Iran Letter Ethics Q and A: Senate Heroes, Blame, Trust And Captain Queeg

Question:  Are the seven GOP Senators who did not sign the Iran letter Ethics Heroes?

Answer: I almost designated them as such, but that would have been a mistake. There are too many non-heroic and even unethical reasons Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) and Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), and Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Senate Foreign Relations Chairman might have chosen to refuse to go along with their colleagues. Based on the explanations I’ve read, that seems to be the case. Collins, for example, says that she didn’t think the letter would work. Wrong answer: the reason to reject the letter is because it’s a flat-out violation of legislative limits imposed on the Constitution. Similarly, Flake says that he didn’t think the letter was necessary, whatever that means. It is also likely that some of the seven felt they could have their cake and eat it too: they want the letter to undermine U.S. diplomacy, but don’t want to take the criticism that goes with signing it.

Question: Do I blame President Obama for the letter?

Answer: A friend who is such a knee-jerking Obama enabler and excuser that it’s a miracle he can walk posted yesterday’s  Thirteen Ethics Observations On The GOP’s Letter To Iran on his Facebook page, and one of his knee-jerking friends wrote, “Typical: blame Obama.” I did not and do not blame Obama for the fact that the Republican Senators engaged in a foolish, dangerous and bright-line violation of the separation of powers, and anyone who could read the post otherwise is so deranged by bias that their faculties are impaired…or they just aren’t very bright.

I did write, and it is true, that the President shares significant responsibility for the poisonous and dysfunctional relations with the Congress that led to this fiasco. He is at the top of the government; it’s ultimately his job to make the government and the system work. Obama and his enablers reject accountability at every turn, but the unavoidable facts are that he is in charge, he took the job voluntarily, and whatever doesn’t work, including the government itself, is on his record. He never made a good faith, sincere, dedicated effort to work with the Republicans in Congress; he never worked to develop the negotiation, compromise, horse-trading, cajoling, quid pro quo skills that successful, competent Presidents have used to deal with the same levels of political opposition that he has found impossible to cope with. He took no steps to build trust in Congress, and engaged in serial conduct that was guaranteed to destroy trust, and has.

Finally, his illegal immigration executive order (the illegal accurately modifies both “immigration” and “order”) and his unilateral alterations to his own, incompetent and sloppy, health care law showed exactly the same contempt for constitutional limits as the Senate letter.

Obama is not to blame for the letter. He is absolutely and ultimately accountable for the conditions that prompted the letter and the decision to send it.

Question: Is there an ethical justification for sending the letter?

Answer: On another thread recently, Ethics Alarms’ most prolific commenter, texagg04, raised the plot of the film “The Caine Mutiny,” based on Herman Wouk’s novel “The Caine Mutiny Court Martial,” which was also a Broadway play. The story involves a mutiny on board a Navy destroyer during World War II. The mutineers are found not guilty in their court-martial after the captain displays his emotional instability on the stand. At their celebration after the verdict, the officers’ defense lawyer, Barney Greenwald,  makes the case that the Navy won’t function and the chain of command fails if a captain’s staff doesn’t work to make him a success, and if he doesn’t feel supported. The argument is that the mutiny was only justified because they brought the captain to the point where he could no longer command.

But if they hadn’t removed the captain from command during a violent storm where the ship was in danger and he froze, the ship might have gone down. The similarity between the film and the Iran controversy are these:

There was an existential threat.

The leader had lost the trust of the crew.

The leader deserved to lose the trust of the crew.

The crew did not do everything it could have and should have to support the captain.

Members of the crew believed that the captain’s current course and performance would result in a catastrophe.

I disagree with Greenwald’s indictment in the film: Captain Queeg was unfit to serve, lives were at stake, and the crew had to act, whether or not they might have helped to him to avoid coming to that point. They were at the point.

The defense attorney’s argument, however, does apply now.

If we believe in our system of government and the Constitution, which has served us well, we have to be willing to accept the consequences when elected officials are not up to the job. Yes, yes, yes—there are exceptions. There are always exceptions. FDR defied Congress and violated the law by secretly working with our soon-to-be allies before we entered World War II, and if he hadn’t, we might be heiling away today, at least those of us not residing in soap dishes. Still, if he had been discovered in his end-around the Constitution, he would have been impeached, and rightly so.

Q: Do I have any trust in the ability of Obama and his team to defuse the Iranian nuclear threat?

A: No.

How could anyone, based on the results of the judgments of this administration in foreign affairs?

Q: Can the Iranians be trusted to keep any agreement or treaty?

A: Of course not.

Q. Do the Iranians believe that any threats of consequences, any “red lines,” are credible if they come from this country while Obama is President?

A. Absolutely not.

Q: Do we have reason to be afraid of a nuclear-armed radical Muslim country?

A: Sure.

Not as afraid as Israel, but sure.

Q: Is it scary being led in foreign affairs by a President who distrusts the military, objects to projecting U.S. power, prefers the deaths of foreign innocents to U.S. intervention and bases his use of force on abstract principles and an ideological view of reality rather than what actual reality demands?

A: It’s terrifying.

But we don’t have coups, we use elections to make change, and our system has served us well, though there have been some close calls.  The U.S. had plenty of evidence that Obama was an inept Commander-in-Chief, and gave him the job for another four years anyway. Congress’s job is to help him do the best job he can, so we don’t end up in the storm, about to sink, with the leader frozen in doubt.

We are not at that point yet, and because we aren’t, no, the letter cannot be justified legally or ethically.


6 thoughts on “Iran Letter Ethics Q and A: Senate Heroes, Blame, Trust And Captain Queeg

  1. I read this post just a couple of seconds after I commented on one of Tex’s comments, and my answer then seems particularly appropriate to this post. With your permission, I will repost it here,

    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.

  2. Wait, Rand Paul signed? My last shred of respect (mostly out of respect for his father) is now blown into the wind. At least Jeff Flake continues to (mostly) defend the right causes.

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