For at least the last year, the U.S. and five other countries have been in talks with Iran regarding their development of a nuclear program. Iran says they are creating a nuclear program for the purpose of nuclear energy, an admittedly harmless objective. But the United States government, as with much of the west, is concerned that Iran’s objective may be nuclear weapons.
Iran going nuclear is a valid concern since nuclear arms are, by far, the most destructive force in human existence, and further proliferation could prove detrimental. Yet how the Senate, specifically Republicans, have handled the dilemma is improper.
Last week, forty-seven Senators sent a letter to the Iranian leadership stating that any agreement that they reach with President Obama will be considered nothing more than an “executive agreement” without the approval of the Senate. The letter goes even further in stating an executive agreement would be subject to change with the introduction of a new President in only a couple of years. Republican leadership claims that they sent the letter to Iranian officials because they weren’t quite sure that Iran knew how the American political system worked.
The Republican Senators are playing with fire. First, the Iranian leadership would already know how our governmental system works, just as I am sure that President Obama and the American ambassadors to Iran are aware of how the Iranian government works. It is the job of our American political leaders, just as it is the job of Iranian leaders, to do their homework on foreign countries before going in to talks about such a great national security issue. In fact, Iranian officials proved they knew how the Constitution worked when an Iranian ambassador pointed out a technical constitutional error in the Republican letter.
The second issue is that the letter is a threat. Since the Iranian leaders are already aware of how the American system works, sending the letter can only mean that GOP Senators wish to send a message that they are not on board with any deal that president Obama makes. What the Republican Senators did was an attempt at sabotage.
On a purely constitutional level, the Republicans are right. Any international agreement that the United States enters must pass the Senate first. On the flip side though, it is the job of the president as chief ambassador to work out an agreement with foreign dignitaries. The President, not Mitch McConnell, is currently in Geneva working on an agreement. The President, not John Cornyn or any other Republican Senator, is in Geneva working towards an agreement. That is because it is not their job to form an agreement, nor even to ratify one, but instead to give counsel on the treaty and possibly consent to a treaty. That’s it.
By sending this letter to Iran, Republican Senators are grossly overstepping their constitutional role by meddling in international affairs. I am not saying that those forty-seven Senators should have to face the court system or resign because of this letter. Instead, they need to remember their place. The Senate handles domestic affairs as it is a domestic government body. The Office of the President handles foreign affairs, such as the creation and ratification of treaties. And while the Senate does need to approve any such treaties, there is a time and a place to air grievances. The time that the Senate should air its grievances is when the treaty, in its entirety, is given to the Senate so that they can give counsel and maybe their approval. The place to air their grievances is in the Senate Chambers, not in a letter opened and read in Geneva while negotiations are ongoing.
The Constitution is pretty clear on how foreign policy is to be decided, and Republican Senators went a bit too far.