Clegg: An open letter to the GOP

BY CHRIS CLEGG | MARCH 13, 2015 5:00 AM

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According to Politico, when Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., was asked about the GOP letter to Iranian officials that has seemed to pollute the news since its release on Monday, he said, “It was kind of a rapid process. Everyone was looking forward to getting out of town because of the snowstorm … we probably should of have had more discussion about it.”

I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or be appalled by that statement. I’d like to think that the Republicans wouldn’t let a snowstorm strong-arm them into publishing something that wasn’t thoroughly discussed, but McCain’s comments seem to suggest otherwise. Nonetheless, the letter was written and was made public for anyone with access to the Internet to see.

A USA Today Op-Ed written by the letter’s author, freshman Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., days the letter has one singular goal: “to stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.” While I do not think that anyone would disagree with the invaluable aim at preventing Iranian nuclear armament, I do think that a blatantly condescending letter to Iranian officials is not a sufficient way to go about doing so.

“It has come to our attention … that you may not fully understand our constitutional system,” the letter opens. It then goes on to highlight the very basics of our government’s legislative and executive systems stating, “…while the president negotiates international agreements, Congress plays the significant role of ratifying them,” and “… the offices of our Constitution have different characteristics.”

These functions of our government are important and should not be undermined, but the GOP’s letter — one that basically gives Iran the ultimatum of complete nuclear disarmament or nothing — is about as effective in accomplishing that goal as it would be if I were to pen my own open letter to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and say, “Look buddy, it’s disarmament or else.”

The GOP letter, endorsed by 46 other Republicans including Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, is, on one level undermining President Obama’s ability to negotiate with Iran and on another deepening an already ghastly divide between the two parties that dominate our political atmosphere.

By trying to bypass the president and engage in talks with Iran directly, the GOP is effectively diminishing President Obama’s position as a negotiator.

Because foreign policy relies largely on the cooperation between the president and Congress, it is going to be extremely hard for the Obama administration to present any sort of terms to Iran when Iranians know that there is a deep-seated American rift about those proposals and that they’re likely to stagnate in congressional limbo until they die. Just as the letter undermines Obama, it simultaneously undermines Congress.

While it is not very surprising that no Democrats endorsed this Republican-drafted letter, it is noteworthy that not all Republicans put their support behind it, either. Almost all Democrats from Vice President Joe Biden to presidential hopeful Hillary Rodham Clinton expressed their contempt for the piece, but perhaps the most interesting figure speaking out against it was Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., whose goal is “getting a veto-proof majority to support his bipartisan bill for congressional review of any comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran.”

This statement, given by an aide of the senator’s to the Washington Post, replaced a little bit of the hope taken from me after reading the letter. Instead of wasting our time drafting letters that unjustly accuse foreign governments of ignorance, the Republicans should consider taking a page out of Corker’s book and concentrate more of their efforts on his meaningful legislation to make the negotiations between Iran and the United States more transparent.

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