The fallout from the Republican letter to Iran

The fallout continues from the letter sent by 47 Republican senators to the leaders of Iran, condescendingly explaining the US system of governance to them and explaining why they should not trust any deal they arrive at with the US government. Not only has the letter produced an angry response from the Obama administration, it was also a grossly inaccurate oversimplification of the US president’s power to negotiate agreements with other nations.

The White House press secretary rightly said, though not in so many words, that it makes the US look ridiculous.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the letter’s “most profound impact” was to erode the trust of international partners and allies in the United States.

Earnest said “generations of credibility” were threatened by the actions of the Republicans, and that “that confidence in the United States of America has been undermined” as allies and other nations weighed whether the US would keep its promises.

“It’s not a laughing matter,” Earnest said.

Historians have said that there is no real precedent for this maneuver. As the seriousness of the issue sinks in, some Republicans and their media allies are distancing themselves from it.

{Senator Bob] Corker, one of the few Republicans who did not sign the letter, told the Daily Beast that he “immediately knew that it was not something that, for me, anyway, in my particular role, was going to be constructive”.

Republican senator Jeff Flake said the letter was “not appropriate or productive”, and that the matter of Iran’s nuclear capabilities was “too important to divide us among partisan lines”.

Hawkish congressman Peter King also called the wisdom of the letter into question. King told reporters on Tuesday he thought the letter set a poor precedent: “I don’t trust the president on this, quite frankly, though I don’t know if I’d go public with it to a foreign government.”

Conservative media sources such as the Wall Street Journal and Fox News, both owned by Rupert Murdoch, also shied away from the letter. The Journal’s editors published an editorial calling the letter a “distraction”. Fox host Megyn Kelly asked Senator Tom Cotton, the letter’s author: “What’s the point in writing to the Iranian mullahs?”

Some anonymous GOP aides are now anonymously suggesting, preposterously, that the letter was a ‘lighthearted’ gesture meant merely to make a point.

Republican aides were taken aback by what they thought was a lighthearted attempt to signal to Iran and the public that Congress should have a role in the ongoing nuclear discussions. Two GOP aides separately described their letter as a “cheeky” reminder of the congressional branch’s prerogatives.

“The administration has no sense of humor when it comes to how weakly they have been handling these negotiations,” said a top GOP Senate aide.

The more serious defense put forward by the Republicans is that Democrats have done something similar, comparing this to then Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi visiting Syria in 2007 and meeting with its president Basher Assad. The establishment media, always eager to jump on the ‘both sides do it’ bandwagon, seized on that angle because that kind of equivocation is their stock in trade.

Even The Daily Show bought into that equivalence because it enabled them to create their patented counterpoints of Democrats and Republicans seeming to say the opposite things depending on whether one of their own is in the cross-hairs.

(This clip aired on March 10, 2015. To get suggestions on how to view clips of The Daily Show and The Nightly Show outside the US, please see this earlier post. If the videos autoplay, please see here for a diagnosis and possible solutions.)

But this is a lazy stance. There is a big difference between high-level politicians traveling to other countries and meeting with their high-level politicians, including heads of state. That happens all the time and is in fact a good thing since the more the leaders of each nation know about others, the better. But it is something else entirely to tell the head of a foreign nation that your own country is in delicate negotiations with, to not trust your own side’s negotiators and claim that your own head of state will not be able to implement any agreement.

Thanks to reader Lonely Panda, e.s.l., I read a much better comedic take on this issue from Andy Borowitz.

Stating that “their continuing hostilities are a threat to world peace,” Iran has offered to mediate talks between congressional Republicans and President Obama.

Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, made the offer one day after Iran received what he called a “worrisome letter” from Republican leaders, which suggested to him that “the relationship between Republicans and Obama has deteriorated dangerously.”

“Tensions between these two historic enemies have been high in recent years, but we believe they are now at a boiling point,” Khamenei said. “As a result, Iran feels it must offer itself as a peacemaker.”

He said that his nation was the “logical choice” to jumpstart negotiations between Obama and the Republicans because “it has become clear that both sides currently talk more to Iran than to each other.”

One should not mistake this flap to think that there is a serious disagreement between the two parties. They are united in their subservience to the oligarchy and to the pursuit of its imperialist aims. Where it is dysfunctional is in that it has so many people eager to play the role of the nominal leader of that endeavor and are willing to do whatever it takes to get there, even if it makes the country look ridiculous.

The real question is who was behind the idea of sending such a letter. The newly elected Arkansas senator Tom Cotton, clearly an ambitious man who wants to fast-track his way into the public eye, has claimed that it was his idea and it certainly gained him the attention he sought. But there is speculation that others may have been the ones who suggested it to him, and here suspicion falls on those who are most eager for the talks with Iran to break down and lead to a war, which points the finger of suspicion to neoconservatives like Bill Kristol or others associated with the Israel lobby, like AIPAC.

Steven Rosen, then director of foreign-policy issues at AIPAC once famously boasted to a reporter in a restaurant, “You see this napkin? In twenty-four hours, we could have the signatures of seventy senators on this napkin.” The fact that ‘only’ 47 senators signed this letter, and not a single Democrat, may be yet another sign that the Israel lobby’s power is waning, if it was indeed the force behind the scenes on this letter.



  1. aashiq says

    If Obama can take down AIPAC the way he has overruled the Cuba Lobby, he will go down in history as one of the great US presidents.

    This pernicious lobby has been behind 30 years of Israel-driven adventurism in the Mideast, the cost of thousands of American lives and a trillion dollars in Iraq alone.

    Netanyahu claims that he represents all Jews everywhere. By claiming to represent American Jews (and therefore, suggest that they have divided loyalties) he is stoking anti Semitism.

    Israel has behaved like a petulant child accustomed to always getting its way. It is time for that country to grow up and develop its own character, without the US as sugardaddy.

  2. Holms says

    But it is something else entirely to tell the head of a foreign nation that your own country is in delicate negotiations with, to not trust your own side’s negotiators and claim that your own head of state will not be able to implement any agreement.

    Especially given that the agreement in question is about something as concerning as nuclear weaponry. The resentment the Republicans hold towards Obama is truly staggering if they are willing to potentially tank a nuclear arms agreement to spite him.

  3. says

    “The administration has no sense of humor when it comes to how weakly they have been handling these negotiations,” said a top GOP Senate aide.

    That’s how right-wing morons always respond when they realize they’ve made asses of themselves: “Hey, we were just KIDDING! Can’t you people take a joke?!” It worked for Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh, so I guess that’s why those clowns in Congress thought it would work for them too.

  4. doublereed says

    I didn’t know McCain signed the letter. His defense?

    I saw the letter, I saw that it looked reasonable to me and I signed it, that’s all. I sign lots of letters.


  5. says

    Holy fucking crap, McCain’s “defense” of his signing of the letter is even more pathetic than his signing of the letter. What a senile spineless old fraud.

  6. moarscienceplz says

    If you are a Republican Congressperson, and you are contemplating doing something to attack Obama that is too far beyond the pale even for Jeff Flake, you should leave the room immediately. There is probably not enough oxygen getting to your brain.

  7. Phil Burns says

    A thing that always staggers me, speaking as a non-American who admires many of your countrymen, is that Abraham Lincoln was a member of the Republican Party. Lincoln? was a REPUBLICAN?!?!?!? Such a capable, noble figure must be mentioned in the same grouping as the current GOP clowns… Incredible. Somewhere, something has gone very, very wrong.

  8. doublereed says

    @8 Phil Burns

    Back then, the Republican party was the liberal party and the Democrats was more conservative. There was even a short-lived political party called the Dixiecrats which was basically a pro-segregationist brand of the Democratic Party. Eventually, there was a big divide over civil rights in the 60s and 70s which made conservative southerners turn to the Republicans and liberal northerners turn to the Democrats. And it’s only become more distilled since then.

  9. lorn says

    The visit by Benjamin Netanyahu precipitated the delivery of the letter. Based on interviews with several Israeli citizens who took the combination as a rejection of any chance for a peaceful resolution the visit to the US and letter might just swing the election enough to remove Netanyahu from office. Under the Israeli parliamentary system a shift of a few percentage points may be enough to boot the hard liners out.

  10. Matt G says

    Republican logic at work: When Democrats oppose us on foreign policy, they are traitors. When Republicans actually violate the law (Logan Act), it isn’t treason. Apparently it’s just a joke. Beautiful.

  11. says

    lorn: I hope to all the Gods you’re right about tomorrow’s election.

    (And if Netenyahu is replaced by a less bellicose and bigoted coalition, I just as sincerely hope it isn’t undone by another well-timed terrorist act, like other such coalitions have been undone in the past.)

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