If the umbrage being expressed by the Obama administration and its press cheering section this week seems familiar, it should. Their response to the letter sent by 47 Republican senators to Iran’s leaders is straight out of the same playbook they used when Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu was invited to address Congress. Instead of trying to defend a negotiating strategy based on appeasement of the Islamist regime, they are choosing to attack on the spurious grounds that the letter, like the speech, is a breach of protocol and an attempt to undermine President Obama’s diplomatic efforts. While not everyone on the left is going as far as the New York Daily News’s headline that branded the signers as “traitors,” the senators are being blamed, as was Netanyahu, for injecting partisanship into U.S. foreign policy and for attempting to undermine the president’s efforts to reach a peaceful solution to the problem about Iranian nukes. As I wrote yesterday, this is nonsense. But it is worth asking whether the letter will make it harder to gain bipartisan support for congressional efforts to hold the president accountable.
That’s the criticism being expressed by the Wall Street Journal editorial page today. The Journal argues that the letter is a distraction from the effort to persuade the American people that Obama’s Iran policy is a mistake. It also raises the very real possibility that this gesture will make it harder to get enough Democratic votes to pass a the Corker-Menendez bill requiring the president to submit any deal with Iran to Congress for approval. Given the huffing and puffing about the letter from Senate Democrats who purport to be critics of the president’s policy, there’s room to argue that it may have done more harm than good. The Journal is right when it asserts that amassing a veto-proof majority for both that bill and the Kirk-Menendez bill promising more sanctions against Iran in the event that diplomacy fails is the goal; not merely scoring rhetorical points at the president’s expense.
But at this point, with the clock ticking down toward the March 24 deadline for the end of the talks with Iran, it’s time for Democrats who are aware of the danger of the president’s policies to stop being spooked by specious arguments and stick to the real issue. That’s especially true when one considers the very real possibility that, as Politico reports, the same Democrats who said they would not support a vote on either Corker-Menendez or Kirk-Menendez until March 24 are now contemplating giving the president more time to negotiate with Iran if he chooses to let the talks drag on after that date.
Iran has been suckering the West for over a decade with talks that drag on indefinitely, enabling them to get closer to their nuclear goal. But if the president grants the talks a third overtime period after March despite his original promise that negotiations would not continue after July 2014, then Democrats who are serious about holding him to account for pushing for détente with the Islamist regime will have a clear choice before them. If Iran does not agree to the president’s weak proposal that will make it a threshold nuclear power now and possibly give them the chance to get to a weapon even if they comply with Obama’s terms, then the Senate must then vote on both sanctions and the demand that the president submit any potential deal to Congress for approval.
Just as Netanyahu’s speech did not constitute a logical excuse for support or at least acquiescence to a policy of appeasement of Iran, neither does the Senate letter. There is also some irony here that those who are complaining about partisanship are indifferent to the White House statement that compared approximately half the U.S. Senate to Islamist terrorists. The talk about treason or the farcical notion that the letter constituted a violation of the Logan Act which forbids U.S. citizens form negotiating with a foreign government is also just more evidence that it is the Democrats who are the partisans here. Dissent from Obama is not treason. It’s called democracy.
From the start of the debate about Iran, it is the White House that has done its best to play the party card to force even those Democrats who know that the president’s push for détente with Tehran is wrong to get into line behind him. Moreover, the point of the letter is a principle that even those supporting the president’s policies ought to support: the right of Congress to an up or down vote on any agreement the administration concludes with Iran.
The letter, which was spearheaded by freshman Senator Tom Cotton, rightly points out to the Iranians that if a deal is not ratified by Congress, President Obama’s successor will be within his or her rights to revoke it. Though no one disputes that this is true, some of the president’s supporters are treating this possibility as unprecedented when it comes to foreign affairs. But this, too, is nonsense since Obama behaved in exactly the same fashion when it came to some of President Bush’s policies.
One in particular that bears remembering was the Bush administration’s understanding with Israel regarding the West Bank settlement blocs near the 1967 borders. Israel agreed to withdraw from all of Gaza and part of the West Bank in 2005. In exchange, President George W. Bush sent Prime Minister Ariel Sharon a letter stating that it “was unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949. It is realistic to expect that any final status agreement will only be achieved on the basis of mutually agreed changes that reflect these realities.” That was a clear U.S. approval for Israel’s right to hold onto some territory that came into its possession in June 1967. Yet President Obama had no compunction about throwing this understanding into the waste bin of history once he took office.
If, as he has stated that he will, the president chooses to bypass Congress, his Iran agreement won’t have the force of law behind it any more than that letter from Bush to Sharon. As such, he and his supporters are in no position to cry foul about his appeasement of Iran being treated in the same manner.
The letter may be a distraction, but perhaps it was a necessary one since it serves to remind Americans as well as Iran that the issue here is as much the rule of law as it is nuclear appeasement. It’s time for Democrats who say they care about stopping Iran to stop responding to the White House’s tricks and start acting as if they mean what they say about holding him accountable on this momentous issue.