By Colonel Richard L. Klass (USA, Ret.)
I wonder who will take “credit” if the Iranian nuclear talks fail. Will it be Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio), based on his unprecedented partisan invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress, and on the rapturous applause he received from the GOP attendees? Or will it be freshman Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton’s (R) impertinent and flawed letter to the Iranian government, signed by forty-six GOP colleagues? While GOP members of Congress are exchanging high fives, will they take note of the smoldering embers of U.S. foreign policy and the vastly diminished U.S. influence in the world?
Cotton has been clear in his intention to stop any agreement on curbing the Iranian nuclear program, stating in January that, “The end of these negotiations isn’t an unintended consequence of congressional action. It is very much an intended consequence.” He contended, however, that his current epistle was merely intended to educate the Iranians on U.S. constitutional procedures. If so, he was a poor teacher, mistakenly characterizing the role of the Senate in ratifying treaties.
In return, Cotton and his colleagues received a terse tutorial on international law from Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, who noted that international agreements, the vast majority of which are executive agreements and not treaties, are obligations entered into by governments, not legislatures. But Cotton and his colleagues’ aim was not to educate or be educated but to undermine the president’s authority and, frankly, kill the negotiations.
Who will be cheering when the international and UN sanctions regime collapses as U.S. foreign policy becomes as dysfunctional as U.S. domestic policy? And to the extent that Boehner’s misguided invitation to Netanyahu is credited with killing the negotiations, who will blame our negotiation partners for fingering Israel as the culprit? So not only will U.S. support for Israel become less secure as it becomes more partisan, but already weakening European support for Israel will continue to erode.
And who will take credit when other negotiations favored by the GOP such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) falter because those negotiating partners see the authority of the president undercut? Do forty-seven GOP senators believe that this will not come back to bite a future GOP president? Do they believe that this partisan effort enhances the stature of the Senate as a deliberative body when the attempt is to short circuit the process and prevent deliberations on the text of an agreement?
The Iranian Foreign Minister also informed the signers of the letter that “The world is not the United States, and the conduct of inter-state relations is governed by international law, and not by US domestic law.” This point will be appreciated by Russia, China, the UK, France and Germany, the rest of the P5+1 negotiating team who not unreasonably believe that they have a stake in the outcome of the negotiations at least as large as that of Arkansas.
Make no mistake, the credibility of the United States as a negotiating partner is at stake for our friends and adversaries. If our foreign policy is seen as equally as partisan and dysfunctional as our domestic policy has become, the U.S. position in the international community will be seriously wounded. There is time to recover. Fortunately the Iranians seem to have taken the letter with all the lack of authority that it deserves. Several GOP senators did not sign the letter, including the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. What is needed now is to take a deep breath and return to sanity. Wait to see what, if anything, emerges from the negotiations. Then examine, analyze and evaluate its terms and conditions before acting. And judge it not as a perfect deal but against the alternatives, intended and unintended, of its rejection.
lass is a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, the National War College and Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar. He flew more than 200 combat missions in Vietnam and served in the executive office of the president as a White House fellow. His awards include the Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross and Purple Heart. He is a member of the Board of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.
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