Senatorial Children at Play

As the days wind down towards the March 24 self-imposed deadline for some sort of result from the negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, one important truth seems to have gotten lost, or even one important bit of jargon: “P5+1.” That’s the term for the parties who are now negotiating with the Iranian government, and it stands for the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (so “P”: US, Russia, China, UK and France) plus 1: Germany. It’s funny: especially in the wake of the brouhaha set off by Israel PM Netanhayu’s recent visit to address the subject before the US Congress, you would have thought that the whole affair was simply US v. Iran, eye-to-eye, straight-up.

But it is not. Granted, rejection of any deal on the part of the US government would certainly kill it, at least in its formative stages. (After an agreement has been reached and has worked successfully over a number of years – that would be another matter.) But, again, this is a multilateral process, and one would hope that any such failure of the negotiations to bear fruit would reflect a consensus among all negotiating parties. Even more basically, one would hope that each of those parties would enjoy a firm sense of just who they were dealing with – not only across the table from the Iranians, but also from other governments which are supposed to be on the same side.

That is not the case, unfortunately, something we now see in graphic form from the recent open letter from 47 Republican Senators to the Iranian authorities warning them against reaching any agreement with their own government.

Naturally, such gestures do not go unnoticed.

“An attack on Obama – of the childish sort,” is the opinion of longtime German foreign correspondent Hubert Wetzel, writing in the well-respected Munich newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. Wetzel doesn’t pull any punches:

The US Senate was once a well-respected chamber of parliament, perhaps the most respected from all the world’s democracies. Reasonable people debated there and came to reasonable decisions. It was part of the Senate’s proud self-image to be far from as nervous, obstinate and partisan as their colleagues in the House of Representatives, but rather moderate and deliberate.

These times are now past, and hardly anything shows that as well as the letter that 47 Republican Senators have now written to the Iranian regime – led by a freshman from Arkansas [freshman Sen. Tom Cotton], a man who in the old days would have been told that he should first warm the backbenches for a few years before piping up.

Oh yes, Herr Wetzel doesn’t think much of the letter, whose tone he paints as being as dummdreist as its contents are banal. (He may have gone to the trouble to invent an adjective here, in dummdreist, to adequately convey his scorn; dreist is “bold,” but with dumm it’s in a stupid way: so “stupidly bold.”) Further, “Within the letter there is nothing that any Iranian diplomat could not look up in Wikipedia.”

Or which that diplomat might possibly know even without Wikipedia – consider this fact:

Of course the US Congress does have a certain role within US relations towards Iran – in the first place having to do with setting or lifting the economic boycott that has been imposed upon that country over the years as alarm over its nuclear program has grown. Otherwise, and by the US Constitution, foreign policy is largely left to the Executive Branch. This latest letter marks a disturbing violation of what used to be the norm against partisan sabotage of the President’s foreign policy – although it follows closely a more spectacular breach of that same norm embodied in Netanyahu’s invitation to speak before Congress with no notification to President Obama.

Still, the antics being employed to scupper any P5+1/Iran deal are becoming extreme and embarrassing. And we can be sure that the others within that P5+1 have noticed.

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