have another high-profile example of that party’s inability to govern, and there will also be no way to proceed with the plan to pass a reconciliation bill to repeal Obamacare to show “the base” what Republicans will be able to do once the hated incumbent has left office.
Expect the gimmickry to reach new heights.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, March 19, 2015