GOP Senators’ attempt to sabotage U.S. foreign policy is unprecedented

I have never forgotten something I read in the early days of the unnecessary and illegal war in Iraq. One senior British official told Newsweek before the invasion of Iraq, “Everyone wants to go to Baghdad. Real men want to go to Tehran.” War Without End? – The New Yorker.

KristolThis one comment crystallized perfectly the Neocon war mongers’ insatiable appetite for war and desire for conquest of Iran. It was the policy of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) founded by “Bloody Bill” Kristol (The Weekly Standard) and Robert Kagan.

“Bloody Bill” Kristol’s latest protégé, Sen. “Tehran” Tom Cotton (R-AR), Israel lobby’s fingerprints are all over Republican letter to Iran, really screwed the pooch this week with his open letter to Iran. Iran Letter Is Perfect Neoconservative Fiasco – NYMagazine.

The open letter signed by 47 Republican, which included factual errors, may have violated federal law and is arguably unconstitutional.

Editorial page opinions universally condemned the 47 GOP senators. The top 10 trending Twitter topics in the United States early in the week listed “#47traitors” at the top. The senators who signed Cotton’s letter were called “TRAITORS” on the front page of the New York Daily News.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif responded to the open letter with a letter of his own that schooled “Tehran” Tom and his Senate colleagues on U.S. and international law, making them look foolish.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, said the letter is “a sign of a decline in political ethics and the destruction of the American establishment from within.” Ayatollah Khamenei Derides Republicans’ Letter on Iran Nuclear Talks.

The reaction from Washington’s foreign policy establishment was that the political dysfunction in Washington has become so poisonous that it has begun to damage the United States’ standing in the world. Experts say U.S. standing takes hit after GOP letter.

Testifying before the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee this week, Secretary of State John Kerry said the letter might embolden Iranian hard-liners. Kerry Criticizes Republican Letter to Iranian Leaders on Nuclear Talks.

European officials criticized the Republican letter to Iran and said the open letter has been counterproductive and come at a sensitive time in the nuclear talks. These negotiations are between the U.N. six powers and Iran, not just between the U.S. and Iran.

Retired Major Gen. Paul Eaton characterized the Iran letter from the 47 Senate Republicans as “mutinous” and possibly “illegal.” As for “Tehran” Tom, Eaton added “What Senator Cotton did is a gross breach of discipline, and especially as a veteran of the Army, he should know better.”

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who refused to sign the letter, criticized his GOP colleague’s initiative.

Former Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), a respected expert in nuclear proliferation, said this week that Republicans aren’t just helping the Ayatollah’s position, they’re also helping “weaken” the United States’ credibility on the global stage.

Vice President Joseph Biden Jr. said he could recall no other instance in which senators had written to leaders of another country to say the president had no authority to strike a deal with them. Biden Rebukes Senate Republicans Over Letter to Iran.

And President Obama in an interview with Vice News said:

“I’m embarrassed for them,” the president remarked of the letter’s original 47 signatories, which included the Republican Senate leadership as well as potential 2016 presidential candidates Ted Cruz (Texas), Marco Rubio (Florida), and Rand Paul (Kentucky). “For them to address a letter to the ayatollah — the supreme leader of Iran, who they claim is our mortal enemy — and their basic argument to them is: don’t deal with our president, because you can’t trust him to follow through on an agreement… That’s close to unprecedented.”

Actually, it is unprecedented. Steve Benen examines Was Cotton’s stunt unprecedented?

On its face, the fact that 47 Senate Republicans wrote to Iran this week in the hopes of sabotaging international diplomacy is itself shocking. The very idea of American officials brazenly trying to undermine their own country’s foreign policy in the midst of delicate nuclear talks is simply breathtaking.

But what makes the stunt, spearheaded by Sen. Ton Cotton (R-Ark.), especially scandalous is how unusual it is. In the American tradition, elected U.S. officials have never actively and publicly tried to do their own freelance foreign policy in such a shameless and high-profile way.

Or have they? McClatchy dug a little deeper on the unprecedented nature of the GOP gambit.

The U.S. Senate Historian’s Office has so far been unable to find another example in the chamber’s history where one political party openly tried to deal with a foreign power against a presidential policy, as Republicans have attempted in their open letter to Iran this week. […]

In the past, [Senate Historian Donald Ritchie] said, “what usually happened is a senator would sign a ’round robin’ letter or a sense of the Senate resolution, or write a letter to the president or secretary of State voicing objections to some particular policy.

Individual senators have also on occasion met with the foreign leaders on policy issues, Ritchie said. In this case, he said his office conducted a general search on disarmament issues to see if an episode similar to the Iran letter could be found.

Ritchie told McClatchy his office looked, but “really didn’t find anything.”

The same report quoted Alan K. Henrikson, director of Diplomatic Studies and a professor of diplomatic history at Tufts University, said this week marks a first: “Neither the Senate nor the House has sought to interfere with actual conduct of negotiations by writing an open letter to the leadership of a country with which the U.S. is negotiating.”

A Politico report added yesterday, “Experts say the Senate GOP’s Iran letter may be an unprecedented breach of foreign policy protocol both in its form and its boldness.”

The talking heads in the conservative media entertainment complex will squawk “Nancy Pelosi!” out of blind hatred. But their unhinged assertion is false.

Towards the end of the Bush/Cheney era, then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) traveled to Syria and met with Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad. Then-Vice President Dick Cheney complained to Rush Limbaugh at the time, “The president is the one who conducts foreign policy, not the speaker of the House.”

So, does this disprove the criticism of Cotton & Co.? Not really. For one thing, Pelosi notified both the White House and the State Department in advance of her trip. She also received a policy briefing from Bush administration officials about developments in Syria, and Pelosi was told that the staff at the U.S. embassy in Damascus would be available if needed.

[Update: I spoke to Pelosi’s office, and a top aide reminded me that officials from the Bush State Department literally sat in on the meeting between the then-Speaker and Assad. To see this as comparable to the sabotage letter is plainly at odds with the facts.]

In other words, Pelosi honored U.S. protocols and worked with the executive branch instead of trying to circumvent it. Let’s also not forget that the Bush administration was not actively involved in delicate negotiations with Syria at the time.

What’s more, the Democratic leader met with Assad in the hopes that engagement would be more productive than isolation, but Pelosi did not encourage the Syrian leader – or any other foreign officials – to ignore the Republican White House or distrust American foreign policy.

That said, at the time, congressional Republicans suggested Pelosi’s actions may have been illegal because the Logan Act “makes it a felony for any American ‘without authority of the United States’ to communicate with a foreign government to influence that government’s behavior on any disputes with the United States.”

By this same Republican definition, wouldn’t Cotton’s letter be a rather obvious example of violating federal law?

* * *

Actions like these used to be unheard of in the American tradition, but once President Obama took office, Republicans largely re-wrote the rules.

The specific circumstances – the nature of the international talks, the ongoing diplomatic efforts, the deliberate attempt at sabotage – suggest this is very likely a controversy unlike any before it.

Such disloyalty from members of Congress has not been seen in America since the days immediately preceding the Civil War.

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