Freshman Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) made waves Monday after authoring a letter to the Iranian leadership offering some not so friendly advice about the prospects of a potential nuclear agreement with the United States. The letter, signed by 46 other Republican senators, suggested that any agreement that could be reached would be unlikely to last beyond the end of President Obama's term, and could be undone with "the stroke of a pen." Senator Cotton may be inclined to refer to the letter as a reasonable use of Congressional authority to involve itself in foreign affairs, but critics were quick to call it what it really is: another move in a clearly partisan strategy to undermine the president's authority to negotiate with foreign leaders.
Unfortunately, Senator Cotton isn't wrong in arguing that a precedent exists by which Congress interjects in foreign affairs against the better wishes of the White House. Less than a decade ago, then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) traveled to Syria to meet with President Bashar al-Asad despite attempts by the Bush administration to isolate the regime. And to the credit of Senate Republicans, Democrats are being hypocritical by condemning the letter when they were quick to defend Pelosi's trip to Syria. Questions of whether they violated the Logan Act are equally misguided.
What seems to escape Senator Cotton and his colleagues in the Senate is that Democratic hypocrisy doesn't make the letter any less of a blatant attempt to sabotage current negotiations with a regime that has proven easily spooked, and never fully committed to reaching substantive agreements limiting its nuclear enrichment program. Still, they remain committed to the idea that the president is obligated to get Congressional approval for whatever agreement his administration reaches with the Islamic Republic.
Yet, executive agreements negotiated between the president and foreign leaders aren't exactly anything new. During his tenure, Ronald Reagan negotiated over 1,500 executive agreements, including one resolving the hostage crisis with the same regime Republicans now seem recklessly intent on igniting a military conflict with, which would only exacerbate the instability disrupting the entire region. When Franklin Roosevelt negotiated the Atlantic Charter, one of the most significant agreements in diplomatic history, he did so without Congressional approval. You won't find many historical scholars questioning that decision.
Even so, Congressional Republicans have stated adamantly that a bad deal is worse than no deal at all and would vote down any agreement that doesn't completely dismantle Iran's ability to enrich uranium, which, at the moment, is not on the table.
Would a potential agreement with Iran be better off if it received Congressional approval? Sure. It would certainly grant it some additional legitimacy. But that legitimacy is only a plus if the agreement doesn't get scuttled in the process.
Senator Cotton certainly won't be losing any sleep over the fact that his actions endanger the very delicate negotiations that are rapidly approaching their self-imposed deadline. What he may not realize is the hawkish rhetoric he and most other Republicans keep using to justify those actions may very well embolden the hardliners in Iran to double down on efforts to preserve or even grow an enrichment program they are so intent on eliminating.
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