Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Crossing the Line

I was startled to learn the other day that forty-seven Republican senators wrote a letter to the dictators of Iran instructing them on the details of the Constitution, and warning them that any deal with the Obama Administration would be subject to reversal in the near future. I do not believe I have ever heard of such a thing in my lifetime: members of one party of the Senate corresponding with the opposite side in an international negotiation while it was ongoing and, in effect, saying that the Administration has no real authority to make a deal.

To say that I have been critical of the Obama Administration is to put it mildly indeed. But here I find myself having to take the president's side. Such politically motivated intrusion into a high-level negotiation is not only unprecedented (as far as I know), it is downright dangerous. Not to mention breathtakingly stupid. That forty-six senators would have followed a freshman with less than six months in the Senate and no foreign policy experience into this political stunt baffles me. It not only signals that the new Republican majority has no more talent for leadership than the president; it also demonstrates the Republicans' determination to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, as they have done on immigration and the budget.

I have not commented on the Iran nuclear deal to this point for the simple reason that we do not know its details. The broad outline of the deal, as I understand it, does trouble me, as did Prime Minister Netanyahu's speech before Congress. Iran is the world's chief sponsor of terror, and it is making stunning gains in its effort to dominate the Middle East. There can be no doubt that it is determined to establish its hegemony in the region, and that it remains committed to the destruction of Israel. Armed with nuclear weapons, the Mullahs are just crazy enough to use them -- they are fanatics if nothing else, and, thus, impervious to reason. Their ultimate desire is to bring about the End Times, and how better to do that than to unleash a world war.

Now, you could argue as some are doing, that in face of this, no deal with such people is possible. But you could also argue, as the Administration is doing, that some sort of deal is essential for exactly the same reasons. I am inclined to accept the latter proposition, with the important caveat, as Netanyahu urged, that it represent a barrier to an Iranian nuke, and not a pathway to it. If the latter is to be the case, then the deal must be forestalled. But if a deal emerges from the current negotiations which ensures, in a verifiable manner, that Iran will not get the bomb, then it must be taken with utmost seriousness. The whole process is as delicate as it is crucial.

For the forty-seven senators to inject themselves unilaterally into this process before we have had a chance to learn the details of the pending agreement is an egregious breach of protocol and common sense. It crosses a line which, I think, no members of the government should ever cross: undercutting a high-level negotiation while it is in progress by communicating directly with the adversary.

That said, my fear remains that Obama is so desperate for a foreign policy victory that he and Secretary of State John Kerry (who has so far been out-maneuvered in every negotiation) will agree to a deal that achieves the reverse of its intent. It is not enough to wrangle a Munich-style agreement from Tehran, buying a few years of peace at the long-term expense of the security of the U.S. and Israel. This is the what the Prime Minister came to warn us about, in a powerful and cogent speech which, typically, our president could not find time to watch.