Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Politics, Shmolitics--I'm Glad To See Congress Getting More Pro-Active In Foreign Policy. And I Think It's Long Overdue.

     That our Senators Thune and Rounds went along with 45 other Obama-hating
When Congress Capitulates
Time For Our Reps To Get Involved
(cartoon from
Republicans in the Senate and signed onto that notorious "Letter From Senate Republicans To The Leaders Of Iran" doesn't bother me all that much.  
As neither Republican took much of a lead in the effort, I'm pretty sure that both of our Senators saw it as a chance to assert some of the partisan power that we Pubs have accrued from the solid majority we hold in Congress.  I can understand the dismayed and angry nature of the criticism being levelled at the Senate Pubs who locked arms and signed on to this, which is as major a test of the separation of powers as we're ever likely to see.  

     I suppose there's plenty of merit to the complaints about how this undermines the Presidency and might even be an act of "treason."   Far-fetched as that may seem, there could well be some legal and Constitutional basis for the charge.  From my perspective, though, all political calculation aside, I think it's a test of Constitutional wills that's long overdue.  As a Marine who spent 13 months in the belly of that beast that we can fairly call "Lyndon Johnson's war," aka Vietnam, I remember well how Congress kowtowed to LBJ after the trumped up "Gulf of Tonkin" incident,  the now widely discredited "phantom" attack on American warships in 1964 that was the catalyst for a resolution that gave LBJ a free hand in conducting the war--virtually a blank check that ended with so many tragic consequences and ruinous fiscal results.  The U.S. Naval Institute in a paper published in 2008 concluded that "high government officials distorted facts and deceived the American public about events that led to full U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War."
     Decades later, a similarly cowed Congress in 2002 gave President George Bush the green flag to go ahead with with the Iraq War by empowering him to do so with the Iraq War Resolution of 2002.  Congressional Dems were so bamboozled by Bush's efforts to pursue the war that they didn't even know what they were voting for--at least that's how Dem presidential contender Hillary Clinton put it when describing her vote, which she thought, according to her, was a "vote to put inspectors back in."  That is utterly laughable, of course, but it does show how congressional types have ceded powers to Presidents without doing much in the way of due diligence.  
     Now we're trying to hammer out some kind of arrangement that will either stop or at least forestall Iran's nuclear ambitions even as President Obama is imperiously keeping a lid on what the United States' side of the bargain is. That really isn't right because Americans have in the past been led along "trust me" paths by secret deals and acquiescent Congresses. Why Obama won't let our elected representatives in on the deal he's he's trying to cut is just the kind of cavalier executive behavior that has gotten us into plenty of jams in the past.  Just a week ago Obama and his supporters were angry and aghast when Congress welcomed a huge stakeholder in this deal, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to speak directly to them and the American people about Israel's view on the subject. I welcomed the speech.  What gives with President Obama's reluctance to have him address our elected reps in Congress just because it breaks with tradition?  We have a long history of great financial and diplomatic relations with Israel, and just because Obama refuses to hear what Netenyahu has to say, the rest of us might, and many of us do want to know his point of view. I'm no fan of "process" and "tradition" elbowing out "substance."
Politifact Calls The GOP Assertions "Mostly True"
I'm Cheering On The GOP With This One
(photo from

     Constitutional scholars will have plenty to slice and dice as they analyze this episode, but I'm okay with it functioning as a turning point in America's approach to foreign relations.  The process of power politics may be tainting this historical stand-off, but it could prove the catalyst for a future when Americans get to know and make their own judgements about what's going on in the world.   


  1. To me, the problem is that the letter is a stand against the President acting - not the content of the negotiations themselves. How can an agreement that has not been reached (nor specific details referenced) be condemned? If it had been a challenge of substance, then I would agree more with your assertion that more parties, especially the congress, ought to be involved in foreign policy. Even then, there are proper channels; congressional input needs to be in the content of the negotiations. I presume that either through committees or leadership there is the opportunity for "Congress's people" to get in contact with the "President's people" to give input and ensure a good negotiation.

    But this letter was not that. It was not even a true inclusion of the Senate into foreign policy: it was a hatchet job to undermine the negotiator - the President of the United States, who as a Democrat, is the sworn enemy of the 47 Republicans who signed on to this civics lesson.

  2. Sir, I spent the whole of my professional life engaged in the study of American diplomacy. In the course of those decades, I came to understand a number of things, most especially, that whenever the Congress of the United States, especially the House of Representatives, engages itself in the conduct of American foreign policy beyond its constitutional parameters it seldom ends well. It was thus when Congress put President Washington on the spot after the French Revolution and it's been forever the case. This is not to say that the Senate has not abdicated it's obligation to 'advise and consent', Dr. Maddow's 2013 work (Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power) is an excellent primer of that circumstance, but there is a time and place, and Senator Cotton and his colleagues got both wrong. I offer the following for your perusal:

  3. You may find this informative as well:

  4. I am not nearly as sanguine about Congressional involvement for a number of reasons, one of which is that the 47 Signers seem to really want war, not peace, and no negotiations of any kind with Iran. Not to mention the Logan Act...

    And as for Netanyahu's appearance, well, that was pure politics - Israeli politics. And it looks like it's backfired on him. Not to mention that he managed to get most of his facts wrong, but then Netanyahu's basic position is NO NEGOTIATION WITH ANYONE. Check his past.

    The truth is, everyone needs to calm down about Iran for a number of fairly obvious reasons:
    (1) If Iran wanted nuclear weapons, they would already have them. Nuclear weapons are not hard to get if you have the money and the scientists, and Iran has both. They literally have chosen not to get them for a couple of decades. On the other hand, if people like John McCain continue to talk about "bomb, bomb, bomb Iran", and the 47 Signers continue to send letters making vague threats, perhaps we could talk them into getting nuclear weapons. (P.S. Mr. Netanyahu came to this country in 2002 and LIED to Congress about Iraq's nuclear weapons program)
    (2) Iran is currently fighting the biggest threat in the Middle East, Isis, with boots on the ground. Saudi Arabia isn't. If nothing else, we should consider the old policy of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend", and lighten up while Iran is doing for us what we probably should not do for ourselves.
    (3) the treaty that supposedly the 47 Signers are opposed to isn't one that is just between Obama and Iran. It isn't even between just the United States and Iran. It's between a number of nations - the P5+1. Six countries are working on a deal that Congress can vote against later all it wants to. The Letter simply showed how little the 47 Signers have paid attention to who is doing what about whom in that area. As such, I have little reason to think that the 47 have or will have much of substance to add to any foreign policy matters.