Ever since the Iranian Revolution of 1979, relations between the United States and the Islamic nation have been strained and at times virtually non-existent. In fact, not one single event since World War II collectively captured more American attention than the U.S. Embassy hostage crisis that played out in Tehran over the course of 444 days from 1979 to 1981.
When one takes into consideration that this was before the advent of the 24-hour news cycle, it’s hard to imagine how America would not be suspicious and evasive of our enemy for decades to come.
But just a few short years later under the Reagan administration came the Iran-Contra scandal, where we shipped weapons to our enemy for their cooperation and assistance in helping us free U.S. hostages being held in Lebanon. Then there was the Iranian airliner that was mistaken for a fighter jet and was subsequently shot down by an American warship, which resulted in the deaths of every passenger – 290, to be exact.
Jump ahead to the 2000’s when President George W. Bush decried Iran as part of the “Axis of Evil.” An opposition group then indicated that Iran was working to develop nuclear facilities. By 2006, and then again in 2010, the United Nations placed sanctions on the country over the nuclear concerns, which were quickly followed by the U.S. and the European Union in the form of economic sanctions just a few years later.
If you throw on the ultra-conservative and controversial leadership of the bombastic Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who regularly impugned the U.S. with bizarre and horrendous accusations, such as the U.S. government orchestrating the tragic 9/11 attacks, then you’ve got yourself the near makings of an irreparable diplomatic quagmire that only the boldest and determined statesmen could maneuver.
Thankfully, Iran elected a new president, Hassan Rouhani. Until his election, the leaders of both nations had not spoken. During the exchange, both parties agreed to work together to solve the ongoing nuclear issue. But interestingly enough, the potential end to this decades-long stalemate is now essential if either country is to face the greatest threat to democracy and Middle Eastern progress yet – the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
Before any moves are made toward this end, the Iranian government must display a good faith effort to work with the U.S. to achieve acceptable terms by which it can justify re-engagement on any level. Obviously time is of the essence, so any interruptions in the negotiation of this delicate situation could jeopardize our progress.
Enter Senator Tom Cotton.
Senator Cotton was elected to the U.S. Senate after an incredibly short tenure in the U.S. House of Representatives — where he passed no significant legislation. The young politico ran the model anti-Obama campaign, though. He utilized every opportunity extended to him to diminish the leadership of the President and used inflammatory rhetoric as a means to turn the political difficulties of the Democrats into policy failures. Cotton’s ability to find himself in front of reporters and cameras has been uncanny, but this is how he became the rising star of the far right. But all stars burn out eventually – and sometimes before they do, they put on great shows.
When our Senator decided to write an open letter to the Iranian leadership regarding the current negotiations over its nuclear program with the Obama administration, he embarrassed himself and our country on a number of levels.
First, he and every other signatory revealed their limited understanding of our constitutional system and the power to make binding agreements. The Senate does not ratify treaties. Rather, it takes up a resolution of ratification. Then the Senate formally offers advice and provides consent, which then allows the President to proceed with ratification.
Had our brazen elected officials been more cognizant of international law, the Constitution that they have sworn to uphold, or the power of the President, they would have been spared the strong and humiliating condemnation delivered by the Iranian Prime Minister when he dismissed their efforts as a “propaganda play” with “no legal value.”
Secondly, foreign affairs are typically immune from partisanship. But now such matters are a battleground in U.S. politics. That stated, using one’s position and partisan strategy to undermine our President on an international stage during intense and delicate negotiations not only hampers his ability to conduct foreign policy, but reveals the contentious and hyper-partisan nature of our Congress that has fragmented our governing body. The subtext of such a letter highlights a struggle within our nation that only our enemies would enjoy, and worse, lowers our nation’s stature by providing those who stand against us with a means by which they may call our strength into question.
This unprecedented act from these members of the Republican Party demonstrates the level of disrespect that exists in our nation’s capital. The level of hatred toward the President and his administration now runs so deep that some members of the GOP found it fitting to align with those who do not wish to see peace between the two nations, which certainly gives new meaning to the old saying that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
While there has been severe bitterness conveyed between both major political parties in our country, one could simply look at “who drew first,” so to speak, when seeking to determine how our government became so unhealthy and vitriolic.
Imagine starting your first day on the job with erroneous claims of foreign birth, racist jokes and threats of impeachment at every turn. But rather than go down this rabbit hole, I would like to remove our current President from the conversation and reflect upon the leadership of another.
Ideology aside, one of the most talented politicians of our time was Lyndon B. Johnson. Prior to rising to the Presidency, he governed in the Senate at a time when some would argue that the body had reached its historical apex. He, along with then-House Speaker Sam Rayburn, worked with President Eisenhower and supported him on matters of foreign policy so as to keep the domestic reforms solidified under Roosevelt and Truman.
This caught the attention of New York Times journalist William White. In 1954, the young writer published a column called “The ‘Club’ that is the U.S. Senate,” where he first introduced the idea of “the Senate Type.” He later explored the concept in a book called “The Citadel,” where he defined the term as “a man for whom the institution is a career in itself, a life in itself and an end in itself. This Senate type is not always free of Presidential ambition… But the important fact is that when the Senate type thinks of the Presidency he thinks of it as only another and not as a really higher ambition…” He goes on to state that “To him, precedent has an almost mystical meaning and where the common run of members will reflect twice at least before creating a precedent, the Senate type will reflect so long and so often that nine times out of ten he will have nothing to do with a project at all.”
I do not believe that any member who signed on to Senator Cotton’s letter gave such consideration to their actions, for the act of reflection is rooted in respect, of which these individuals have made it quite clear that they have none for the man who currently occupies our highest office.
“He is nearly always a truly compassionate man, very slow to condemn his brothers. And not even the imminent approach of a great war can disturb him more than the approach of what he may regard as adequate evidence that the Senate may in one crisis or another be losing not the affection of the country (for which he has great care) but the respect of the country.”
How many more outbursts from the ideologues in our government must we withstand before we come to see that disrespect shown to our governing body by those from within our governing body is a signal of disrespect to us all? Is the integrity of our democracy the price to be paid for the acceptance of such extremism?
The makeup of our government has gone through quite a transition since the days of Johnson. Where workhorses once dominated the scene, “show horses” with their eyes on the next prize now surround them. LBJ took great care to cultivate freshmen legislators into “Senate types,” as they would show up on day one with a copy of “The Citadel” waiting for them on their desks.