THE BLOG

GOP Senate Letter Undercutting Nuclear Negotiations Has No Known Precedent in American History

03/11/2015 02:14 pm ET | Updated May 11, 2015
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Ever since Republicans published their letter trying to sabotage U.S. negotiations to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, right-wing pundits have searched in vain to find historic parallels for their action.

They have twisted themselves into knots trying to argue that past actions by Democrats are even remotely similar. None even come close.

MSNBC's Steve Benen reports that the U.S. Senate Historian's Office has been unable to find any other example "in the chamber's history where one political party tried to deal with a foreign power against a presidential policy."

A report by McClatchy quotes Alan K. Henrikson, director of Diplomatic Studies and professor of diplomatic history at Tufts University as saying: "Neither the Senate nor the House has sought to interfere with actual conduct of negotiations by writing an open letter to the leadership of a country with which the U.S. is negotiating."

And of course, neither has sought to discourage an adversary from signing an agreement that would avoid war by arguing that our own government cannot be trusted to keep the terms of the deal. That is exactly what the 47 GOP saboteurs did in their letter to Iran on Monday.

The right has dragged out House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi's trip to Syria in 2007 trying desperately to draw a parallel. But Pelosi's trip had nothing in common with the GOP letter to the Ayatollah's.

For those who don't recall, then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and a bi-partisan delegation went to meet with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during a trip to the Middle East in late 2007.

The delegation included two of the most ardent backers of Israel then in the United States Congress, Representatives Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Tom Lantos (D-Calif.). It also included a senior Republican, Representative David Hobson (R-Ohio), as well as Arab American, Representative Nick Rahall (D-WV), Muslim Keith Ellison (D-MN), and Rules Committee Chair Louise Slaughter (D-NY).

Pelosi notified both the White House and the State Department in advance of the trip, received a policy briefing from the Bush administration and was told that the staff of the U.S. embassy in Damascus would be available to provide support if needed.

Most important, no one in the bi-partisan Pelosi-led delegation tried to encourage President Assad to ignore the Republican White House, or distrust American foreign policy.

The purpose of the trip was not to disrupt any ongoing negotiation with Syria -- there were none. Certainly there was no representation by the delegation that Assad could not trust the United States to stand by the terms of an agreement.

Instead, the goal of the trip was fact-finding, and to press for the release of captured Israeli soldiers. It was also the hope of the delegation that increased engagement with Syria would be more productive than isolation.

Some on the right have argued that the Pelosi delegation violated the U.S. policy of isolating Syria, ignoring that the bi-partisan trip was completely coordinated with the White House and State Department and that in May, 2007 an all-Republican delegation went to Syria that included Representative Robert Aderholt (R-AL), Frank Wolf (R-VA), and Joe Pitts (R-PA). Around the same time, Representative Darrell Issa of California - one of the most partisan Republicans in Congress, also visited Syria.

In other words, the Pelosi-led bi-partisan delegation to Syria had nothing whatsoever in common with the outrageous letter that called on Iran to reject a deal with six international powers that would prevent them from obtaining a nuclear weapon because, they said, our own government cannot be trusted to keep the agreement.

In fact, the 47 Republicans who signed the letter quite literally aligned themselves with the most hardline elements of the Iranian political elite, who also desperately want the agreement to fail. The hardline Iranians would, in fact, like Iran to be in a position to obtain nuclear weapons, and oppose the pact because it would prevent them from doing so.

What Sen. Tom Cotton and his colleagues have done is to strengthen the hard liners' ability to stop a deal.

Let's remember that if they are successful and the negotiations collapse, the international sanctions will almost certainly collapse as well. Iran will be free to pursue a nuclear weapon and we will be left with the choice of a nuclear Iran or launching another War in the Middle East.

Such a war would not only be a massive military engagement, it would enflame the Muslim world against the United States and Israel, and would likely result in a years-long commitment of trillions of American tax dollars. If it were at all like the War in Iraq it would involve the deaths of thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of residents of the Middle East -- and would likely spin out of control.

And if the people of the world believe that actions of the United States or its Congress led to collapse of these critical negotiations -- and that in turn leads to war -- respect for the United States around the world will sink to new lows.

Of course the defense contractors that Sen. Cotton visited right after publishing the letter to Iran, would make billions.

Fortunately, the American people have reacted to the "Cotton letter" with revulsion. Increasingly, many Republicans view the bush league attempt to sabotage the Iran nuclear negotiations as a monumental political disaster.

The 47 Republicans who signed the Cotton letter may end up ruing the day. They should have asked Mitt Romney. He could have told them that 47 is just not the Republicans' lucky number.

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Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist, and author of the book: Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, available on Amazon.com. He is a partner in Democracy Partners and a Senior Strategist for Americans United for Change. Follow him on Twitter @rbcreamer.