Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Iranian Nuclear Accord and the True Faith and Allegiance of Senator Ted Cruz

by Nomad

As the Iranian Nuclear Accord becomes a fact, Presidential candidate and Senator Ted Cruz a strange inability to understand how the US Constitution works. Or perhaps he simply refuses to respect the process it established.

According to the Constitution, the powers of the executive branch have two very important limitations. The president cannot declare war (yet, paradoxically perhaps, he/she is also the commander of the US military.)
Additionally, the president cannot make treaties or appointments without the "advice and consent of the Senate."
When it came to the historic nuclear agreement with Iran, Republican-led Congress took that limitation as a tool to stop dead any kind of lifting of sanctions or a less bellicose approach to the Iranian Republic.
Here are some highlights.

Cotton's Overreach
About a year ago at this time, the debate on the four-nation nuclear deal with Iran was ongoing and by summer, it was in full swing. Given adversarial and generally obstructionist attitude in Congress, nobody was surprised that the Republican majority seemed determined in every way to give Obama a lesson he would not soon forget. 
It didn't turn out as planned.

In March 2015, four dozen rebelling Republicans, led by Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, actually dared to violate their Congressional limits by directly interfering with the president's foreign policy when they penned a letter to Iran. In the letter, they vowed to invalidate the agreement if and when a Republican reclaimed the White House.

The idea of members of Congress going behind the back of the president and attempting to erode peace negotiations in progress was unheard of.
Iranian officials wisely dismissed the letter as some kind of trick or political nonsense. (In some ways perhaps the initiative validated the US negotiators' sincerity.)

Senator Cotton claimed that
The Senate must approve any deal President Obama negotiates with Iran by a two-thirds majority vote.
Anything less will not be considered a binding agreement when President Obama's term expires in two years. This is true of any agreement, but in particular with the nuclear deal President Obama intends to strike with Iran.
Congress, as Cotton failed to mention, has only the power to ratify (or not) treaties by a two-thirds vote.
Indeed, not everybody on the Right was on board Cotton's view at all. The Conservative voice, The Daily Signal, noted:
[I]n trying to assert their power, the senators skirted over the fact that presidents have executive authority to make deals with foreign countries—without needing to go to Congress.
The Signal article noted that both Presidents Reagan and Clinton didn't feel the need to consult Congress and used their executive privilege "liberally" to conduct foreign policy.

The Republicans who signed the letter took no heed to any of this. Not one of them asked: is this a smart move? Not one of them asked if this was acceptably under the Constitution?
Nor did they inquire among themselves whether this was actually how the foreign policy of a superpower ought to be conducted?

How Netanyahu Became Toast
Later, Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was invited to speak before Congress by Speaker John Boehner on 3 March 2015. Everybody knew what it all about. It was an attempt to scuttle the deal by playing the Israel card.
A Reuters op-ed piece explained why it was so controversial:
Boehner’s decision to invite a foreign head of government to address Congress without first consulting the sitting president has no precedent in American history. And for a simple reason. It’s unconstitutional.
When the announcement came, many were outraged by what they saw as outside interference from an ally. Indeed, a CNN polls conducted in the week before Netanyahu's speech found that nearly half of Americans believe it was wrong to invite him to deliver it before Congress.

Israel, they said, should know better than to get in the middle of highly partisan American politics. Average Americans could see it as tampering.

What of the American Jewish community? Was it really so intelligent or fair of any Israeli president to force a choice between supporting their president or supporting the defense of Israel?

Following the speech, a Gallup survey confirmed those fears. American opinion of President Netanyahu had worsened, particularly amongst Democrats. 
His favorable rating is down seven percentage points, to 38%, while his unfavorable rating has increased five points, to 29%.
Many on both sides questioned whether it had been such a smart tactic to pit the allegiance to the US president in Congress against US policy on Israel's security. Even the opposition in Israel worried about the potential for backfire.

One Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, expressed the very real concern that, for the Obama administration, Netanyahu was now "toast” and had burned his last bridge. The bold strategy proved to be a mistake and served only to jeopardize American-Israeli relations.

Recent news, as reported by the Wall Street Journal last month, suggested that before the Congressional vote, Netanyahu was conducting some kind of very questionable quid pro quo arrangement.
Stepped-up NSA eavesdropping revealed to the White House how Mr. Netanyahu and his advisers had leaked details of the U.S.-Iran negotiations—learned through Israeli spying operations—to undermine the talks; coordinated talking points with Jewish-American groups against the deal; and asked undecided lawmakers what it would take to win their votes, according to current and former officials familiar with the intercepts.
"What it would take" sounds pretty sinister and if any other country had attempted to influence Congress in such a way, it would have been a major scandal. With Israel, it's just lobbying. In any case, it marked a new low in relations between the US and Israel. 

Exactly what the most radical Iranian leaders would hope for. In their hate for the president, Republicans in Congress had played straight into their hands and in doing so, had shaken an alliance to its core. 

Full Steam Ahead
And yet, still refusing to comprehend the foolhardiness of directly confronting the president, the Republican Senators plowed on.
The administration had initially claimed that the agreement did not require the approval of Congress. As an executive agreement, the State Department had claimed, negotiations were well within the administration's perogative as the sole authority on US foreign policy.

Then the president did something Congress hadn't expected. He decided to toss the ball back in the Senate's court. If they objections, then put up or shut up. 
It was a wise move but also a major gamble. If Congress had been able to thwart the diplomatic effort, it would have been a humiliating blow to Obama's foreign policy. Still, constitutionally-speaking, it was the appropriate thing to do on such a controversial issue.

It soon became clear that Republicans simply could not back up their  fiery rhetoric with concerted action. The same was true for its long standing promise to end abortion, to pass an national amendment defining marriage and to dismantle Obamacare. Talk- especially in Washington- is exceedingly cheap.

On September 10, the GOP Congress' embarrassment was absolute when Senate Democrats blocked Republican resolution to reject nuclear accord with Iran.

It truly was a historic victory too.The New York Times wrote:
Mr. Obama’s triumph in securing the deal — without the support of a single member of the party now in control of Congress — is refashioning the definition of victory for a waning presidency in the era of divided government...
Mr. Obama is likely to go down in history as a rare president whose single biggest foreign policy and domestic achievements were won with no Republican votes.
Another pathetic and final attempt came a week later when Congress called for a vote that would have required Iran to recognize Israel and release Americans held in Iran before getting sanctions relief from the United States.
Iran, it was assumed, would never recognize Israel and thus, the passage of the amendment would have effectively rendered the entire deal null and void.
The move also failed to pass, with only 53 votes in favor of the amendment, short of the required 60.  
Another important fact:
Two Republican presidential candidates, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Sen Rand Paul of Kentucky, didn't even bother to vote on the amendment. Yesterday both men criticized the prisoner swap and the diplomatic effort in general.
Ted Cruz did show up for that ill-fated vote in September but only briefly to vote and then dash back to his campaign effort.

The Process
In the end, President Obama had followed the Constitution above the usual standard set by other presidents when it came to Congressional consultation, normally a feature of war making, not treat-agreement.

The Republican-dominated Congress had been given every chance to add its opinion to the discussion. The opposition could have played a constructive role in shaping and addressing the concerns of the American people when it came to Iran. If Congress had had legitimate concerns that Obama was making a serious mistake, it had a duty to the American public to spell out their objections clearly. 

It did not because it could not. Instead last summer's events turned out to be a stinging and totally self-inflicted defeat for the Republicans. In theory, with control of both Houses, the Republicans should have been in their most powerful position. 

What they showed once again was that when it came to actual power, (as opposed to mere Paper Tiger talk) the Republicans were feckless and their ambitions futile. And foreign policy based on either paper-tiger talk or the very real threat of military force is a hellish bad idea for a superpower.

Iranian leaders must have marveled and shivered to watch as the American government became so non-functional at the prospect of peace negotiations.

Such an Easy Game to Play
All this re-capping brings us to the events of yesterday. Just prior to the lifting of sanctions on Iran, there was a pleasant surprise. Prisoners held on both sides were exchanged. In summer, GOP leaders had repeatedly brought up the fact the Obama Administration had held negotiations  with the Republic of Iran while Americans were being held hostage by the government.

The surprise prisoner swap was not directly related to either the lifting of sanctions or the nuclear agreement, said Secretary of State, John Kerry.  It was, however, a sign that the search for a peaceful solution- conducted with mutual respect (as opposed to pointless bullying and intimidation) can yield unexpected fruits. 
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"While we celebrate their return this deal serves as a piece of propaganda for both Iran and the Obama administration."
Cruz repeated his campaign promise/threat to "rip to shreds this catastrophic Iran nuclear deal" if by some remote chance he is elected president.

It's such a peculiar phrasing for a member of the American government. It's something we might expect from a spouter of anti-American tirades, like the leader of North Korea, or in the revolutionary glory days of Fidel Castro. 
(Ask Senator Cruz if his father recalls any of Castro's "Down with Imperialist America" rabble rousing.)

Calling this good news for all Americans- "a piece of propaganda" is revealing in some ways. Remember too that only last summer, these are same people who were condemning the accord because it ignored the American prisoners.
Now, the question resolved, they are calling their release nothing more than propaganda. It makes no sense whatsoever, but Cruz's supporters don't need logic.
As U.S. Representative Jared Huffman, a Democrat who represents the family of the freed prisoner, said:
"There are some critics ... that just can't acknowledge anything good that comes from this administration. I think it's shameful."
None of this dangerous nonsense against the president should surprise us. Unreasonable hate has become an incurable Republican disease in the US and as we have seen, led the Republicans into a series of silly and divisive adventures which have mostly come to nothing but shame for the party and for the nation as a whole. 

The bottom line is, though many in the Republican Party may disagree, President Obama is not the enemy.
Whether they like the man or not, the opposition must recognize him as the twice democratically-elected leader of the nation. Twice.

Obama did not seize his position through a military coup or by assassination. Nor was it handed down to him from his father. Obama has not arrested people who disagree with him or rounded up his critics, accusing them of insults. He hasn't taken- as far as I know- protestors from their homes in the dead of night.

He hasn't forced independent newspapers into bankruptcy in order to re-staff them with cronies. He hasn't arrested academics for obeying their consciences.
This is what real dictators do. Trust me, I know.

In fact, Obama was elected by the majority of the people and in every way, according to the process outlined by Constitution. 
(There was much more doubt about the legitimacy of President George W. Bush.) 

Obama - it has to be repeated again and again to conservatives- is not the enemy. No, Obama is not a tyrant. His tears are genuine even if you don't share his opinions. Above all else, Obama is your president.
As a Senator, Rafael "Ted" Cruz gave this oath on a Bible:
I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.
Faithfully discharging the duties of a Senator doesn't merely mean voting- (I am looking at you, Rubio and Rand) it also means respecting the outcome of that vote. And not just when your "side" wins. 

Of course, "true faith and allegiance" clearly doesn't mean submission to executive authority. We do not need a rubber-stamp Congress.
The oath is not having faith or allegiance to an individual. Not to any individual, even the president. What it does signify is a true faith and allegiance for the process and a respect for the position.

As well, it means actual participation in that process, both in support or in opposition- not just inflammatory rhetoric or reading children's books to kill time. 

It means taking your job and the Constitution seriously. That's what Senators are paid for and it is what Americans expect for their elected officials.
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Now...sock it to me, Aretha.