Just when you thought congressional Republicans couldn’t look any more like a troupe of treacherous clowns hellbent on circus-ifying anything President Obama tries to do, they pull another bag of tricks from the trunk of their tiny car.
On Monday, 47 Republican senators signed an open letter addressed to the “Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran” on U.S. Senate letterhead. The correspondence basically indicates that Iran’s ongoing negotiations on its nuclear program with the Obama administration are an all but futile endeavor. The weirdest thing about the letter — other than the fact that it was written in the first place — is that it doesn’t address anything specific regarding Iran’s nuclear program. It advances no alternative proposals, it elucidates no conditions under which the GOP would assent to a deal of any kind, and thus, it offers no hope of resolving one of the biggest U.S. foreign policy challenges of the last 35 years.
You’d think considering the letter is official correspondence from Senate Republicans, it would’ve addressed specific leaders within the Iranian government such as Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, President Hassan Rouhani, or the members of the Guardian Council, but it does not. Regardless, the letter is unlike anything seen in recent memory. Not only does it explicitly attempt to undermine negotiations between the U.S. and Iran concerning the latter’s nuclear program, it’s written in an unbelievably condescending tone:
Never has a lesson in American civics been so patronizing, or nefarious for that matter. It’s ironic the GOP thinks Iran’s leaders need a primer in the U.S. Constitution, considering its 2008 presidential nominee had no idea as to which office in Iran actually holds ultimate power. (He still might not.)
No matter, the not very subtle implication here is that if any deal whatsoever is hammered out between Iran and the U.S., the Republicans will oppose it. Again, notice how the letter doesn’t explain the sort of agreement the GOP would accept. The reason for this is as depressing as it is ludicrous: No agreement between Iran and the U.S. is acceptable as far as the Republican Party and its de facto chief Iran strategist Benjamin Netanyahu are concerned. At least, none that involve Iran retaining a modicum of dignity as a sovereign state.
The senators’ letter is an unserious act of anti-diplomacy specifically designed to undermine the president’s efforts to conduct foreign affairs in his capacity as chief executive. As such, the correspondence tests the limits of the Logan Act, which reads in part,
“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.”
While the letter’s signatories are U.S. senators, that does not mean they have the “authority of the United States” as required by the law since when it comes to conducting foreign policy, the executive branch is the United States, taking into consideration the occasional “Advice and Consent of the Senate” as prescribed by the Constitution. However, this letter is neither advice, nor consent. It’s directly addressed to leaders of a foreign government presently involved in talks with the U.S., and it is designed to thwart those talks. Unless the senators were authorized by the president to address Iran’s leaders in this letter, a case can be made that 47 U.S. senators just violated a federal law that carries a prison term of up to three years.
Whether the law was broken or not, the fact remains that once again Republicans have shown themselves not only unfit to govern, but unwilling to govern, because governance sometimes means making agreements that don’t give you everything you want. That the vast majority of GOP senators have so publicly proclaimed their opposition to any deal that could ensure Iran will not pursue nuclear weapons is a travesty of foreign policy, a breach of custom, and possibly a felony.
Once upon a time, not only were Republicans open to nuclear agreements with archenemies, they actually signed them, as Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush did. Reagan’s approach was simple: “Trust, but verify.” Thirty years later, it’s a shame Republicans can’t follow his example.