The Inconvenient Truths in Tom Cotton’s Letter to Iran

By Jonah Goldberg Published on March 17, 2015

It has been an Iranian tradition since 1979 to end Friday prayers with chants of “Death to America!”

In a purely rational world, that would be all one needed to know that Iran is not a reliable negotiating partner. Alas, we do not live in such a world. But there’s more evidence. Iran, according to our State Department, has been the chief exporter of terrorism for the last three decades. It has worked closely with al-Qaida, facilitating its attacks on America and our allies. Most of the Sept. 11 hijackers traveled through Iran with the help of the Iranian government. U.S. judges have ruled that Iran was an accomplice in the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in East Africa and the Sept. 11 attacks. During the Iraq war, Iran was responsible for numerous American deaths.

And it’s not like any of this is ancient history. Indeed, in 2012, the Treasury Department designated the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security as a major promoter of terrorism and violator of human rights.

Right now, via its brutal proxies, Iran is manipulating events on the ground in four Arab capitals — Baghdad, Beirut, Damascus and Sanaa. Whatever success there has been against the Islamic State in Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit has been thanks to Iranian advisors operating in Iraq and the Shiite Muslim militias they control. On Sunday’s Meet the Press, retired Adm. Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he fears Iran more than Islamic State.

So, obviously, the greatest villain in the world today is … Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.). He led the effort to get 46 other senators to sign a letter to the Iranian government explaining that any deal with Iran would require congressional approval.

The New York Daily News branded them all “TRAITORS” on its front page. Isn’t it amazing how even vaguely questioning the patriotism of liberals is an outrage beyond the borders of acceptable debate, but branding 47 GOP senators “traitors” is treated as at least forgivable bombast? Retired Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton told the Washington Post they aren’t traitors, they’re merely “mutinous,” revealing Eaton’s shocking ignorance of our constitutional structure. Yes, Obama is the commander in chief of the armed forces, but he is not the commander in chief of the co-equal legislative branch.

Petitions are circling to have the senators carted off to jail under the Logan Act — which bars unauthorized citizens from negotiating with foreign governments — a ridiculously antiquated law that would never survive Supreme Court scrutiny today.

Moreover, if the Logan Act were taken seriously, many of the lions of the Democratic Party, including Ted Kennedy, Patrick Leahy, Nancy Pelosi and Robert Byrd, would have ended their careers behind bars. Why, John Kerry – who recently denounced the Cotton letter as “unconstitutional” – could show Cotton around the federal penitentiary, given Kerry’s egregious meddling in Nicaragua during the Reagan administration.

Now, I should say that I think the senators made a mistake. They should have written an open letter to President Obama. The Iranians would still have gotten the message, but the White House and the punditocracy would have found it more difficult to rationalize their insane hissy fit. And contrary to countless outlets reporting that the Republicans “sent” this letter to the ayatollahs, they didn’t send it anywhere. It was posted on Cotton’s website.

The more important point here is that no one disagrees with the content of the letter because it is accurate. The White House had to admit that Cotton was right; the deal as it stands would be a “nonbinding” agreement. And, therefore, as the letter explains, “The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen.”

(In fact, Obama did pretty much exactly that with an agreement struck between Israel and the United States about settlement growth in Palestinian territories.)

This premature admission is politically inconvenient for the Obama administration because it wants to get the United Nations to approve the deal, making it a fait accompli. It hoped to get to that point without anyone noticing.

The Cotton letter is not mutinous or traitorous or unconstitutional. It is inconvenient, and apparently being inconvenient in the age of Obama is all it takes to be called unpatriotic.


Jonah Goldberg is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a senior editor of National Review. You can write to him by e-mail at [email protected], or via Twitter @JonahNRO.


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