Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
July 10, 2020

Sen. Colton's open letter further divides Congress

By ALEX YAHANDA | March 12, 2015

I wish I could spend time with every member of Congress in order to determine whether he or she is as unyielding, petty and starkly divided along party lines as the House and Senate collectively appear. My gut instinct is no because it seems unlikely that the group of people we elect to govern would so often neglect rational conversation in order to openly denounce those with opposing viewpoints. But I may be wrong. Controversy sells, and ridiculous statements or proposals may help previously unknown lawmakers vault into the public eye. How else could you explain the snafu that has just arisen surrounding talks of nuclear disarmament between the United States and Iran?

A new wave of vitriol toward Congress may be coming after news broke of newly elected Senator Tom Cotton’s open letter to Iran, which outlines for all Iranians some aspects of how our government functions. Cotton, along with 46 other Republican senators, spent nearly an entire single-spaced page elaborating on the role of Congress and the president in negotiating international agreements. And, if the borderline-condescending diction was not enough, the letter includes a not-so-subtle jab at President Obama stating that while the president’s time in office expires in 2017, most of the senators associated with the letter “will remain in office well beyond then — perhaps decades.”

Stopping Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons used to be — indeed, may still be — one of the few issues with nearly total bipartisan support. Yet this letter may now lead to fragmentation largely along party lines and perhaps slow productive cooperation on this issue. Hard-line stances on how a deal should be forged between the U.S. and Iran could ensure that no practical resolution is reached until much later. Many members of the GOP, usually the more hawkish of the two parties, are currently against some positions that Obama has taken during these negotiations. This is to be expected and not inherently bad. What is unfortunate, however, is that they have attempted to stave off any progress just because they would have not use the same approach if any one of them were president. This is inherently bad. Regardless of whether one agrees with Obama, the president was elected to fulfill duties that include negotiating foreign policy. Cotton may feel that the deal toward which the U.S. and Iran are currently working will not hold up, but is seeking to sabotage the current talks the best way to handle the situation? Or, looking toward the future, will displaying Congress’s subversive and insolent tendencies to all Iranians do anything to help the United States in future talks with Iran, whether they are centered around nuclear weapons or not? It is hard to imagine that the answer to either of these questions supports the senator’s actions.

However, Cotton remains steadfast in his beliefs that the letter was in keeping with the spirit of Iranian nonproliferation. He states that he merely wants to make it clear that Congress has a role in international agreements, which itself is not a ridiculous request. There are other senators who share this same sentiment but who did not seek to directly undermine the president’s bargaining power. Congress has ample time to debate within its own walls what its role should be regarding a nuclear deal. It can then act once the president ascertains Iran’s willingness to work with American requests. This preemptive strike against current negotiations before anything definitive has been announced, especially when the talks are part of a multinational deal with members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany, is more than just a way to keep Iran from becoming armed with a nuclear weapon; it is a partisan vendetta played out in the most disdainful fashion. Compounding this is the fact that the U.S. has been enemies with Iran for so long. Some may think that the current arms deal will be insufficient, but they should not be so flippant when Iran actually seems to be invested in these talks.

I don’t care which side of the political aisle supports this letter or for that matter, which side denounces it. Moreover, it is hard to argue about the legality or precedence surrounding the letter without a strong knowledge of legal theory or history — such debates are best left to the experts. Personally I found the letter to be moronic, though not because of any partisan views. Rather, this attempt by some congressmen to undermine the president’s power so publicly and seditiously is a direct affront to any sense of decorum that should be present among those who have (supposedly) dedicated themselves to governing as effectively as possible. However divided congressmen may feel on an issue, there should be a certain degree of level-headedness, patience and unity at least somewhat apparent. Politicians on either side may have to bite their tongues every now and again so that diplomatic business may be accomplished, despite how they personally feel. Individual and party opinions should be superseded by an overarching desire to not embarrass the U.S. on an international level.

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