Sometimes it seems as though a mysterious force descends on Republicans in the US Congress with the sole purpose of enfeebling their judgment in order to create, throughout the land, sympathy for the Obama Administration. The recent letter, signed by 47 Republican members of the Senate, to Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, is a good example of how this befuddling and mysterious life force seems to manifest itself.
Ironically, a letter designed to “enrich(es) your (Ayatollah Khamenei) knowledge of our constitutional system and promote(s) mutual understanding and clarity as nuclear negotiations progress…” demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding (by the signatories to the letter) of the very constitutional process about which the 47 Republican Senators wish to enrich the Ayatollah’s knowledge.
In fact, a proper understanding of our advise and consent process would have demonstrated that the Senate could include its own Reservations, Understandings, and/or Declarations to a proposed treaty. But we’re nitpicking. The President has announced his decision to by-pass the Senate’s ratification process by treating this nuclear limitation agreement as an executive agreement and not a treaty, thereby excluding the Senate from any role in the process. We do not quarrel with the notion that the negotiation of agreements and treaties are the prerogative of the executive branch of our government. Yet these agreements (when they apply to arms limitations) once negotiated, are generally forwarded to the US Senate for approval. That, in more recent years, was true of Salt I, Start I, Start II, Sort and New Start. There have been exceptions, but whenever an agreement is transformative, wise judgment dictates that it be codified on a non-partisan basis.
And that is where the Obama Administration has become a full and equal partner in poor governance. It rather likes, in fact it even brags about, circumventing or ignoring Congress and prior agreements when our legislative body doesn’t embrace what the President wants to do. Remember the Missile Defense Treaty that was abrogated by President Obama in deference to his eagerness to “reset” relations with Russia. How did that work out?
“Catastrophic for Poland” is how the Polish Ministry of Defense described the suspension of the program. Mirek Topolanek, the former Czech prime minister complained the decision to abrogate the treaty as another sign that “the Americans are not interested in this territory as they were before.” He continued, “this is not good news for the Czech state, for Czech freedom and independence.” Remember Lech Walesa, the former president of Poland and founder of Solidarity? He observed with bitterness: “I can see what kind of policy the Obama administration is pursuing toward this part of Europe.”
And, of course, we needn’t dwell on Russia’s lack of reciprocation to our unilateral reset.
But we digress. The Republicans’ letter to the Ayatollah was “bush league” writ large. We are not familiar with any instance in our history in which members of Congress intervened directly with a foreign government to warn that government of the limitations of an agreement it was negotiating with The United States. As precedents go, this was a poor one to initiate. The immediate backpedaling by some of the signatories once the letter was called out for what it was (a gross and clumsy tantrum by its author(s) constituted a pathetic display of ineptitude.
We are certainly not apologists for the agreement being negotiated, elements of which have been leaked by the Administration. Assuming what has been made public is accurate, it is a bad agreement and riddled with concessions that contradict what the US and the other members of the UN Security Council (plus Germany) were demanding when this negotiating process began. Let’s review:
At the outset of these negotiations it had been the position of the concerned nations of the world that Iran close its Arak and Fordow nuclear facilities, which it is believed can have no practical purpose other than to ultimately produce nuclear weapons-grade material. Iran has refused to do that, so we dropped those demands. The reader should keep in mind that Iran has four such facilities that we know of. Furthermore, early on, we insisted that the thousands of centrifuges Iran had acquired be dismantled (destroyed) or reduced to only a few hundred. Iran apparently refused to do that and, from what we now understand, Iran will be allowed to keep several thousand and the Ayatollah has made it clear that Iran will, in the future, go on to acquire well over 100,000 centrifuges. Also, an early demand of the p5+1 was that any agreement have a term of at least 20 years. Now, apparently, we have been negotiated down to 10 years “or more.”
We and the other members of the UN Security Council have gone from a hard-and-firm effort to stop Iran’s nuclear program to a hail-Mary plan to regulate it. Iran is not going to be regulated by the United States, the UN Security Council or anyone else. Iran is a rogue state. That bears repeating. Iran is a rogue state. It plots and plans terrorist activity all over the world. It has been responsible for countless US casualties in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Iraq. It planned, and nearly succeeded, in assassinating the Saudi Ambassador in a Washington, D.C. restaurant. It is, it appears, responsible for the deaths of 84 men women and children (with hundreds wounded) at the Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires. It supplies rockets and trains those who would fire them at Israel’s civilian population. The UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency reports a chronic lack of compliance with resolutions of the UN Security Council pertaining to its nuclear program.
It is not hard to understand how we got to this reality with Iran. After years of very understandable war fatigue in Iraq and Afghanistan with virtually nothing to show for it in Iraq and possibly little to show for it in Afghanistan, the country has inculcated a strong desire to avoid military engagement with Iran at all costs—or even threatening it. And Iran knows it. Without a believable willingness to use force if necessary, the United States has relied solely on sanctions. After all tough sanctions initiated by President Bush and extended by President Obama did bring Iran to the negotiating table.
Iran, we believe, is convinced that the United States will not attack under any circumstances. Iran is, we think, betting (or we might say bargaining) certain that America will make concession after concession rather than allow the talks to fail. None of our European allies seem to have the stomach for an endless regimen of sanctions and they certainly have no intention of military intervention.
Iran has made impressive progress with its nuclear program while the west dithered. Remember, as recently as 2003, Iran was reported to have only 130 centrifuges capable of converting uranium into an ugly concentration from which a chain reaction could be initiated. Such a chain reaction could be used to create nuclear energy or to simply blow things up like things haven’t been blown up in seventy years. While we talked and moaned and groaned Iran continued to build these centrifuges and by the time we reached the first interim agreement with Iran in November 2013, the Islamic Republic had nearly 20,000 centrifuges spinning away. Some experts say Iran could now produce enough weapons-grade uranium for one bomb in as little as 45 days. It is believed Iran’s current stockpile of low-enriched uranium could, with further enrichment, quickly produce six or seven nuclear bombs.
Force, either military or economic, and the willingness to use it are what make negotiations a viable alternative when negotiating partners are military or economic antagonists. Iran understands full well, that we have the capability to use force. They probably do not, however, fear that even a limited military strike or series of strikes are still options in our playbook. And, thus far, they have achieved great sanctions relief just by agreeing to talk without giving up very much of anything. They have even seen President Obama promise to veto any reinstitution of sanctions while the talks are in progress, so we anticipate that their strategy will be to keep us talking, or to just see what happens should the talks collapse.
The Administration’s negotiating strategy with this rogue regime that reviles us seems to be all carrot and no stick. The idea that we, alone, could re-impose strict sanctions seems unrealistic in the extreme.
And then there is the spectacle of the Republicans’ letter last week warning the Ayatollah that any agreement is apt to be short lived anyway. All in all –dumb and dumber.