CONGRESSIONAL REPUBLICANS are trying to obstruct President Obama from concluding a nuclear agreement with Iran, but the only tangible result of their efforts has been to impede serious debate about the legitimate issues arising from the potential deal. The latest GOP gambit, an open letter to Iran’s leaders disparaging any accord not approved by Congress, prompted predictable blasts of rhetoric from the White House, the Senate caucuses and even the Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, but not a word of discussion about what the Republicans say worries them: whether the terms being offered to Iran by the Obama administration are in the United States’ interest.
Like the invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress last week, the Republican maneuver served to focus debate on a perceived breach of diplomatic protocol. Vice President Biden thundered that “in 36 years in the U.S. Senate, I cannot recall another instance in which Senators wrote directly to advise another country” that the president lacks the authority to sustain an agreement. That may be true, though attempts by Congress to undermine a president’s controversial foreign policy are hardly new. In 2007, then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) responded to a Bush administration policy of isolating Syria by traveling to Damascus to meet with President Bashar al-Assad.
Members of Congress, from both parties, are frustrated by the administration’s announced intention to implement any deal with Iran without votes in either chamber by using waiver authority to suspend sanctions that were imposed by legislation. Though Mr. Obama has the legal authority to proceed in this way, in so doing he risks — as the letter pointed out — leaving a tenuous legacy that the next president or Congress could seek to undo. It’s worth recalling that a controversial nuclear accord struck by President Bill Clinton with North Korea was scrapped by the administration of George W. Bush after it concluded the regime was cheating.
That said, it’s not clear how the letter, authored by Sen. Tom Cotton (Ark.) and signed by 46 other Republican senators, advances the opposition’s cause. Notably, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) the Foreign Relations Committee chairman who has introduced legislation to force a congressional vote on any agreement with Iran, did not sign the letter. Nor is the document likely to affect the decision of Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, on whether to endorse a deal. However, if the Iranian leader rejects the accord, Tehran will surely pin blame on U.S. Republicans and Mr. Netanyahu, which wouldn’t help any effort to sustain international sanctions.
Republicans had an opportunity to focus attention on weaknesses in the emerging accord with Iran and mobilize bipartisan pressure on the administration to demand better terms. Instead they have engaged in grandstanding tactics that have alienated potential supporters while obscuring critical issues. Their antics are making it easier rather than harder for Mr. Obama to proceed unilaterally.
Read more on this from Opinions: