“Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.” – Groucho Marx
Last week, 47 members of Congress sent a letter to the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran (http://tinyurl.com/o34zetq). Although the letter was addressed to the Iranian government, the truth is it should have been sent to the Obama administration, copying the American people. The letter has been sharply criticized, with some suggesting it was a violation of the Logan Act, while others going so far as to suggest the 47 signers were traitors. Those suggesting either are wrong, and those, such as the editors of the New York Daily News, should be embarrassed for recklessly casting out such a venomous accusation as “traitor.”
“Traitor” is a word that evokes such raw emotions that when used it should not be from a position of callous indifference. Yet that is exactly where we find ourselves, existing in a political culture that has become so divisive some would succumb to the very serious charge of traitor instead of acknowledging there is a legitimate cause for disagreement. Such is the case with our current negotiations with Iran. A closer examination of this story finds the wit of Groucho Marx is also a dose of wisdom.
Let’s address the charge that the letter violates the Logan Act, which dates to 1799: “Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States…”
The Logan Act is so significantly irrelevant no one has ever been successfully prosecuted for violating it. Jane Fonda wasn’t when she went to Hanoi during the Vietnam War. Nor was then U.S. senator and current Secretary of State John Kerry charged with a violation of the Logan Act when he traveled to Nicaragua and met with Daniel Ortega during the Reagan presidency. What about Ted Kennedy for secretly communicating with the Kremlin requesting that they intervene in the 1984 elections to help oust Reagan? Or former President Carter for meeting with Hamas? Or former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for leading a delegation to Syria? No, no and no. There are countless other examples of American citizens, of all political persuasions and motives, who met with foreign governments against the desires of the sitting president. It is a counter-productive argument that has absolutely no merit or the support of any creditable constitutional scholar, yet has more than 160,000 online signatures at “We the People” at whitehouse.gov by the clueless masses.
Putting aside the nonsense of the Logan Act and the disgusting attempt to falsely label the letter as a treasonous act, what are the larger issues being ignored related to the Obama administration’s handling of nuclear negotiations with Iran?
First, there is the fact Obama has almost completely cut Congress out of the equation, but more importantly is the reason why Obama believes he is justified in doing so. Obama claims he is not negotiating a treaty with Iran, just a deal. In the words Secretary of State Kerry, who stressed during his recent appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the administration never intended to negotiate a treaty. Kerry stated “We’ve been clear from the beginning. We’re not negotiating a ‘legally binding plan.’ We’re negotiating a plan that will have in it a capacity for enforcement.” I am sorry Mr. Secretary, but if it looks like a treaty and sounds like a treaty, it’s a treaty.
This is clearly an attempt by the Obama administration to bypass the constitutional role of the U.S. Senate, as defined within Article II, Section 2, Clause 2 of the U.S. Constitution, also known as the “Advice and Consent” Treaty Clause. This point was brought home when Idaho Sen. James Risch countered Kerry’s testimony by stating “Let there be no mistake, this is a treaty that is being negotiated. It’s a treaty and should be treated as such.” For some to suggest that even if this were a treaty, the Advice and Constant clause is not required to ratify an international treaty, is a woeful misunderstanding of the clause. It is utterly reckless and ignores more than 200 years of legal precedents. An example made clear in 2002 when then Sen. Joe Biden (our current vice president), wrote in a letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell that a planned strategic arms reductions deal with Russia constituted a “treaty,” and as such was subject to Senate approval under Article II, Section 2, Clause 2, since it would require “significant obligations by the United States.”
Second, the Obama administration is so desperate for a treaty, any treaty, that its negotiations may not be in the best interests of the United States and our allies. The Associated Press recently reported U.S. representatives agreed to a 10-year sun-setting of any agreement that is reached, that our negotiators have ceded very important ground to Iran in the talks, and will allow it to “keep much of its uranium-enriching technology.” A commander within the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, Mohammad Reza Naghdi, recently claimed the “Americans are begging us for a deal on the negotiation table,” according to comments published in the Middle Eastern publication the Persian. Naghdi went on to state American officials routinely “plead” with Iran in talks, and that the United States is negotiating from a position of weakness.
Maybe the letter to leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran was embarrassing to the Obama administration, but it only has itself to blame. This administration’s attempt to circumvent the American people, suggesting they are not negotiating a treaty (when they are), and negotiating from a position of weakness is reckless and warrants intervention by Congress.