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March 16, 2015

Republicans miss the bus…again

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

Let’s play the analogy game. This will require an active imagination, but let’s pretend that the Obama Administration is a charter bus. All of the president’s policies, cabinet officers and Executive Branch employees are stuffed inside. His bus is roaring down the proverbial road, the ultimate destination is the end of his term, his legacy, if you will.


Along the way, the bus has to steer though obstacles, traffic jams and roadblocks. Many of those are the president’s own fault, the result of poor choices, confused priorities and muddled implementation. Some come from the press, although given the fealty most of the major media outlets demonstrate to this administration, far fewer press-driven obstacles face this bus than any of the last six presidential buses.


Most of the problems the Obama bus encounters are traps laid by Republicans, some from future presidential hopefuls; but most come from the GOP majority in Congress. Some of those carefully-laid Republican traps have not produced the desired result, and several have actually helped speed the Obama bus on its way.


Government shutdowns, laughably inarticulate candidates in races that really mattered around the country, and political in-fighting that did more damage to the Republican brand than any policy the president rolled out are classic examples of missing the bus.


It happened again.


This time, 47 U.S. senators, led by Tom Cotton of Arkansas, all signed a letter to Iranian government leaders reminding them that any deal to end U.S. sanctions in exchange for controls on Iran’s nuclear development program would not be binding if not ratified by the U.S. Senate.


The letter was in direct response to the speech given to a Joint Session of Congress by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, itself a matter of considerable consternation by President Obama. The decision to invite a sitting world leader to speak to Congress would typically come through the White House, or at least with its advance blessing.


This one did not.


As a result of Mr. Netanyahu’s imploring Congress to reject the current negotiations and seek a “better deal,” Senator Cotton and his colleagues felt it important to teach the Iranian ruling regime a lesson in U.S. constitutional decision-making. No treaty or international two-party contract can be binding on the U.S. without the confirmation of the Senate.


As if the Iranians care at all about how we make deals, let alone deals on developing nuclear weapons capability. Some suggest tough U.S. sanctions brought the government of Iran to the bargaining table in the first place. Sounds fine until the United Nation’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, recently announced that it could not verify any past claims regarding uranium enrichment made by Tehran.


Iran’s ruling religious leaders has stated on multiple occasions that their top geo-political initiative is the development of nuclear weapons capability. That’s followed closely by their second highest geo-political priority, the elimination of the State of Israel. You see, priority number one provides the means to achieve the second priority.


So far, the Obama Administration’s goal has been to negotiate an agreement that defines and limits the “breakout” period, the time it would take for Iran to go from enriched uranium (which they already could conceivably produce) to weaponized material, the stuff you’d stick in a missile warhead or projectile. The administration’s logic is simple: define the breakout being long enough that if they make that kind of progress, other nations could take military action against them before they could launch a first-strike weapon.


By interjecting themselves into this muddled mess, Senate Republicans made two tactical mistakes.


First, if President Barack Obama is unable to strike a deal (which has always been a real possibility), then he’ll blame the Cotton letter. If that happens, and Iran is able enrich and weaponize fissile nuclear material, a political argument could be that by screwing up the breakout negotiations, Republicans led to Iran’s joining the nuclear club. No one thinks that’s a good idea.


Second, Iranian hardliners might be compelled to fly in the face of the letter, since it takes Israel’s side in this debate. The Iranians like nothing better than kicking Israeli shins, especially Prime Minister Netanyahu’s. If the deal comes to pass, and Israelis vote out Netanyahu’s hardline government, President Obama looks more presidential than he did before.


The Cotton letter presupposes that President Obama had an interest in having the Senate ratify his agreement. It’s doubtful he ever did.


This was never about finding common ground; this was all about that ultimate Obama bus destination called legacy.


Hopefully, the Republicans won’t be run over by the bus on its way.


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