Dangers of partisanship

As long as there is such a highly polarized political atmosphere in Washington, a rational decision-making process will be impossible to maintain.

March 12, 2015 21:54
3 minute read.
US President Barack Obama.

US President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, January 20, 2015. . (photo credit: REUTERS)


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A group of 47 Republican senators has written an open letter to Iran’s leaders warning them that any nuclear deal they sign with US President Barack Obama’s administration will not last after Obama leaves office.

Organized by freshman Senator Tom Cotton and signed by the chamber’s entire party leadership as well as possible 2016 presidential contenders Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, the letter is meant to discourage the Iranian regime from signing a deal and to pressure the White House into giving Congress some authority over the process.

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“[W]e will consider any agreement regarding your nuclear- weapons program that is not approved by Congress as nothing more than an executive agreement between President Obama and Ayatollah Khamenei,” the senators wrote. “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.”

Many have criticized the Republican senators for a variety reasons – that they undermined the US Constitution that gives the president the power to direct foreign policy; that they seemed to join forces with the most extreme elements in Iran who are also opposed to a nuclear weapons deal; that they damaged American credibility in the eyes of the Iranians, saying any agreement signed by Obama could be overturned.

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But there is a far more worrying aspect to the letter: It is yet another reflection of increasing political dysfunction in Washington. Relations between the Republican-controlled Congress and the Democratic White House have deteriorated to such an extent that cooperation has become all but impossible. And this has dangerous implications for countries in the region such as Saudi Arabia and Israel that have an interest in seeing Iran’s nuclear weapons program curbed via non-military means.

The president and his team responded to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s critique of the materializing agreement between the P5+1 (the US, the UK, France, China and Russia, plus Germany) and Iran by saying that Israel wanted a deal that was so stringent that it would be impossible to achieve.

The implication was that the only alternative to what some see as a weak deal is an impossibly strict deal. But as pointed out by Foreign Policy’s David Rothkopf, this claim is “ridiculous.” A middle ground can be reached, gradations exist. It is possible, in principle, to fairly critique this deal by admitting it is better than no deal and weaker than it ought to be, but not in the present polarized political atmosphere of Washington.

Both the president and Republican senators are to blame for the confrontational nature of relations. Obama should not be flouting the constitutional requirement for the president to submit international agreements to the Senate for ratification. Obama chose instead to bypass an admittedly truculent Congress via executive actions on Iran. Republicans should not have undermined the president so crudely by sending a letter to Iranian extremists behind the president’s back.

The most effective way to ensure that the US and the other nations negotiating with Tehran strike the best possible deal is through cooperation. Congress and the White House should be working together to ensure that Iran does not violate the agreement. They should be responsive to legitimate concerns voiced by America’s traditional allies in the region. And a regional strategy should be devised in conjunction with these allies to put in place effective capabilities to deter any Iranian aggression. The united US political leadership would be more effective at encouraging the other countries that helped strike the deal to ensure that the United Nations and other watchdog agencies are tireless in their enforcement of the agreement and that very clear penalties for transgressions are enforced.

As long as there is such a highly polarized political atmosphere in Washington, a rational decision-making process will be impossible to maintain. That is why it is of utmost importance that members of Congress, particularly from the Republican Party, and Obama start working effectively together to curb Iran’s nuclear arms program.

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