Coming too close behind my recent rant on willful ignorance to ignore, there arrived news of the now infamous letter to Iran. Signed by 47 Republican Senators, the letter was intended to be a ‘cheeky’ reminder that Congress should not be excluded from any negotiations – and damn! – who knew the White House had no sense of humor? The comments regarding cheekiness and the White House lack of humor came from Congressional staffers who worked on the letter and go a long way towards explaining my irritation. No kids, sorry, I don’t know, or care, whether the White House has a sense of humor. I’ve sure as hell lost mine. Along with my patience. And I think you will find that most of the country agrees with me on this (possibly a rarity). Certainly the newspapers from the home states of these Senators seem to agree. This was just wrong.
Dear Senator Cotton, et al:
Let’s be really, really clear – ‘cheeky’ and diplomacy never, never, never get used in the same thought. There is absolutely no context in which this is remotely acceptable. Did it rise to the level of treason? No, obviously not – we aren’t at war with Iran and that would have been required for it to be legally treasonous. Violation of the Logan Act? Impractical for many reasons, and even if you assume that Senators are not exempt from the act’s nonspecific wording, what Richard Nixon did in 1968 to President Johnson’s negotiations with North Vietnam fell much closer to violating the act (and to treason, for that matter). Serious ethical lapse? Absolutely – but of course, you aren’t going to hold yourselves accountable for anything, so forget any type of censure. Particularly since most of you aren’t seeing what the problem is.
In the time since the letter has been released, we’ve seen some backpedaling (strengthening the President’s hand? Seriously, Sen. Paul?!), very poor attempt to explain why this was a good thing (it really wasn’t, Sen. Cornyn), some “I knew it was not a good idea so I didn’t sign on (Sen. Corker).
But there are a couple of profound problems with the sheer hubris that led you to decide to sign the letter in the first place:
- A failure to realize that this is actually a UN Security Council negotiation (as were the sanctions that came before it). It isn’t a US treaty, executive action, or anything else. It is what we, as permanent members of the UN Security Council are responsible for doing – ensuring that member states comply with international law. I realize that the John Bircher in you wants to treat the UN as a satanic enemy hell-bent on destroying the God-given sovereignty of the US, but it isn’t. We live in an increasingly small world (made ever smaller by those corporations that you hold so dear), and we need international bodies to make sure that everyone plays together well in the sandbox. And that non-nuclear states stay that way. Your narrow-minded need to lambast the President really doesn’t factor into this particular equation.
- Putting the UN aside, this was a breach of diplomatic norms. The State Department and the Executive branch have long been responsible for diplomatic negotiations. Yes, Congress approves treaties, but they do not normally get involved in the delicate business of diplomacy (and this episode proves why). ‘Fuck You’ is rarely a good starting point in a negotiation. And ‘ignore the negotiator because I don’t intend to listen to him’ is NEVER a good approach to negotiations.
- “Cheeky” requires a common cultural understanding of words – I was born and raised here and I don’t understand how this qualifies as “cheeky” – imagine how a non-native reads it (likely the way it was intended). Diplomacy is serious business. Nuclear non-proliferation is particularly serious. If not completely serious, then this letter was very much out-of-place, and incredibly inappropriate. And if completely serious, then it was a significant violation of both common sense and political ethics, and incredibly inappropriate.
- Senators, you have just very publicly drawn your line in the sand – now you can spend the next 22 months pretending that President doesn’t exist. You have firmly established that they have no intention of working together with anyone, not even the more moderate members of your own caucus, to accomplish anything for the foreseeable future. Your term has barely started, and it’s already done. You, and your equally extreme counterparts in the House of Representatives, are willing to do anything – or nothing at all – to prove a point.
There are so many things about this situation that I find troubling. But, besides the galling use of the term ‘cheeky’, what troubles me most is that blatant lack of respect for the Office of the Presidency. You don’t have to like the President, agree with his views, or his policies, but you, as government officials yourselves, do, in fact, have a responsibility to behave like adults and respect the Office. President Bush (GW) made many questionable decisions, showed terrible judgement, allowed Vice President Cheney to strong-arm the CIA into lying about the reasons for war, and tolerated the leaking of an undercover CIA official’s name in order to punish her husband, and yet any criticism of the administration was met by the same extreme right-wing of the Republican Party with shouts of “Treason”.
You don’t get to play that game both ways. Your own behavior is far from patriotic. It is barely skirting legal, comes damn close to sedition, and demonstrates that you have no apparent interest in performing the duties that go along with the role that you sought out. In case you’ve forgotten your civics, you are the Legislative branch of the US government. Act like it.