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“Senators’ Letter To Iran Leader Sets Dangerous Precedent”: Nadir For A Republican Party Deformed By An Aging And Bigoted Base

Since his inauguration in 2009, President Obama’s harshest critics — all Republicans — have grown increasingly disdainful, resentful, even hateful. The most bellicose among them question his legitimacy, doubt his birth certificate and impugn his patriotism. And, all the while, leading Republican politicians have pandered to those ugly impulses.

This week, that disrespect for Obama and his presidency reached a new low when 47 Republican senators wrote a letter to Iranian leaders suggesting that any deal with him will be overturned once he leaves office. According to experts, that action is without precedent in American history. And it will go down, perhaps, as the nadir for a Republican Party already deformed by an aging and bigoted base.

President Obama’s foreign policy team is attempting to negotiate an agreement wherein Iran gives up its ambition of becoming a nuclear state. The negotiations may fail, but it’s certainly worth a try.

But GOP hardliners are opposed to even trying to negotiate an agreement. Additionally, they’d welcome any opportunity to try to embarrass Obama on the international stage.

Speaker John Boehner had already crossed all sorts of boundaries when he invited Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress — and didn’t bother to inform the president. Now, Boehner’s fellow partisans in the Senate have written a letter, dripping with condescension toward the Iranians, which suggests that the next president would likely overturn any agreement that Obama makes. (Since they don’t know who’ll be in the Oval Office in 2017, they can hardly make that prediction.)

This is outrageous — and a clear violation of the Logan Act, passed in 1799. It says that any unauthorized citizen “who directly or indirectly … carries on any correspondence with any foreign government … with intent to influence the conduct of that government … or to defeat the measures of the United States” may be imprisoned. In other words, the founders of the republic recognized the danger in allowing individual citizens to conduct their own ad hoc foreign policy.

Does Obama’s race have something to do with this level of hostility and disrespect for his office? If I may use a favorite phrase of Sarah Palin, one of the president’s most reliable haters, “You betcha!” There is a reliable, if aging, constituency in the GOP that simply cannot stomach a black president.

Sure, Republicans were hostile and unhinged when Bill Clinton was president. Some among them claimed he was tied to Arkansas drug dealers. Some insisted that his wife, Hillary, had killed Vince Foster, a White House aide who committed suicide. A GOP-led Congress impeached Clinton.

And, yes, there have long been bitter disagreements over foreign policy, going back to the beginning of the republic. (That helps to explain the passage of the Logan Act.) But politics generally stopped, as the cliche goes, “at the water’s edge.”

Thomas Mann, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a longtime Congress-watcher, told Politico that this letter plows new ground in partisanship. “What’s unusual about this — but completely in tune with what’s happened in Washington in recent years — is the contempt with which it treats the president,” he said.

If those 47 Republican senators were engaged in an honest effort to forestall a nuclear Iran, they would never have written such a letter. Senator Bob Corker (R-TN), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, pointedly didn’t sign the letter because, he said, he needed to reach across the aisle in order to strengthen the agreement. (Seven GOP senators did not sign it.)

Earlier, several Democratic senators had indicated a willingness to work with Republicans to pass legislation that would give Congress a vote on any accord with Iran. Now, those Democrats are fuming over the disrespect shown Obama and are unlikely to go along with any GOP legislation.

But that’s not the greatest damage done by this gesture of contempt for Obama. Since Republicans have shown themselves willing to threaten the nation’s credibility on the world stage in order to embarrass a sitting president, they’ve set a precedent. Those are the new rules of the game, and they’re likely to be followed by Democrats and Republicans in the future — no matter who’s in the Oval Office.

That’s bad news.

 

By: Cynthia Tucker, Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 2007; The National Memo, March 14, 2015

March 15, 2015 Posted by | Foreign Policy, GOP, Iran | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Iran Nukes? Thank Neocons”: The No-Diplomacy Posture Is Exactly What Has Brought Matters To This Point

I have probably written many times in the past that Republicans hit a new low, but as of this week you can toss all those. This Senate letter is the definite low of all time. I didn’t think these people could shock me, but this one genuinely was shocking in so many ways—not least the dishonor it brings on the United States Senate—that every other nutso thing they’ve done drops down one notch on the charts.

Treason, as the Daily News blared? I don’t know for sure about that. But I know to a certainty that if a group of Democratic senators had done this to a Republican president, Republicans and conservative pundits would be screaming the T-word and demanding the Justice Department investigate the senators.

Imagine if, say, 47 Democratic senators had written an “open letter” (a moral cop-out that permits the senators to say that it wasn’t “really” a communication to Ayatollah Khamenei) to Mikhail Gorbachev in 1986 assuring him any treaty Ronald Reagan signed with him could and quite possibly would be altered or abrogated by them. Or worse still—imagine that 47 Democratic senators had written an open letter to Saddam Hussein in the fall of 2002 reminding him that only Congress could declare war and that most of them would long outlast President Bush, while closing on the breathtakingly cloying note of being happy to have enriched Saddam’s “knowledge of the constitutional system.” There seems to me no doubt whatsoever that some Republican senators and members of Congress would have been baying for Logan Act prosecutions.

Much as part of me might savor it, I don’t think we ought to go there. A far better punishment for these disgraceful intriguers would be for the letter to backfire and increase the likelihood of a deal being struck. And it might well have that effect: If the mullahs genuinely want a deal, then surely a threat like this from the Senate would make them more anxious to pursue one while they can, and then hope that Hillary Clinton, who’s indicated she’d support a deal, becomes the next president and can make it stick.

Let’s hope that’s the effect—but let’s never forget the intent. These Republican senators, says Trita Parsi of the National Iranian American Council, an advocate for a deal, can’t block a settlement; “but they can get the Iranians to think that it’s impossible to trust the United States,” he says. Thus, “the intent of the letter was to show the United States to be untrustworthy.”

It’s pretty amazing that members of the United States Senate would want to do that to their own country—not just in the eyes of Iran, but in the eyes of the five other powers involved in the negotiations. Three are some of our closest allies (Britain, France, and Germany). The other two are the not inconsiderable nations of Russia and China. All five have had negotiators sitting at the table with us and the Iranians for a year and a half. Wonder what they think of this.

It’s a disgrace, but only another in a long history of Republican-conservative disgraces with respect to Iran. Indeed these go back to 1953, when Dwight Eisenhower green-lighted the coup that Harry Truman had blocked. And they extend up to 2003, and the now largely forgotten but suddenly rather timely story of the Bush administration’s rebuff of an Iranian diplomatic overture that could have made the history of the U.S.-Iran relationship a very different one from what it has been.

It was all widely reported then; this Washington Post article provides a good rundown. In sum, it was a point in time when the (Shia) Iranian republic had been cooperating with the United States in tracking down some (Sunni) al Qaeda men; through a Swiss intermediary, Iran passed a letter to the White House feeling the Bush administration out on broad-ranging negotiations—possibly curtailing its nuclear ambitions, cutting back on its support for (or maybe even disarming) Hezbollah, and most strikingly of all, indirectly recognizing Israel’s right to exist—all in exchange for the lifting of American sanctions.

The offer was real. Whether it had Khamenei’s blessing, no one in the West really knows. Still, some elements in the Bush administration wanted to pursue it. But guess who won? As that Post story reports it, “top Bush administration officials, convinced the Iranian government was on the verge of collapse, belittled the initiative.”

We can’t know what might have happened. “But we do know one thing,” Parsi says. “When diplomacy is rejected, as it was under Bush, when the official U.S. policy was for regime change in Tehran, you give the Iranians every incentive to do everything they can to prevent the United States from pursuing regime change.” That means spreading its talons across Iraq, and it chiefly means, of course, pushing ahead full-speed with its nuclear ambitions.

Here’s part of what that rejection of diplomacy has done for us. In 2005, Iran put an offer on the table to the Europeans calling for it to keep 3,000 centrifuges. But that was rejected, because the United States wasn’t willing to talk to Iran. So what did Iran do? While we were refusing to negotiate and rattling the saber, they were building centrifuges to beat the band.

So today, Parsi told me, Iran has about 22,000 centrifuges, of which 9,400 are operational. Any deal is going to let Iran end up with around 6,000 centrifuges. That’s twice the amount it was asking for in 2005, when we could have struck a deal at 3,000. But we weren’t talking to Iran then, because it’s weak to talk to terrorists and because the regime was on the verge of collapse anyway, see?

Our years of resistance to diplomacy, a product of neocon doctrine and pressure, has thus made the situation clearly and tangibly worse. The Obama administration, and the other five powers, are trying to stuff back into the tube the toothpaste that Dick Cheney and his confederates squeezed out. And for its attempt to repair the gaping wound the neocons and their friend Mr. Netanyahu inflicted on the world, the administration is now subject to this poisonous and quasi-treasonous attack that is designed to increase the likelihood of war with Iran (Senator Tom Cotton, the letter’s author, spoke openly at the recent CPAC conference in support of regime change).

I applaud the seven Republican senators who did not sign the letter, even if it is a little like applauding the members of the Manson family who didn’t actually kill anybody. And for those who did sign, eternal shame. The only silver lining is that the right’s track record on Iran suggests strongly that the result will be the opposite of that which they desire.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The daily Beast, March 11, 2015

March 12, 2015 Posted by | Iran, Neo-Cons, Republicans | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“This Time, They’ve Gone Too Far”: Republicans Are Beginning To Act As Though Barack Obama Isn’t Even The President

It’s safe to say that no president in modern times has had his legitimacy questioned by the opposition party as much as Barack Obama. But as his term in office enters its final phase, Republicans are embarking on an entirely new enterprise: They have decided that as long as he holds the office of the presidency, it’s no longer necessary to respect the office itself.

Is that a bit hyperbolic? Maybe. But this news is nothing short of stunning:

A group of 47 Republican senators has written an open letter to Iran’s leaders warning them that any nuclear deal they sign with President Barack Obama’s administration won’t last after Obama leaves office.

Organized by freshman Senator Tom Cotton and signed by the chamber’s entire party leadership as well as potential 2016 presidential contenders Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, the letter is meant not just to discourage the Iranian regime from signing a deal but also to pressure the White House into giving Congress some authority over the process.

“It has come to our attention while observing your nuclear negotiations with our government that you may not fully understand our constitutional system … Anything not approved by Congress is a mere executive agreement,” the senators wrote. “The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.”

It’s one thing to criticize the administration’s actions, or try to impede them through the legislative process. But to directly communicate with a foreign power in order to undermine ongoing negotiations? That is appalling. And just imagine what those same Republicans would have said if Democratic senators had tried such a thing when George W. Bush was president.

The only direct precedent I can think of for this occurred in 1968, when as a presidential candidate Richard Nixon secretly communicated with the government of South Vietnam in an attempt to scuttle peace negotiations the Johnson administration was engaged in. It worked: those negotiations failed, and the war dragged on for another seven years. Many people are convinced that what Nixon did was an act of treason; at the very least it was a clear violation of the Logan Act, which prohibits American citizens from communicating with foreign governments to conduct their own foreign policy.

This move by Republicans is not quite at that level. As Dan Drezner wrote, “I don’t think an open letter from members of the legislative branch quite rises to Logan Act violations, but if there’s ever a trolling amendment to the Logan Act, this would qualify,” and at least it’s out in the open. But it makes clear that they believe that when they disagree with an administration policy, they can act as though Barack Obama isn’t even the president of the United States.

And it isn’t just in foreign affairs. In an op-ed last week in the Lexington Herald-Leader, Mitch McConnell urged states to refuse to comply with proposed rules on greenhouse gas emissions from the Environmental Protection Agency. Never mind that agency regulations like these have the force of law, and the Supreme Court has upheld the EPA’s responsibility under the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon emissions — if you don’t like the law, just act as though it doesn’t apply to you. “I can’t recall a majority leader calling on states to disobey the law,” said Barbara Boxer, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, “and I’ve been here almost 24 years.”

The American political system runs according to a whole series of norms, many of which we don’t notice until they’re violated. For instance, the Speaker of the House can invite a foreign leader to address Congress for the sole purpose of criticizing the administration, and he can even do it without letting the White House know in advance. There’s no law against it. But doing so violates a norm not only of simple respect and courtesy, but one that says that the exercise of foreign policy belongs to the administration. Congress can advise, criticize, and legislate to shape it, but if they simply take it upon themselves to make their own foreign policy, they’ve gone too far.

But as has happened so many times before, Republicans seem to have concluded that there is one set of rules and norms that apply in ordinary times, and an entirely different set that applies when Barack Obama is the president. You no longer need to show the president even a modicum of respect. You can tell states to ignore the law. You can sabotage delicate negotiations with a hostile foreign power by communicating directly with that power.

I wonder what they’d say if you asked them whether it would be acceptable for Democrats to treat the next Republican president that way. My guess is that the question wouldn’t even make sense to them. After all, that person would be a Republican. So how could anyone even think of such a thing?

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributing Writer, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, March 9, 2015

March 12, 2015 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Republicans, Sedition, Treason | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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