Heidi Hall: The hubris of entitled partisanship in the Iran letter
In 1931, the Supreme Court in the U.S. v. Curtiss-Wright Export Corp. decision ruled that “The President alone has the power to speak or listen as a representative of the nation.
He makes treaties with the advice and consent of the Senate; but he alone negotiates. Into the field of negotiation the Senate cannot intrude, and Congress itself is powerless to invade it.”
This has been the law of the land since that time and has framed how and when any American other than the sitting president may be involved in international negotiations and agreements.
The Logan Act of 1799 similarly states that no private citizen may communicate with a foreign government with the intent to influence its actions.
While no constitutional lawyer has suggested that treason has taken place under this old and unused act, both this act and this decision underscores the seriousness of the 47 Republican senators’ open letter to the Iranian leader earlier this month.
The implications of a rogue group of U.S. representatives interfering with a multi-national negotiation with very little consideration for protocol, history, the constitutional imperative and the health and safety of the U.S. or other nations cannot be overstated. Undermining the duly elected president with this sloppily manufactured, arrogant, and presumptuous letter is almost beyond conception.
Rulings and acts like the Logan Act, institutions to uphold and manage them, and even protocol, exist for good reasons. They help maintain stability in a democracy and ensure the ability for national leaders to function with legitimacy in a global system.
The danger isn’t just in the breach of protocol, or in the cavalier way it was carried out by a novice senator who didn’t bother to confer with his seniors. Ultimately the greatest danger is the implication that any inexperienced representative could feel entitled to interfere in any delicate international negotiation.
As Bob Schieffer said in an interview with the author and junior Sen. Tom Cotton, what is next? A letter to North Korea? Where does it stop?
A great historical lesson takes us back to the treason perpetrated by then-candidate Richard Nixon’s interference with the cease-fire negotiations being brokered by President Johnson with Vietnam in 1968.
Candidate Nixon went behind the president’s back to persuade the South Vietnam government to refuse the cease-fire. His reason was brazenly political.
He wanted the cease-fire to fail in the short-term to swing the election, and for it to succeed when he was elected so he could take credit for it.
Recently released FBI tapes confirm what was long held to be theory. In this case, the consequences included the additional deaths of more than 20,000 U.S troops, 100,000 more wounded and more than a million Vietnamese killed by the time the peace settlement was reached four years later.
This is what rogue international interference can manifest.
The unintended consequences possible from this impetuously rebellious letter of the problematic 47 senators cannot be overstated. We are fortunate, ironically, that our Iranian counterparts did not take the letter seriously.
But if they had, and decided that U.S. politics were so broken that an agreement with us would not serve them, we could be shifting all of our current attention to avoiding an escalation with Iran. That would be nothing less than explosive.
This incident also underscores the danger of living in a political bubble, where we only hear the perspective we already agree with. His Yale education notwithstanding, Sen. Cotton clearly did not consider what his history classes should have taught him about breaching international standards.
No serious student of history would undertake such a stunt. The 46 additional senators who joined Sen. Cotton seemed to acquiesce to sheer partisanship grandstanding without even questioning the potential consequences of their actions.
I am not joining the calls for charges of treason. But if there aren’t serious consequences for these 47 senators, I fear what they might try next.
Our representatives are not entitled to make rogue decisions and undercut their commander-in-chief, whether they agree with him or not.
And they certainly aren’t representing U.S. citizens when they toy with nuclear negotiations.
I can only hope that enough of them are taking the blowback regarding this letter seriously, and will pause first next time they are asked to join a juvenile, partisan rebellion.
Heidi Hall lives in Grass Valley. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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