THE BLOG
12/13/2011 12:13 pm ET Updated Feb 12, 2012

House Vote Today to Approve Iran Sanctions Bill Would Restore Bush "Cooties Doctrine"

Today the House of Representatives is scheduled to vote -- under "suspension," requiring a supermajority to pass -- on a provision which would restore as policy the Cooties Doctrine of the early Bush Administration -- U.S. officials can't meet with officials of the adversary du jour, because our officials might get contaminated.

What's remarkable isn't that some people in Washington would want to prohibit U.S. officials from having contact with Iranian officials. After all, some people in Washington want to have a war with Iran as soon as it can be arranged. What's remarkable is the possibility that the majority of Congressional Democrats might vote to approve the "Iran Cooties Provision." Aren't Democrats supposed to be the diplomacy party, not the war party?

The Cooties Provision is Section 601c of H.R. 1905, the so-called "Iran Threat Reduction Act of 2011." Here's what the Cooties Provision says:

(c) RESTRICTION ON CONTACT.--No person employed with the United States Government may contact in an official or unofficial capacity any person that-- (1) is an agent, instrumentality, or official of, is affiliated with, or is serving as a representative of the Government of Iran; and (2) presents a threat to the United States or is affiliated with terrorist organizations. (d) WAIVER.--The President may waive the requirements of subsection (c) if the President determines and so reports to the appropriate congressional committees 15 days prior to the exercise of waiver authority that failure to exercise such waiver authority would pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the vital national security interests of the United States.

Would it not be totally preposterous to add this provision to the United States Code?

It's not completely transparent from the provision how it envisions the determination of which Iranian officials "present a threat." I read it as saying the determination would be made by the Secretary of State, because that's how it is defined elsewhere in the bill. It also seems highly doubtful that the provision is constitutional, since it tries to micromanage the executive branch in its conduct of foreign affairs.

But putting the legal issues to the side, isn't the logic of this provision completely counter to the argument that we voted for in November 2008: that it's ok -- indeed, it is wise, prudent, and preferable -- for the U.S. to be able to talk to its adversaries?

Imagine that your best friend, a U.S. citizen, had the misfortune to be detained in Iran. You get on the phone to the State Department, and you ask, what do you know about the detention of my friend? And the State Department says, sorry, we can't talk to the relevant Iranian officials about your friend, because those officials have been deemed a "threat," so we don't know anything about the detention of your friend.

Wouldn't you think that was outrageously stupid? Isn't working to protect U.S. citizens when they travel overseas the most basic function of the State Department?

Note that the extremely narrow waiver provision might not help you much. The president would have to determine that failure to contact Iranian officials on your friend's behalf would "pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the vital national security interests of the United States." Doesn't that seem like a high bar?

And, even if the president were willing to make such a determination, you would still have to wait 15 days.

Adding this provision to the United States Code would give neoconservative yahoos another stick to beat U.S. diplomats with for simply doing their jobs: omigod, a U.S. official had contact with an Iranian official. Like the neoconservative yahoos need more sticks to beat our diplomats with?

If you agree that adding the Iran Cooties Provision to the United States Code is an extremely stupid idea, why not write your Representative or call 1-877-429-0678 to let them know?

UPDATE: Debate on the Iran sanctions bill took place Tuesday night, but the vote is going to be later this week. You can watch the debate on C-SPAN here at the 8:05 mark.