“To the President of the United States,” intoned the master of ceremonies. Members of an Army advocacy group and active-duty soldiers stationed in the Buffalo area rose to their feet for the toast. The year was 1962, John F. Kennedy was president, and I was among the active-duty commissioned officers in the dining hall.
Some of the attendees no doubt had supported Republican Richard Nixon in the 1960 presidential election. But that was not an issue. All of us stood in honor of the elected head of state of the U.S. government.
Later, on Oct. 22, 1962, Kennedy spoke to the nation about the Cuban missile crisis, which had the potential to spark a nuclear war. Over 13 days, Kennedy and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev worked out a deal in which the Soviets would dismantle their missile sites in Cuba in exchange for a pledge that the United States would not invade Cuba.
Now imagine that, in the midst of those negotiations, a band of Republican senators had sent an open letter to Khrushchev informing him that Kennedy lacked the authority to deliver on any negotiated deal. That would have been preposterous.
Not today. We have reached a bad place in America.
The spirit of Chief Justice Roger B. Taney’s opinion in the 1857 Dred Scott decision — that blacks “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect” — has descended upon the administration of President Obama.
When the speaker of the House of Representatives can deliver the public affront of inviting a foreign leader to Congress to denounce the president’s most important diplomatic initiative, and when 47 Republican senators can send an open letter advising a foreign adversary that the president’s designated negotiators can’t deliver on the international deal under consideration, it’s fair to say that Republicans are telling the world that this president has no authority that they feel “bound to respect.”
Speaker John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and their Republican cabal disrespect Obama to the point of not passing on any opportunity to undercut and insult him. But in their hatred of the man, they are doing a disservice to our nation and its standing in the world.
And it is a dangerous world in which we are living, made all the more so by Iran, the foreign power that Senate Republicans have decided to turn into a pen pal.
I entertain no illusions about Iran and said as much in an August 2012 column, “Iran’s anti-Semitism makes it the greatest threat to Jews,” which deplored what appeared to be a global ho-hum response to Iran’s state-sponsored anti-Semitism.
Within days of the column’s publication, I received a phone call at my home from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The conversation, I concluded at the time, was not for public consumption so, with the exception of informing my Post editors, I treated it as such. At the end of the call, Netanyahu invited me to Israel, which I do hope to visit when circumstances allow.
During the past six years, I have written several columns addressing the unfair and dishonest attacks against the Obama administration. I have never spoken a single word to my own president, though I did meet presidential candidate Obama.
Here’s the point: My strong objection to Republicans’ treatment of Obama is not based on ideology and certainly not on any personal relationship. Obama doesn’t know me from Adam. I’m fuming because of the ongoing, irresponsible, disgraceful Republican attempts to undermine this president.
This is a dangerous world. Too much is at stake.
Even at this late stage in the Iran nuclear talks, clearly there is room for the president to take into account congressional opinion, even if the administration believes Obama has the authority to execute a “sole executive agreement” that does not need to be submitted to the Senate for ratification nor to Congress for approval. Previous presidents have done so, with the 1945 Yalta agreement, the 1973 Vietnam peace agreement and the 1981 Iranian hostage agreement, according to the State Department. If a nuclear agreement is reached, Obama should, with appropriate protocols, go to Israel and make the case directly to the prime minister and the Knesset.
Reaching an international and enforceable agreement on Iran’s nuclear program is in the national interest. Cynically using Israel to make war on the Obama presidency is not. It is an obscene Republican abuse of power. Chief Justice Taney, I suspect, would approve.
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