Pixel Tracker

Monday, March 18 , 2019, 8:07 am | Fair 51º

 
 
 
 

Michael Barone: Letter from Senators States Obvious — Obama-Iran Deal May Not Last

In her brief press conference at the United Nations, Hillary Clinton led off with a denunciation of the letter to Iranian leaders signed by 47 of the 54 Republican senators. This was in line with Democratic talking points — a sign that the former secretary of state was, perhaps a bit nervously, taking care to curry favor with the Obama administration.

Clinton's criticism was more muted than that of many Democrats, administration spokesmen and the president himself. Democrats encouraged supporters around the country to sign an online petition calling the letter "treason."

The letter in question, spearheaded by freshman Tom Cotton, simply pointed out that any agreement signed by President Barack Obama but not approved by Congress would not be binding on the next president.

That shouldn't be controversial. As Secretary of State John Kerry noted in a Senate hearing, such an agreement would not be "a legally binding plan." Just as George W. Bush's written assurances to Israel's prime minister in 2004 have not been considered binding by Obama and Clinton.

This is of course not the first time members of Congress in disagreement with administration policies have reached out to foreign leaders. There was Speaker Nancy Pelosi's 2007 visit with Bashar al-Assad in Syria, for example. Or Edward Kennedy's behind-the-scenes reach-out to Soviet leaders on how to resist Ronald Reagan's policies.

All these were sparked by nontrivial disagreements on foreign policy between elected members of Congress and elected presidents. So it is here. The disagreement now is not just over negotiating tactics but over the nature of the Iranian regime.

Obama supporters have called Cotton "Tehran Tom" and said that the letter strengthens the position of Iranian "hardliners." This makes sense if you believe, as Obama apparently does, that some current leaders of the Iranian government yearn for a grand bargain with the United States and want to make Iran a normal country.

The 47 senators who signed the letter and many other members of Congress — including many Democrats as well as Republicans — take a different view. They might concede that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif have been uttering honeyed words to American negotiators behind the scene.

But they note that the final say in Iran belongs to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. And they remember that for more than 35 years, Iran has been a leading sponsor of terror, an armed and deadly enemy of United States military forces and a nation whose leaders contemplate with pleasure the destruction of Israel.

They see Iran extending its influence across the Middle East, bucking up Assad in Syria and supporting Hezbollah forces on the border of Israel. They see Iran's military forces leading in battle against the Islamic State in Iraq, and note that administration spokesmen view this with equanimity.

That's not the view of most members of Congress. They see expansion of Iranian power into an Iraq from which U.S. forces withdrew when Obama refused to push for a status of forces agreement as profoundly disturbing. In this case, at least they agree with Benjamin Netanyahu's statement, in his speech to Congress, that the enemy of my enemy is my enemy.

The president has made it clear he won't submit any agreement to Congress for approval, and his spokesmen have made feints at suggesting he would seek approval, in the hopes of some measure of permanence, by the United Nations Security Council.

He is evidently ready to acquiesce to an expansion of Iranian power in the Middle East and a green light for Iran to obtain a bomb in 10 years, on the assumption that the character of the regime has changed sufficiently to render it tolerable.

Neither Saudi Arabia and other Arab neighbors nor Israel considers that desirable. Neither do most of members of Congress or, to judge from polls, most American voters.

This is not the first time a Congress has been at odds with a president's foreign policy and has tried to push back. That was the case in back in 2007 and 2008, when most members of the Democratic Congress opposed Bush's surge strategy in Iraq, which contrary to their predictions, succeeded.

Obama threw that victory away and now seems complacent about Iran's advances beyond its borders. Telling Iran's leaders that most in Congress and most Americans disagree and that an agreement may not last is just highlighting what should be obvious.

Michael Barone is a senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. Click here to contact him, follow him on Twitter: @MichaelBarone, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

Support Noozhawk Today!

Our professional journalists work tirelessly to report on local news so you can be more informed and engaged in your community. This quality, local reporting is free for you to read and share, but it's not free to produce.

You count on us to deliver timely, relevant local news, 24/7. Can we count on you to invest in our newsroom and help secure its future?

We provide special member benefits to show how much we appreciate your support.

Email
I would like give...
Great! You're joining as a Red-Tailed Hawk!
  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.