Letter to Iran marks a dangerous watershed for U.S.

Foolish as it was — and it was extremely foolish — the letter sent to Iranian authorities this week by 47 Republican senators was more dangerous than it was foolhardy. Those who authored it no doubt think of themselves as patriots; they no doubt believe deeply in the concept of American exceptionalism, and they clearly advocate a strong American presence on the global stage.

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U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas led 46 other Republican senators in drafting and sending a letter to Iranian leaders attempting to sabotage negotiations over Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

But in their stubborn righteousness, in their self-satisfied belief that they and only they are the wise and proper spokesmen for this country, they have made the United States look weak in the eyes of the world. They have taken the true source of whatever influence we might carry — our unity — and they have debased it. They have done real harm to this country.

There’s no excuse for it.

Not so long ago, we still understood that if you want to win a debate, you win it here, on these shores. If you have problems or disagreements with your nation’s leadership, you deal with it amongst your fellow citizens, through the processes available to you.

You don’t invite foreign leaders into your councils of government to undercut your own duly chosen leaders, no matter how much you may dislike those leaders. Nor do you reach out to a foreign enemy, opening your own negotiation channels, to try to sabotage the policies of those who were elected by your people and designated in the Constitution to handle those responsibilities.

When we speak to the world, we speak in one voice, as the United States of America, not as subsets of Americans who can be played off each other for the advantage of outsiders. We do not allow outsiders to divide us. We don’t invite outsiders to become players in our own affairs.

The standard maxim invoked in such discussions is of course that “politics stops at the water’s edge,” a phrasing that goes back to 1947. But the sentiment that it expresses runs much, much deeper. It can also be found in the Logan Act, which since 1799 has forbid private citizens from conducting their own individual versions of American foreign policy counter to that of the government.

It states:

“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, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.”

The Republican letter to Iranian leadership clearly violates both the spirit and the letter of the Logan Act, leading some to suggest that prosecution might be warranted. By the letter of the law, they’re correct, but as a practical matter the suggestion is almost as foolish as the letter itself. If we can’t enforce such understandings through our joint identity as Americans, if we are really and truly forced to rely on the threat of prosecution to remind elected officials of the gravity of their actions — if that’s how far we’ve sunk, then the battle is already lost.

And it’s not just an American ideal, or a post-WWII ideal. It gets down to the basic understanding of a nation state and how it functions. You can go back thousands of years, to the days of the Greek city states and beyond, and even there you will find it well understood that in matters of diplomacy and war, a successful nation speaks with one voice and only one voice. It is and has always been a fundamental of international relations, of human relations.

Think of it on the smallest scale possible. Think of it in terms of a married couple trying to negotiate the purchase of a house or car, but bickering between themselves at the settlement table, with one partner trying to undercut the other. That’s how we’ve now presented ourselves to the rest of the world.

And at the national level, the problem is that once such understandings are violated, once such taboos are broken, they become much more difficult to reinstate. With this example now set, it becomes much easier for malcontents of either party to follow it in the future.

And other nations, having watched this play out, will now begin to factor it into their own calculations. If they are told “no” by an American adminstration, they now have hope of being told “yes” by another branch of that government. If they are told “yes” by an administration, they now have cause to doubt whether that “yes” can really be counted upon.

The question of an Iranian nuclear weapons program is one of a handful of the most pressing foreign-policy challenges that we face. But the issue of who sets and carries out American foreign policy, the issue of whether we are even capable of acting as one actor on the world stage, with one voice and one mind, is much more fundamental and important.

And that makes this week’s events deeply, deeply troubling.

 

Reader Comments 0

904 comments
Normd
Normd

HILLARY SHEETZ...

Cupofjoe
Cupofjoe

It is humorous watching the attempts to defend the indefensible.


If Congress were attempting to stop GW and Cheney on Iraq Jaybee would trumpet Congress as superheroes.


I for one am tired of unchecked, unilateral, non transparent work from any of our 3 important branches of gov't.  I also am tired of folks from both sides who are concerned "how we look to the world" in preserving an ends that justify the means approach.



honested
honested

@Cupofjoe 

I wish Congress had stepped forward and prevented that prolonged disaster, but I guess they were afraid of cheney barging into the chamber, M16 in hand to 'settle things'.

The comparison is that a republiklan led Congress apparently cannot do the right thing when it is dangled in front of them!!

TomMiddleton
TomMiddleton

We don't hire slaves for our leaders but full-fledged people who can think for themselves, not only as individuals in terms of their own lives but as inclusive souls in terms of everyone else.

So when it comes to Hillary Clinton and how she chose to do e-mail, who giveth a sh-t, for what we have in her alone is many times more inclusive and moral than the whole Republican Party until now.

honested
honested

@TomMiddleton 

Wasn't it difficult to type 'republican' and 'moral' in the same sentence?

TBS
TBS

POWELL: I — I can’t speak to a — Mrs. Clinton and what she should do now. That would be inappropriate.

What I did when I entered the State Department, I found an antiquated system that had to be modernized and modernized quickly.

So we put in place new systems, bought 44,000 computers and put a new Internet capable computer on every single desk in every embassy, every office in the State Department. And then I connected it with software.

But in order to change the culture, to change the brainware, as I call it, I started using it in order to get everybody to use it, so we could be a 21st century institution and not a 19th century.

But I retained none of those e-mails and we are working with the State Department to see if there’s anything else they want to discuss with me about those e-mails.

................................

STEPHANOPOULOS: — they’ve asked you to turn them over, but you don’t have them, is that it?

POWELL: I don’t have any — I don’t have any to turn over. I did not keep a cache of them. I did not print them off. I do not have thousands of pages somewhere in my personal files.

And, in fact, a lot of the e-mails that came out of my personal account went into the State Department system. They were addressed to State Department employees and the State.gov domain. But I don’t know if the servers the State Department captured those or not.

And most — they were all unclassified and most of them, I think, are pretty benign, so I’m not terribly concerned even if they were able to recover them.



Paul42
Paul42

National Archives and Records Administration
Bulletin 2013-13

8. Under what circumstances may employees remove records and documentary materials from Government custody?

Employees may remove documentary materials that are of a purely personal nature when they leave the agency. Personal materials include family and personal correspondence and materials documenting professional activities and outside business or political pursuits (36 CFR 1220.18 and 36 CFR 1222.20).


As on the show this morning, many will argue that this is not a good policy so employees should follow a more restrictive standard with greater bureaucratic controls.  That, however, is a different issue than whether or not the rules were followed.

So conservatives, go ahead and make your case for more regulations and bigger government.

Normd
Normd

Oh yeah, Hillary has thrown chum in the water and the GOP circle around like the sharks they are.  Have you noticed that they are very good at going in circles?


Seriously though, I do believe that if Hillary doesn't release the server, she is acting contrary to where I want her to be.  Will it prevent her from being President if she wants it?  I doubt it.  It seems that only the GOP cares and they are not going to vote for her anyway...

straker
straker

td - "lets see the grubered defend this action"


Do you have a right to privacy when it comes to your personal emails?


If so, she does too.

td1234
td1234

@straker The day that I decided to intermingle my personal and official government emails on my private account then that is the day I chose to give up all rights to privacy or at least to make the decision as to what is private and what is public. 

td1234
td1234

So now Hillary decides that there were 32,000 emails on her server that in her opinion were private so she deleted them. 


Now lets see the grubered defend this action. 

Brosephus
Brosephus

@td1234

Maybe she didn't want us to know that she's really the Nigerian prince that wants to share the lottery winnings with you.

Paul42
Paul42

@td1234 

 Maybe, td, just maybe if you listened to some actual news shows you'd have heard by now that for all federal agencies, it is up to the account holder to decide which of the emails are personal and which are official, to be retained.

The show I watched had only a couple of participants who could discuss the issue on its merits.  The rest of the participants did what we see here:  object if they thought the policy supported the action of a political opponent.

Ideas vs personal.  Many can't see the difference.

td1234
td1234

@Paul42 @td1234 LOL. I watched all of MSNBC this morning and these were the questions being raised by them. Not a right wing conspiracy. 

TBS
TBS

@td1234 @Paul42


What did MSNBC have to say about the agent who was assigned to guard the server?

Is that talking point still making the rounds or have others cropped up this morning?

Paul42
Paul42

@td1234 

 "Now lets see the grubered defend this action. "

That was an issue raised on MSNBC?

I must have missed it.

As I noted, many would not discuss the guidelines themselves, but what they thought of the guidelines and wanted to impose their view on how operations SHOULD have been conducted.

Paul42
Paul42

@TBS

(System Administrator) "Nice to meet you.  Sorry, can't talk about my job.  It's classified.  All I can say is, I'm black ops and protect American assets."


Brosephus
Brosephus

@td1234

Nope.  just having a bit of a laugh at your expense.  Nothing more.

TBS
TBS

@Paul42 @TBS


Too funny.  Last night td kept pushing this notion that a secret service agent was assigned to guard the server and that is what Hillary stated yesterday. 

When I posted what Hillary actually said he didn't seem to want to discuss it any further.  The funny thing is that I went to brietbart and the talking point td was pushing was exactly what they were selling. 

Pure coincidence I'm guessing. 

LeninTime
LeninTime

And let us drag Nancy Pelosi, the meeter and greeter of the Syrians out to hang for her similar crimes. 

Let us sign another petition to have John Kerry arrested for his visits and negotiations with terrorists in central America. 

***
Yeah, cause it's all about partisan oneupmanship. All that matters.

straker
straker

coj - "understands our American Constitution better"


And, far better than most of the cons here.

coj
coj

It is remarkable that the Iranian minister understands our American Constitution better than the 47 republican letter signers.

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

You know what this thread needs?

It needs YJC to post a link to a Forbes piece that hawks a tale told about two guys who'd conveniently died already.

Three or four more times.

JohnnyReb
JohnnyReb

And this group makes fun of Birthers.

Finn-McCool
Finn-McCool

The letter was worth it just to hear the Iran Foreign Minister school the Senate Cons.


mwuahahhahahahahaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa

Paul42
Paul42

@Finn-McCool

That pretty well says it all about the third of voters who turned out to send Pres Obama a message.

NWGAL
NWGAL

Everyone should recognize that this was primarily designed to attract attention to themselves, to prove to their voters that they are standing up to the President. In short, it was for the publicity. If they want attention so badly, I recommend costumes. They already look like fools. Why not have us laugh with them instead of at them?

lvg
lvg

@NWGAL -cAN someone find 47 little clown cars?

Yes_Jesus_Can
Yes_Jesus_Can

And let us drag Nancy Pelosi, the meeter and greeter of the Syrians out to hang for her similar crimes. 

Paul42
Paul42

@Yes_Jesus_Can

Let's see.... Spkr Pelosi discussed a range of issues to encourage talking with Syria.

47 Republicans tried to persuade a near-nuclear Mideast country controlled by mullahs that we really don't want to talk to them.

There's gotta be a similarity here somewhere....

Yes_Jesus_Can
Yes_Jesus_Can

Let us sign another petition to have John Kerry arrested for his visits and negotiations with terrorists in central America. 

Yes_Jesus_Can
Yes_Jesus_Can

VC,

You answer is entirely WRONG: To illuminate this for you: far left means that the media edits-out news that would be harmful to it and to its fellow travelers--who are democrats. An example of this is Jay's articlle itself, which lectures, opines, whines even, but does nothing to inform. Quite the opposite, the leftist media tells leftist propaganda without the whole truth. Fox News attempts to tell this.

You can see in the article from Forbes about Senator Kennedy's gambit that Kennedy was promising American news crews to cover his idea of subversive negotiations with the Soviets in 1983--his leftist allies, such as Walter Cronkite. Kennedy even offers up the NY Times and several network news organizations. I would also remind you that at the time in 1983 the news media was hostile to Reagan and considered him too aggressive, yet they did not offer the perspective that Reagan was smart, canny and had America's best interests at heart, or that his successor might preside over the end of the Cold War only a year after he left office.

http://www.forbes.com/2009/08/27/ted-kennedy-soviet-union-ronald-reagan-opinions-columnists-peter-robinson.html

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@honested @tireOfIt

'twas ever thus, but we'd gotten better about papering over the grossness, I think, a few decades back. Most all the stage set has come down, now.

lvg
lvg

@tireOfIt Natanyahu probably preparede the letter. 

honested
honested

@tireOfIt 

Americans are now 'represented' by the dollars of those with the most to gain from a given policy.

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@tireOfIt

It's not like these guys are uncomfortable having their legislation written for them by outsiders (see ALEC), so why not a letter to those Iranians?