PD Editorial: GOP senators demean office with letter

The most telling response to the missive sent to Iran this week by 47 Republican senators warning that any nuclear deal with the United States could change with the next election did not come from the American media or from Washington. It came from Tehran itself.

On Thursday, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, said the letter dated March 9 was evidence that the United States was “disintegrating” from within. In his Web message, Khamenei said it was “a sign of a decline in political ethics and the destruction of the American establishment from within.”

Regretably, he’s right.

Moreover, it’s a sign of decline that should have American public asking one question in particular this week: “What the hell were those senators thinking?”

It’s bad enough that this represents the second major breach of protocol by Congress within the month, the first being the decision by House Republicans to bypass the White House in inviting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress.

Now, these Republican senators apparently want to get into the business of dictating foreign policy as well.

This extreme example of congressional interference in diplomatic negotiations begins with the condescending assertion that the leaders of Iran “may not fully understand our constitutional system.”

After providing a brief lesson in American civics, the senators make clear that they “will consider any agreement regarding your nuclear-weapons program that is not approved by the Congress as nothing more than an executive agreement between President Barack Obama and Ayatollah Khamenei.” It further states that the next president “could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.”

It’s worth noting that the letter was signed by every Senate Republican except seven: Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker of Tennessee, Dan Coats of Indiana, Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Susan Collins of Maine, Jeff Flake of Arizona and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

It’s also worth noting that a growing backlash about the letter has some of its authors expressing second thoughts.

Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, for example, has acknowledged that it might have been wiser to make it an open letter addressed to no one, rather than to the Iranians themselves.

We’re not sure how that saves the Republicans from embarrassing themselves any less. Either way, such a letter represents a significant breach in protocol and undermines the constitutional authority of the president to set and oversee foreign policy.

Moreover, it diminishes the traditional conventions that have allowed this nation, while making no attempt to deny its internal battles, to speak with a unified voice on matters of foreign relations.

This letter now gives Iran license to turn away from any agreement that might limit its nuclear program on grounds of receiving mixed messages from the primary driver of those talks. Moreover, it could send the troubling message that not only has the dysfunction of Capitol Hill spread to matters of state but that many of this nation’s agreements around the globe could have a 2016 expiration date.

As we’ve noted before, when a mayor speaks to a neighboring city or county on behalf of the community, we believe it’s in bad form for one or more City Council members to issue a dissenting opinion. It’s impolitic and counterproductive.

These senators have demeaned their office with a stunt no less childish.

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