Tuesday, March 10, 2015


In January of 2003 an unnamed White House source was quoted as saying the following: "[President Bush] considers this nation to be at war, and, as such, considers any opposition to his policies to be no less than an act of treason."

How far we have come.

Yesterday almost the entire Republican Senatorial Delegation - 45 Senators in all including the entire GOP leadership - published open letter to the leaders of Iran on United States Senate letterhead warning that "We [the Senate] will consider any agreement regarding your nuclear-weapons program that is not approved by the Congress as nothing more than an executive agreement between President Obama and Ayatollah Khamenei.  The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the agreement at any time."

The effect of the letter has been immediate and dramatic.   Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif explained, "this kind of letter is unprecedented and undiplomatic. In truth, it told us that we cannot trust the United States."  Zarif went on to condemn the letter's authors as ignorant of both the negotiations and international law itself.

"I should bring one important point to the attention of the authors and that is, 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. The authors may not fully understand that in international law, governments represent the entirety of their respective states, are responsible for the conduct of foreign affairs, are required to fulfil the obligations they undertake with other states and may not invoke their internal law as justification for failure to perform their international obligations.”  "[A] change of administration does not in any way relieve the next administration from international obligations undertaken by its predecessor in a possible agreement about Iran’s peaceful nuclear program.... I wish to enlighten the authors that if the next administration revokes any agreement with ‘the stroke of a pen,’ as they boast, it will have simply committed a blatant violation of international law.” 

Aside the woefully misinformed nature of the Senate Republicans, what they hoped to accomplish with the letter bears consideration.  Even if correct - which they aren't - surely the United States as a nation would stand to benefit if, as they claimed, a future president could simply walk away from whatever commitments President Obama made to the Iranians to get them to abandon their nuclear program.  Were the Iranians misinformed about the dynamics at play the result would be of enormous benefit to the United States.

So why write the letter?  Why alert the Iranian government to the possibility that the negotiation may not be in good faith?  Why cripple negotiations to slow or stop nuclear weapons research which - by their own admission - the Senate Republicans think will cast the United States nothing?

Why, if not because these ideologues would rather see their country fail than their President succeed?

Is that treason?  Almost certainly not -- the word was applied cavalierly in the run up to Iraq and it is of little applicability here as well.  Still, it is, as Zarif pointed out "unprecedented and undiplomatic" and certainly the sort of thing that would have met with jeers of "traitor," "terrorist," and worse a mere 12 years ago.

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