Why The GOP Letter To Iran Is Such A Huge, Major Deal

Originally published by Breaking Modern:

In a supremely strange move this week, 47 Republican senators took the unprecedented step of directly writing the leader of a foreign government in order to get in the way of a US president’s foreign policy talks with it. This is even though the US constitution, as any ninth grader has learned in social studies, puts a sitting US president in charge of foreign policy.

In its letter to the Iranian government, the GOP senators said: Don’t bother cutting a deal with President Obama and the United States right. Because, it said, the next “Republican president” will just reverse any agreement “with the stroke of a pen.”

This astounded news watchers around the world. Here’s why this development is so disturbing and why you should follow these developments closely.

"-- دكتر ظريف-- در كنار حجت الاسلام صالحي منش 2014-03-27 04-15" by User:Didehban - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via WMC.

But first, let’s back up and look at the Iranian reaction to the letter. It certainly didn’t do much to dissuade Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif from continuing with US talks to limit nuclear weapons production in Iran.

In a public statement, Zarif said he wasn’t buying it, but that he now has a stronger understanding of constitutional separation of powers under the American system than the signatories of the letter do.

Confused in the USA

As American legal scholars and political analysts struggle to get their heads around the GOP letter and its implications, Iran’s Zarif offered some theories. The Republican senators, Zarif said, must “not understand international law,” said Zarif, a professor of international law, and they must not understand the US constitution, either. Either they are not “fully cognizant of the nuances of their own constitution when it comes to presidential powers in the conduct of foreign policy.”

Ouch. And he’s right, as any ninth grader making a B in the social studies could tell you straight away.

Under law and by custom, the executive branch is in charge of foreign policy – including treaty negotiations, which this is not.

While the Senate specifically and the legislative branch in general have a consulting role to play, especially in the ratification of treaties, the kind of agreement being contemplated between Obama and Iran is not one of them. In fact, President Bush arrived at a similar deal with Libya, which did not require congressional consent.

Furthermore, presidents historically honor their predecessor’s international promises regardless of their political party. They have to, for all the obvious reasons.

So, bottom line, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)’s notorious “bomb bomb bomb bomb Iran” plan will have to wait.

A Sign of Political Decline?

US lawmakers, for the first time anyone can remember, have publicly set out to undermine a sitting president during talks with a longtime adversary are astounding.

US Vice President Joe Biden accurately characterized the implications in this statement:

This letter sends a highly misleading signal to friend and foe alike that our commander in chief cannot deliver on America’s commitments — a message that is as false as it is dangerous.”

Of all people, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, got right to the heart of the issue.

The GOP letter, the Ayatollah said, is “a sign of a decline in political ethics and the destruction of the American establishment from within.”

Don’t All Countries Stick To Foreign Commitments Post Elections?

Forgotten in this tempest of partisan lunacy is a fact alluded to in Khamenei’s statement: “All countries, according to the international norms, remain faithful to their commitments even after their governments change.”

Iran knows this well. Why? Because if Iran hadn’t followed such “international norms,” it would be free to develop any nuclear weapons program they felt like, no matter what it had agreed to in the past. And that means there would never be grounds for the United States or any other country to impose economic sanctions on Iran.

This is why international observers in the US, Europe and in the Middle East are so blown away by the GOP letter.

The agreement that prohibits an Iranian nuclear weapons program is the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Iran signed it in 1968, and agreed to an inspections regime in 1974.

Ah, but that was under the rule of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

The Shah was deposed in the 1979 Islamic revolution. The new government, the one currently led by Ayatollah Khamanei, nevertheless agreed to honor the international agreements signed by its predecessor, including the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

And this makes the Republican letter still more outrageous.

Why You Should Care

What you are watching now is a most bizarre spectacle. You’ve got  the United States playing holier than thou, screaming to high heavens that Iran can’t be trusted and that the country poses a grave danger of developing nuclear weapons that it will sell or fire at Israel or even at us.

Yet Iran is and has been honoring a nuclear treaty signed by an entirely different government, one that was overthrown back in 1979.

But now you have 47 lawmakers contacting the leader of a foreign government directly, saying that, unlike Iran, anything the President of the United States negotiates with foreign countries becomes null and void when he leaves office. And this is not even after a full-fledged revolution, mind you, but just after an election.

Whatever moral high ground as United States once held on the international stage is collapsing into a deep deep valley. I’ll be watching these developments for you in the days and weeks to come. 


  • > publicly set out to undermine a sitting president

    They’ve been publicly undermining the president and the Constitution for decades. Moving into the international arena is a small step down an already slippery slope. Just think, if we’d prosecuted Reagan for conspiring with the Iranians, maybe the #47Traitors would have thought twice. Hell, if they’d only thought once we’d be better off.

    The good news is that I doubt they could tarnish our reputation any further than Bush already did. From lying to the UN, to “Yo! Blair!” to publicly instructing the Japanese government that he won’t eat sushi, it seems he went out of his way to show the world he was in no way fit to have his finger on the button.

    Anyone familiar with the protocol would know that the White House chef would consult with his Japanese counterpart and they would jointly agree on a menu – in private. Let’s say Dumbya had invited the Japanese President to a BBQ at his dude ranch, and they’d responded via official channels. “Okay, but the President won’t eat rare meat. None of the food on his plate can touch any other food, and cut the crusts off his bread” … everyone in Texas would publicly question his manhood, the cartoonists would have a field day, and Americans collective opinion of the Japanese would drop.

    On that note, didja know that Daddy Bush gave the Japanese a new word? “Bushu” meaning “to vomit” At least the Saudis are still our friends.

  • Doggone it, I can’t find the quote. In The Godfather, Sonny blurts out at a meeting of Dons that he disagrees with his father’s stance on drugs. Later, Don Coreleone talks to him saying that it’s a very bad idea to let hostiles know that there’s a division in your ranks. Eventually, it results in a gang war and Sonny’s death.

    The moral of the story: don’t compare congresscritters to Mafiosi. It’s an insult to the Mafia.

    • I love that series. I remember the scene you mention, but it might have been Michael’s advice: “Never let anyone know what you are thinking.” (Godfather III)
      [Maybe I need to watch the series again.]

  • drooling zombies everywhere
    March 21, 2015 5:01 AM

    This international conversation is complicated by the peculiar American usage of the word “government.”

    The thing that Americans call “government,” people in the rest of the world call “the state.”

    When foreigners talk about a “government,” they mean what Americans call an “administration.”

    In the news sometimes you read that in some other country “the government has collapsed.” To Americans this sounds like what happened in Somalia, or in Afghanistan when the Taliban took over, but it usually just means Parliament is renegotiating who gets to be Prime Minister next. The closest recent parallel in the U.S. was when Newt Gingrich was removed as Speaker of the House in 1998.

    When the Shah was overthrown in 1979, that was a change in “government” in the American sense of the word, but probably the Ayatollah meant to invoke the international meaning. He just meant the next time Republicans get into the White House. The way the rest of the world uses the word, that’s a new and different government.

  • The GOP leadership continues to make serious strict constitutionalists look bad. What a surprise!