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The Senators? Democracy Primer: for whom the pen toils.

Uploaded: Mar 10, 2015
Energized by their recent calisthenics led in chambers by Israeli PM Netanyahu, numerous Republican Senators have breathlessly signed an open letter to the Iranian government. Fewer than half the Senators, and less than all the GOP majority initialed the correspondence. In it, the signers fondly anticipate the conclusion of Mr. Obama's presidency, and suggest helpfully that any agreement reached with the incumbent might be later overturned. Never has the GOP been so solicitous of the Teheran regime.

Predictably, an outsized media firestorm has ensued. Dems have accused the GOP of making common cause with Iranian hard-liners in some bizarre bedfellowship; Republicans have called the Democratic braying "hysterical." For their parts, Mr. Obama and his counterparts at the table seem to have shrugged it off -- as they should. The Prez calmly called this latest unprecedented condescension something like 'Monday,' while Iran Foreign Minister Javad Zarif concluded the letter "has no legal value and is mostly a propaganda ploy."

So, the beat goes on, but the real import of the GOP letter depends on for whom it was actually written. Anyone who accepts at face value the notion that this was a well-meant civics lesson offered to a backward people betrays their own unfamiliarity with how Washington works.

It might be useful to recall that until 1979's Islamic revolution, Iran was considered an ally and a great place for American companies to invest [disclosure: humble scribe was part of DuPont's legal group whose task it was to seek reimbursement at The Hague for a textile plant in Isfahan). Currently, not only do they have their own diplomats at the UN and informally in DC (as well as access to our country's finest social studies texts), but DC is also lousy with global law firms eager to help clients navigate the welter of relationships among public and private interests in the international sphere. That includes foreign governments, of course.

Here's how global powerhouse Vinson & Elkins delicately characterizes its legal services offering under 'Legislative' services on the firm's website:

"As an international law firm, our attorneys have assisted the governments of foreign countries in establishing policies for their growth and development while also maintaining consistency with worldwide trends."

That's not to say that V&E actually does represent Iran, per se -- there are several hundred other large, well-heeled aggregations of attorneys eager to assist, and often populated by once-and-future senior government officials (the current AG Mr. Holder, for example, came in from the redoubtable Covington & Burling, the ultimate insiders). Unpopular regimes are often advised via front organizations, much like lawyers at Patterson Belknap once advised Iran via representation of the shadowy Alavi Foundation. The point is that the letter was clearly not intended to apprise the Persians of the sophisticated intricacies of unfamiliar democracy, American-style.

For whose consumption was the letter intended?

It was clearly meant for a domestic audience. First, it's quite brief, as befits American attention spans. It is also written to about an 8th-grade comprehension level. Of its two operative paragraphs, the first differentiates among agreements with foreigners: treaties, executive-congressional agreements, and "mere" executive agreements.

That leads to the payoff in the second stanza: Any executive agreement entered-into now could be overturned later "with the stroke of a pen," presumably, but not necessarily by a GOP heir to the Presidency. In a suggestion of Republican hegemony over the Senate, which, after all, dates from ? January, the letter reveals that a majority of that body could also dash the gestating agreement on jagged rocks, by itself. Of course, that's a bit simplistic under Senate rules that effectively require 60 votes to even bring a matter to the floor, but that's a topic for GOP Civics Letter 102, the sequel.

In other words, take heart, GOP Base, the long, dark, re-elected nightmare of the Obama presidency is nearly over! And be sure to vote ? because a new Republican Prez might cancel an agreement whose specific terms are unknown, and that doesn't exist yet.

Notably, seven GOP Senators: Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker of Tennessee, Dan Coats of Indiana, Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Susan Collins of Maine, Jeff Flake of Arizona and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska declined to sign-on. They have indicated that freshman Senator Cotton of Arkansas may have suffered a bout of premature documentation, going off half-considered, and making it more difficult to later rally the necessary twelve+ Dems to achieve a veto-proof opposition.

It would also be interesting to see what, in fact, a new GOP Prez might elect to do if an agreement Is reached, and if it works as well as the current, interim accord is performing, in terms of suspending Iran's nuclear ambitions. It's not at all clear that he would upset such an apple cart, because then, as now, the alternative of no agreement may be worse. Sanctions did not stop Iran's progress prior to the interim accord, and military interventions would not likely be doable practically or politically, much less successfully.

Thus, this letter is really just another volley in the ongoing Congressional campaign to marginalize this President. As such, it will pass with the news cycle. Don't bother to stay tuned on this one.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by chas holman, a resident of Avila,
on Mar 10, 2015 at 12:26 pm

Why are the American people allowing these 47 Senators even one more second in United States office?They should be recalled and have new elections on each of their seats. To write a letter to another country to warn them that dealing with the executive office of the US is not in their best interests, is complete and utter treason. What the heck were they thinking? they have demonstrated they are INCAPABLE for their seats. Dangerous too.

I?ve never been so angry politically in my life. This one really takes the cake. I now fear it IS possible for them to go even lower. This is dangerous nonsense and only appeals to those who desire sedition and anarchy.

Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of another community,
on Mar 10, 2015 at 12:36 pm

Hi chas: be careful -- you might get called a bunch of nasty names. I also think the best way to understand this, ahem, departure from the norm is to consider it just another flailing fulmination. That seems to be how the negotiating Parties to any agreement see it.

Posted by Herman Glates, a resident of Danville,
on Mar 10, 2015 at 1:27 pm

Herman Glates is a registered user.

I hate Obama as much as the next guy, but even I don?t understand why Republicans wrote this letter.

Republicans should focus on how Obama is a loser and how liberals are poisoning America. That?s a winning formula.

Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Alamo,
on Mar 10, 2015 at 4:37 pm

In case there was Any doubt that the Iranian delegation is amply well-advised on the legal front, there's this: Web Link

It's particularly embarrassing when officials of our government who presume to condescend to others get such a schooling. It's also well-deserved, unfortunately. Ouch. 47 senators, not-ready-for-prime-time..

Posted by Herman Glates, a resident of Danville,
on Mar 11, 2015 at 10:39 am

Herman Glates is a registered user.

Tom continues to nitpick because Republicans are the only thing preventing Democrats from forcing their liberal agenda on America.

Democrats make diplomatic blunders too. For example, it wasn?t such a great idea when Obama tapped Angela Merkel?s phone.

The letter to Iran has zero importance. It will be long forgotten by the next news cycle.

Posted by Tired of Trolls, a resident of Danville,
on Mar 11, 2015 at 12:03 pm

"Thus this letter is really just another volley in the ongoing Congressional campaign to marginalize the President. As such, it will pass with the next news cycle. Don't bother to stay tuned on this one."

Herman, you'd look marginally less foolish if you read the blog before commenting.

Posted by Herman Glates, a resident of Danville,
on Mar 11, 2015 at 5:01 pm

Herman Glates is a registered user.

I am trying my best to keep up with your blog posts.

Do you think it is easy being a troll? It is a lot of hard work, I assure you.

Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of another community,
on Mar 12, 2015 at 7:18 am

@HG: I can't speak for ToTs, but I'd buy him/her a beer. And yeah, trolling is way easy.

I've been surprised at the level of anger and ongoing interest in this story. Articles and updates that usually get 500 or so comments in the big papers back east have been generating 3500-4000 -- and it wasn't debate being expressed, it was dismay. Lots of caps and exclamation points -- you'd think that a black/blue, or gold/white, or blue dress was involved. Some nit-picking, huh?

So I'm on the wrong side of the prediction that it would just die -- to the point where the signatories have been forced to acknowledge the error, and invoke the classic defense of 'just kidding.' Here they had the chance to bask in the warmth of Hillary's bad email judgment, but instead they open a self-inflicted wound that will leave a scar. Ready to govern?

Posted by Herman Glates, a resident of Danville,
on Mar 12, 2015 at 12:24 pm

Herman Glates is a registered user.

Wow, people are typing all caps and exclamation points, eh? I didn?t realize it was getting that serious. They must know what they're talking about. Maybe I should sit up and listen to what they're saying.

Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Alamo,
on Mar 12, 2015 at 12:55 pm

See what I mean about trolling? It's EASY.

Posted by Herman Glates, a resident of Danville,
on Mar 12, 2015 at 1:22 pm

Herman Glates is a registered user.

YOU should try it. It's FUN!!!! (And therapeutic).

Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Alamo,
on Mar 12, 2015 at 1:27 pm

Therapeutic, eh? I will send you my invoice (but I'm expensive -- you might want to go seek help from Tim or Elizabeth).

Posted by Cholo, a resident of Livermore,
on Mar 12, 2015 at 5:15 pm

I'm unable to determine who has the crush? Tom or Herman?

My recommendation - A PEACE offering of Web Link

If this doesn't put an end to your silly squabble, have you considered a peace offering of moth balls?

Posted by Tsar Head, a resident of another community,
on Mar 12, 2015 at 9:17 pm

Yet Tom is behind a deal he doesn't know anything about. Kind of like like when Obama told everyone no one would lose there health coverage. Hundreds of pages of stuff no one could explain; and still can't.. So Tom, what's in this deal with Iran that you so uneloquently bring to the table?

Know it alls are fascinating creatures... Aren't they?

Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Alamo,
on Mar 13, 2015 at 8:19 am

@cholo: thanks for your patience! I know well your objections to comments that are not directly on-point.

@TS: sifting through the usual angry crap, you ask why I would favor the proposed deal with Iran. Here are the broad outlines of what?s known: Web Link You?re welcome. There are general and specific reasons to favor it over the status quo:

Generally, I favor it because I have a preference for the rule of law, for diplomacy and for interest-based bargaining. Some folks may mistake that for softness, but it needn?t be, at all. It?s not cathartic, so it doesn?t appeal to anyone?s inner John Wayne. It can be miss-handled, but that doesn?t turn every negotiated deal into Munich 2. Cheating is a risk that needs to be addressed, and vigilance is required as maintenance.

All that said, it works because both sides are better-off than they would have been in its absence, and want to stay that way. It?s also preferable because it reduces risk, which is, after all, what life?s all about. Too many, many more things can go wrong in the status quo -- in an unhappy, festering situation for all concerned. Wars, in particular, are expensive and replete with unforeseeable consequences ? nuclear war is worse, and unacceptable. With all the moving parts and ancient resentments in the middle east, it?s a terrible option for Both sides ? and when the alternative for both sides is terrible, there?s a good basis for agreements ? one of which is this one, to address the nuclear risk.

Specifically, ten years+ is a good, long time. Further, it?s renewable thereafter ? so it?s Not ten years and then Katy-bar-the-door. Second, it addresses what both sides want ? reducing sanctions that worked to bring the Iranians to the table, and suspending their nuclear ambitions. Third, it?s verifiable ? in ways that don?t exist now. Fourth, it?s multi-lateral, so it reduces the easy options of Russia and China to take steps that aren?t in our interest. Fifth, frankly, as a practical matter, it takes the nuclear attack option out of both sides? hands, which I view as a significant risk-reducer.

Does it do everything? Nope ? but it does the most important thing in that region, and that?s a lot better than nothing. YMMV -- okay, maybe write a letter to Iran?

Posted by Tsar Head, a resident of another community,
on Mar 13, 2015 at 9:29 am

Tom said:

"Generally, I favor it because I have a preference for the rule of law, for diplomacy and for interest-based bargaining."

So... LOL, you are talking about the rule of law as it applies to a deal with Iran? Are you really that ignorant? Iran is a theocracy, in case you didn't know. The only laws they abide by are the ones that come from the Quran, not the laws of man. Iran believes in state sponsored terrorism. Iran has repeatedly barked that it will eventually wipe Israel off the face of the earth. And yet, here you are counselor, believing that diplomacy will curtail their evil ways.

I'm not sure what kind of lawyer you were/are in regards to the type of law you practiced. But in this country, when a threat or criminal action has taken place, severe penalties await the accused. Having said that, what type of penalties await Iran should they fail to live up to their end of the bargain? Hmm? Think they care? If so, then you are a fool.

Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Alamo,
on Mar 13, 2015 at 11:55 am

Kindly read the following about the rule of law:

"The world is not the United States, and the conduct of inter-state relations is governed by international law, and not by US domestic law. The authors may not fully understand that in international law, governments represent the entirety of their respective states, are responsible for the conduct of foreign affairs, are required to fulfil the obligations they undertake with other states and may not invoke their internal law as justification for failure to perform their international obligations."

That quote is from the Iranian Foreign Minister to the 47 Senators -- he obviously understands a great deal more about the Relevant legalities than you do.

TS, if you have the good sense to feel a bit foolish, well, that would be progress. You may take some solace in the fortunate availability of a pseudonym behind which to take cover, or you might take a cue from the 47 and say "just kidding." But I'd advise thinking-out your comments better, lest you again dissipate any impact they might have by being categorically wrong.

While I'm at it, you might also consider active verbs, rather than variations on "to be." The latter tend to lead to status offenses, which are meaningless; the former have a fighting chance of relating to what I wrote, instead. It may be too much to expect, but as a part-time educator, hope springs eternal, and I just can't resist a difficult challenge.

Posted by Tired of Tom, a resident of another community,
on Mar 13, 2015 at 9:24 pm

This is a left wing blog. No opposing opinion has any merit here. If you differ with Tom, he will always respond with insults, name calling or just ignore your point and go off a tangent. One would think he wants to attract a following. But he only wants to prevail. He will have the last word. Must be an ego thing.

Posted by tsar head, a resident of another community,
on Mar 13, 2015 at 10:11 pm

Tom escapes the obvious with poison pen in hand. He thinks, or acts, or would like to think and act in the role of a legal scholar. Thomas, even Iran has legal beagles. The problem for us is that their system of government, once again, is based on a theocracy. There is no separation of church and state. Your president should have increased sanctions against this regime until it collapsed. Better than nuclear war, would you not agree?

Tom, argue all you want. You have made a career out of it. But just remember: All of that legal training does not replace common sense.

By the way, was it not your president who called Isis a junior varsity team?

Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Alamo,
on Mar 14, 2015 at 11:05 am

Well, Tired, I was going to give you the privilege of the last word, but then Tsar's more rational proxy had to go and steal your place. Let me just respond a couple of things -- yes, this is liberal opinion -- as stated right up front (it also has a following; you could run the comparative numbers). As such, the RC has a point of view -- but what comes back in the comments is usually directed at me, my heritage, age, girth, 'credentials' and tactics in response to others -- all ad hominem. It is duplicitous to start an ad hominem argument, and then complain when gentler editorials are supplied in response.

The comments almost never concern The Substance of what I have written. That's too bad, because these are matters of political philosophy, not science, and reasonable minds may differ. It's a shame that so few of them ever comment here.

Tsar's proxy at least proposed an alternative approach to the negotiations -- she might be right. But I don't think sanctions stop those 20,000 enriching centrifuges, whereas this agreement might. We have a refeshingly honest, respectful disagreement. I have a bigger problem with the idea that these negotiations are based on trust (they're not), and that apparently we should not deal with any regimes that lack a proper separation of church and state. We'd be pretty lonely, especially in the Middle East, but that's an honest difference, too.

I hope she'll comment again. . .

Posted by Cholo, a resident of Livermore,
on Mar 14, 2015 at 7:15 pm

Well...what exactly is free speech in America? What do you mean, I frequently comment and I get trashed and my well thought out posts get deleted...frequently. Still, I strongly support feeedom of speeechy! yup...that's me!

Incidentally, is making a mad dash a form of Freedom of Speech?

Web Link

Or, is Freedom of Speech just a joke? i rest my case...

Posted by Tired of Tom, a resident of another community,
on Mar 14, 2015 at 8:38 pm

Most agree that sanctions brought Iran to the table. The most logical conclusion is that sanctions worked in this case. But Tom and the president would rather that Iran prevail, that Iran be empowered to destroy Israel, that Iran not be brought to its knees. Tom reveals his hatred of Israel and bias against Jews. It is not just about Bibi for Tom. He hates Israel.

[I have left these flimsy, despicable charges, cowardly rendered, intact. The comment speaks for itself.]

A significant number of Americans believe that Obama is desperate for an agreement with Iran as part of his effort to rescue his legacy of some sort. Obama knows he is negotiating a deal that could not be ratified by the Senate. Such an agreement probably could not have been approved by the last senate. Once again, this president has ignored the constitution's guidelines and decided he can decide what is right and proper regarding a critical agreement with an enemy who has sworn to destroy us.

For Republicans and for the Senate, Obama's unilateral approach to foreign policy caused the letter from the 47 senators. The senate has a role in foreign policy. The letter was their only option.

Posted by Cholo, a resident of Livermore,
on Mar 16, 2015 at 7:22 pm


Posted by Tom Cushing, a blogger,
on Mar 19, 2015 at 1:53 pm

Tom Cushing is a registered user.

To whom etc -- I am not paid to edit your ad hominem crap. Make your point on the merits, or just mutter to yourself.

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