Over the past week, Swarthmore saw a departure of students leaving campus for spring break. On Capitol Hill, Senate Republicans seem to have experienced a similar phenomenon, leaving behind any appearance of rationality and common sense behind by authoring a letter to the government of Iran. Lead by Senator Tom Cotton (R-AK.), forty-seven senators penned the letter, entitled “An Open Letter to the Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran.” The letter argues that Iranian leaders should not negotiate an agreement on its nuclear development with U.S. officials, stating that any agreement would be constitutionally subject to the approval of the United States Senate, and then insinuating that President Obama’s administration could never receive this approval. At a basic level, the letter tells the Iranian government that the negotiations mean nothing because the Obama administration is powerless.
The ongoing negotiations have been among the more controversial issues in the political sphere this year. Just a few weeks earlier, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed a joint session of Congress. The content of his speech has been a source of disagreement, but the circumstances surrounding its inception were even more controversial, as House Speaker John Boehner invited Netanyahu to speak without notifying the White House. Netanyahu advocated against a deal with Iran in his speech before Congress, and the letter penned by Senate Republicans is proof that at least some have taken his remarks to heart.
From its opening line, this letter leaves a bitter taste in the mouths of readers. It begins “It has come to our attention while observing your nuclear negotiations with our government that you may not fully understand our constitutional system.” This patronizing tone continues throughout, as the leaders of this foreign nation are treated more like misbehaving children than a foreign power sitting on the other side of the negotiating table. While Iran’s actions on the international level can certainly be described as childish — in fact, this is a tame adjective — this tone gives the intention that the letter was less a serious foreign policy move than a mere political stunt, meant to pander to those at home who oppose such negotiations.
Placing this letter in the greater context of the ongoing negotiations is where it truly departs from the realm of rationality. The representatives of the United States are deeply engaged in negotiations with their counterparts from Iran. No agreement has been reached for Republican Senators to disagree with; instead, they’ve indicated blindly, and preemptively, that they have no interest in a deal. Releasing such a letter before a deal has been reached is shortsighted: Senate Republicans effectively served to reject an agreement whose terms have not yet been reached.
More importantly, however, the letter serves to undermine the negotiating power of the United States. Pointing out the administration’s lack of unilateral power completely undercuts the ability of the negotiators to do their jobs. Senate Republicans are right — we do have a constitutional system that lays out how our government will handle agreements between our nation and others. However, that process begins back home once an agreement has been reached. What is best for the United States is undoubtedly for the most favorable agreement possible to be presented to this system, at which time Senate Republicans will wield their constitutional power. This letter undercuts our own negotiating power, handing the other side a huge advantage in one irrational, misguided action.