Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Congress on March 3, 2015 and gave a speech studded with so much applause it felt like a State of the Union address. The speech focused on terror threats in the Middle East, namely Islamic State and Iran. Netanyahu emphasized that any kind of accord with the United States and other key actors should be viewed as a mistake, and that “no deal” is better than the deal on the table.
Congress’ invitation to the Prime Minister caused a stir because Congress never consulted the White House, and on March 9, 2015 dozens of Senators sent an open letter to Iran. The letter followed Netanyahu’s speech’s central theme: that no deal is better than any deal signed by President Obama.
The open letter, signed by 47 (Republican) Senators made headlines because the open letter openly rebukes the President’s foreign policy objectives and explicitly takes a hardline towards Iran. Never mind the American people elected a president who in his 2009 inaugural address, said:
To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.
In short, the 47 Senators who signed openly disagree with the President and exposed core political differences in a nation that, at least when it comes to foreign policy, needs to exhibit strength and unity. Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright called the letter “unprecedented and fairly outrageous,” precisely because it undermines the United States’ negotiating power.
Newspapers have roundly covered this, but the other point worth raising here is how incredibly condescending the open letter is to its intended audience. The letter explicitly threaten to torpedo any agreement with Iran, which surely makes Iranian leaders wonder if the United States is negotiating in good faith. Further, and what everybody should find particularly egregious, is the way the Senators belittle a formidable foreign government. Some of the open letter’s excerpts include:
-It has come to our attention while observing your nuclear negotiations with our government that you may not fully understand our constitutional system.
-As applied today, for instance, President Obama will leave office in January 2017, while most of us will remain in office well beyond then—perhaps decades.
-What these two constitutional provisions mean is that we will consider any agreement regarding your nuclear-weapons program that is not approved by the Congress as nothing more than an executive agreement between President Obama and Ayatollah Khamenei.
In short, the open letter presumes high-level Iranian government officials are entirely unfamiliar with the basic underpinnings of a nation they have been negotiating with for months on end; offend democracies everywhere by asserting that some of today’s Senators intend to stay in office in perpetuity; and, that Congress will do everything to thwart good-faith negotiations made by the Executive Branch.
The open letter sets a dangerous precedent for future negotiations and further reinforces the partisan divide in Washington. Meanwhile, if Iran sees no viable deal in reach, then the incentive to develop nuclear technology for bad instead of good grows ever larger.
Netanyahu’s speech and the Senators’ open letter close the door to diplomacy, leaving the White House with a bad deal all around.
Slate offers a similar viewpoint here.