Thirteen Ethics Observations On The GOP’s Letter To Iran

Letter to IranFrom the Washington Post:

“An already heated battle between the White House and Republicans over negotiations to curtail Iran’s nuclear program grew more tense Monday when 47 Republican senators sent a letter to Iran designed to kill any potential deal.

The White House responded by accusing the Republicans of conspiring with Iranian hard-liners, who oppose the delicate negotiations, and suggesting that their goal was to push the United States into a military conflict.”


1. The letter cannot be defended as anything other than an effort to sabotage sensitive international negotiations. As such, it is direct interference with the President’s ability to do his job. The fact that Republicans, like Israel, have abundant evidence that President Obama is likely to do that job, in this case, badly and even dangerously is no justification for this unethical, unconstitutional, arrogant and offensive act. The American people elected Obama president, and with that came the authority to conduct foreign affairs and oversee negotiations with foreign governments. The letter is wrong in every way.

2. It does not matter, and should not matter, to any American whether or not they believe that a breakdown in negotiations with Iran would be preferable and safer than the kind of deal this President is likely to produce. It does not matter. The letter is per se a breach of the separation of powers, and as precedent, endangers the nation’s entire governance structure.

3. Anyone who defends this atrocious, reckless and unprofessional conduct is fully embracing “the ends justifies the means” as a principle of democratic government.

4. If he was not aware of it and did not approve it, Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell is obligated to condemn this action, and punish all signatories,  stripping them of committee assignments related to foreign affairs.

5. He won’t.

6. If McConnell was behind it, approved it or allowed it to go forward, he should resign. Today.

[ Update: I have been informed that McConnell signed the letter. Thus #5 above is rendered moot. ]

7. He won’t do that, either.

8. All of that said, Democrats and President Obama should be estopped from protesting as if their own reckless and undemocratic actions did not make something like this inevitable. As Byron York annoyingly writes (annoyingly because I had already written almost the exact same thing before I saw his report)  in the Washington Examiner:

They have a right to be angry — but not to be surprised. There’s a war going on between the executive and legislative branches in which Obama has shown contempt for Congress’ constitutional powers, and now, in response, Congress is showing contempt for the president’s constitutional powers. It’s an unfortunate situation, but it’s what Obama has wrought…On Iran and before that on immigration, healthcare, and other matters, Obama has pushed his executive authority beyond its proper limits, on the flimsy pretense that he is entitled to act unilaterally if Congress does not pass bills he wants. Could anyone fail to anticipate that in response Congress would stretch its own authority, too?

9. Columnists and reporters whose angry indignation at the Republican letter exceeds their previous levels of criticism of the President’s executive order on illegal immigration should be forced to wear a scarlet “P”—for “partisan bias” on their chests forevermore.

10. The President guaranteed this war, as York terms it, the second he responded to the Republican sweep of the House and Senate in the mid-term elections by announcing his intention of defying the will of the voters, and refusing to collaborate with and involve Congress as the system requires to function, as other, successful, productive, competent Chief Executives have done to the country’s benefit. But in truth, he had been waging this war all along.

11. It has now escalated to a dangerous level. (It was always at an unacceptable level, because this war is itself the product of incompetence on both sides.) The Republicans are 100% responsible for that escalation, and should be held accountable. However, this episode has to be regarded as part of the horrific Obama Administration Ethics Train Wreck, in which incompetence at the top is crippling the government, and  causing dysfunction in all directions.

12. There is no question about whether this will get even worse. It will. We know this because we know that President Obama lacks the character to change, or the self-knowledge to accept his own responsibility for this disaster.

13. The only questions now are how badly the fabric of our government and its institutions will be damaged, and how long it will take to repair them.



61 thoughts on “Thirteen Ethics Observations On The GOP’s Letter To Iran

  1. I think the damage will continue as long as there’s a progressive in the White House. The left thinks all their important fixes can’t wait for the unenlightened to get on right side of history. According to the, democracies don’t work because the people and the legislatures they elect are not hip enough (see the Gruber tapes). So, the enlightened president needs to get things sorted out for the good of everyone, whether they like it or not. .

    • Heck, you don’t need the Gruber tape. It’s very easy to brush democracy aside by saying it’s nothing more than two wolves and a lamb voting on what’s for dinner.

  2. There used to be a saying, something to the effect that “politics stops at the water’s edge.”

    Agree with every point of your analysis, Jack: this is a terrible decision by Senate Republicans. Stupid, too. Iran watches our media like a hawk, and this very same message could have been sent in numerous different ways.

    And, of course, it is PRECISELY Obama’s arrogance and defiance of the enumerated powers that created this ridiculous situation in the first place.

    For the sake of the Republic, we’d all better pray that whoever survives the 2016 POTUS race is actually a grown-up. And I frankly don’t much care which party he/she/it comes from, as long as the victor actually respects the office and understands what a president is supposed to do.

    • I think it might help if there was a general reminder to this nation about the concept of separation of powers, checks and balances, etc., like the Schoolhouse Rock song about the “Three Ring Circus.”

    • Just trashed a comment by someone called Proteus, the gist of whose comment was summed up in the excerpt:
      “you have the balls to criticize Obama and call him arrogant but dismiss the arrogance and recklessness the Bush administration took in taking us to Iraq.’

      The rest was a political rant unrelated to the post. I trash comments like this–I may start spamming them. There is absolutely no connection to Bush, Coolidge or James Buchanan in this post, nor the issues and events that sparked. Knee jerk dolts like Proteus have become incapable of critical, independent thought: mention Obama and they bark out “Bush!” or “Iraq!” like Pavlovian dogs.

      • To become incapable of something one must have been capable of it in the first place. I don’t think Proteus was ever capable of it.

  3. If Obama doesn’t like it, then let him send the FBI in to arrest all 47 signatories for violation of the Logan Act. I doubt he’ll do that, though, because that screams coup d’état.

    In all fairness to everyone on both sides of the aisle here, this isn’t completely new. I would point you to Ted Kennedy’s attempt to undermine Reagan during the Cold War, John Murtha’s attempt to deliberately starve the war on terror of funding, and (although the parallel is not perfect here) Jimmy Carter’s attempts at freelance diplomacy, including trying to persuade members of the UN Security Council to vote against Gulf War I.

    I am not saying that any of these actions were right, or tit for tat, but I am saying that none of these actions were met with decisive reactions, and as such, they set an unofficial precedent, what in labor law parlance we call “past practice” where a manager who has allowed, say, the way employees take vacation to proceed a certain way for a period of time isn’t allowed to suddenly change it, or act surprised when someone relies on the way it’s been done for that period of time.

    This represents an escalation, true, but, as you set forth above, it’s not without precedent, either in the expanding fight over enumerated and separated powers or past attempts to interfere directly with foreign policy some believed was damaging and felt strongly enough about to go outside normal channels on.

    I’m also sure that all of the actions I just set forth were defended with a liberal dose of the moral gloss of “but they were for peace.” This can also be glossed by saying “they were just trying to keep this nation safe when the president was failing in that obligation.”

    • If Obama doesn’t like it, then let him send the FBI in to arrest all 47 signatories for violation of the Logan Act. I doubt he’ll do that, though, because that screams coup d’état.


      Laws are for the little people.

      Repeal the Logan Act, as it can’t be enforced as long as those who violate it are sufficiently powerful.

      • It’s not that. It’s that the only one who could do it is the President/AG, and when the President has behaved to Congress like this one, it would indeed scream coup. Actions have consequences. Obama’s been daring Congress to impeach him as he breaches the Constitution—this is the same thing, essentially.

  4. Anyone who defends this atrocious, reckless and unprofessional conduct is fully embracing “the ends justifies the means” as a principle of democratic government.

    the question is- does the electorate tolerate this conduct?

    • The electorate will tolerate much that undermines a Republic…hell given a chance, the electorate will ENACT much that undermines the Republic, even to their long-term detriment.

      That’s why we designed our system to avoid allowing the Electorate the ability to undermine the Republic that quickly…

  5. People who really value the constitution and want it to stand won’t do things like this, no matter what the provocation is.
    The choice seems to be how fast we get to complete breakdown. Democrats…fast.
    We’re still going to get there.
    I’m so over it.

    • “People who really value the Constitution” … have probably read it. As a country, we suffer from political illiteracy.

      • As a country, we suffer from illiteracy. I’ve had this discussion before on a different forum about the measurement of “literacy”. In short, I don’t think literacy should be measured just by ability to read, but rather by how well-read someone is…that is to say, how often they read and how diversely they read – coupled with comprehension of said readings.

        That would be a much better measurement of “literacy”…in which case, I think you’d see numbers plummet across the Western World.

  6. Sorry — Iran getting or not getting nukes is more important to me than an arguable violation of separation of powers. Ends justifies the means is okay if it the “means” means a nuclear-free Iran. A big if, of course.

      • He’s confusing legally and ethically arguable, I believe, but does choosing the lesser of two evils always mean a violation of ethics, even if the stakes are this high and viable alternatives are lacking?

        • Joe, I think it does. This is not so much the lesser of two evils, but the end justifies the means. It is also totally unnecessary. I doubt seriously that anyone in the government of Iran, such as it is, is unaware of our Constitution and the restrictions placed on Treaties. The fact that these negotiations are taking place at all is ridiculous, as nobody in their right mind seriously expects Iran to abide by the terms of any treaty they make. This does NOT, and in fact CANNOT, justify the House and Senate involving themselves in foreign policy. This is both illegal and dangerous.

          • I agree that it is also that (the ends justifying the means), but it seems to me that, rather than making them aware of our process, they’re conveying their intent to impede this, hoping to derail the whole thing. Thus, to me, the lesser of two evils might be doing something unethical and illegal or standing by as Obama paves the way to a nuclear Iran. Tough call, to me.

  7. From 2003-2008, the Left was so convinced that the George W. Bush’s position on detainees was so wrong that they in essence, assisted al-Qaeda in getting access to American courts to challenge their detentions. In terms of support, it was far more than Hanoi Jane ever gave the North Vietnamese in 1972. Ever since, they have lobbied foreign governments and courts (mostly in Europe) to charge members of George W. Bush’s Administration with various war crimes. This over the waterboarding of three senior al-Qaeda terrorists, and lesser harsh interrogation techniques. Dianne Feinstein’s hit job on the CIA last fall was justified on those grounds, as well, to ensure that the United States never “tortured” again.

    Fast forward to today. These 47 Senators are convinced that the end result of Obama’s nuclear deal involves a second Holocaust (or, to put it bluntly, genocide). Under some of the same justifications used to undermine George W. Bush’s policy on terrorist detainees, is there not an ethical obligation to undermine a course of action that would have the effect of potentially enabling genocide, something that is far more heinous than the waterboarding of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah, and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri?

  8. I don’t how to feel about this. I am angry and embarrassed that this is how our government conducts itself. Tom Cotton, the author of this letter, and anyone who signed it had a choice. They had the choice to represent our country with dignity and not add to the chaos by doing more harm. And they failed miserably. I want to wipe that self satisfied smile off of Tom Cotton’s face.

  9. This is one of those situations that really, really challenges me to overcome very strong emotions in order to adhere to ethical principles. I can almost understand the liberal mindset while considering this. I’d be a lot less conflicted about this if it wasn’t, as usual, a no-win situation for republicans. What’s the ethical way to derail this terrible deal, though? This guy has circumvented our process so many times that there seems to me to be a very real possibility of him executing it without congress ratifying it.

  10. I’m tempted to say that what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

    Obamapants has no room to criticize this move after everything he’s done. If you punch somebody (for any reason, justified or not), you don’t get to pull the surprised-and-offended act when they bloody your nose in return.

    Unfortunately, it isn’t just sauce for the goose and the gander. An unethical and harmful response to an unethical and harmful person is still unethical and harmful. This corrosive partisan knavery is going to cook us all if it doesn’t stop.

  11. I was hoping to flesh this out in depth last night, but taking care of a croupy 2 year old occupied the evening and night…

    and early morning…

    poor guy.

    So here’s the summary:

    I am not fully convinced that this is a violation of the separation of powers, of course there also is no enumerated power for the Senate to do something like this, let alone a splinter faction doing this in the name of the Senate without a vote to push it. This is why I don’t see this, yet, as a constitutional issue.

    The conflict in my view is between two “bads”:

    1) The inevitably crappy deal Obama WILL cut with the Iranians, because he’s an insurmountable moron, and we know it.

    2) The appearance of disunity in the face of our enemies (and the Iranians ARE our enemies, regardless of the downplaying done by the Left).

    In this case, I lean that #1 is probably worse, but by a small amount.

    • If we assume, for a moment, that the aim of this letter is to make the Iranians withdraw from the negotiations (it isn’t, but more on that in a moment), then it is totally unnecessary.

      1) The Iranian government is not going to enter into or honor any agreement that limits it’s ability to develop, design and build a nuclear weapon, or keeps it from using that weapon on Israel and distributing that weapon to whomever they see fit to distribute it to.
      2) If such an agreement were to be reached, it would be a treaty, and as such, would require approval by the Senate, to the tune of a 2/3 majority.
      3) Iran is certainly aware of #2, above, or they are more ignorant of the world around them than I suppose a terror-state could be.

      Therefore, since we see that the letter served no PRACTICAL purpose, then it could only be political in nature, designed to:
      a) embarrass a sitting President
      b) stretch GOP “muscles”
      c) draw attention to the Presidents usurpation of Congressional prerogatives
      d) get even with those usurpations
      e) draw attention to the GOP
      f) all of the above

      What it has actually done is make the GOP look like a pack of Kindergarten Kids, lashing out at Obama because he stole their crayons. If they really want to do something about his actions, then DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. Playing games such as this is counterproductive, self-destructive and appears arrogant and childish, not qualities we want in our political leaders.

      • No doubt.

        But on your #1 – that’s the real worry. We don’t know and have no guarantees that Obama won’t enter into an agreement that is ultimately beneficial to Iran… which means a 2 year duration in which the Executive can pretend like it’s a treaty, because we know he won’t enforce any prior arrangements he doesn’t like, before we hope we can get a President who is grown up and knows how our nation works and believes in how our nation works…

      • “If we assume, for a moment, that the aim of this letter is to make the Iranians withdraw from the negotiations”

        But you don’t HAVE to make that assumption. It can also be assumed, that, lacking any faith in the President OR his men, the splinter group in the Senate felt they needed to communicate to the Iranians what they believe the President will NOT communicate. With no intention to make them withdraw from negotiations, but rather to bolster the strength of the American message (which is doesn’t since it communicates disunity).

        The letter SHOULD have been written to the President, AND PASSED via a Senatorial vote, telling him what minimum terms the Senate wishes him to pursue.

  12. So, I’m not defending the senators here, just noting another instance of bias in the media. Phillip Klein provides a list of times senators undercut republican presidents with foreign governments, which really highlights how dishonest anyone claiming ‘unprecedented’ really is. The link doesn’t explicitly try to justify the letter, which is a pleasant surprise to me.

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