US Senators have been known to drone on for a long time, especially during filibusters. But it was the written word of 47 US Senators recently that attracted the attention of Lake Effect contributor Art Cyr:
Iran is now a source of tremendous strain in United States domestic politics as well as foreign policy. Escalating divisions between Democrats and Republicans are greatly complicating our foreign policy. In the end, this may strengthen the influence of the fundamentalist Islamic regime in Tehran.
In the United States Senate, forty-seven Republicans have decided to make foreign policy on their own, in a bid to undercut the Obama administration. Their collective letter, dated March 9, warned that the next president of the U.S. would not be bound by the agreement. The communication was addressed to the Ayatollah Khamenei, the religious leader of Iran, rather than to elected President Hassan Rouhani.
Concern about the possibility of Iran developing nuclear weapons is one important factor. Overriding incentives, however, include domestic political calculations, the approaching 2016 presidential election and intense dislike of – indeed disdain for – President Obama.
The White House has made the situation worse by responding in kind. On March 14, the White House sent a combative letter from Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, addressed to Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker. Corker was one of seven courageous Republican Senators who refrained from signing the misguided rhetorical missile.
The March 10 appearance of Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before the U.S. Congress added further emotional and political fuel to these fires. With characteristic eloquence, and arrogance, he lectured Americans on the errors of our ways. He was invited to speak by Republican House Speaker John Boehner, over the strenuous objections of the White House.
Mario Loyola, writing in the conservative “National Review,” argues the controversial Republican letter should more appropriately have been addressed to President Obama. In the same sensible spirit, Obama should have signed the White House reply. That response should have gone to Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, to underscore the highly partisan character of the ploy by the Republicans.
Meanwhile, there have been some signs of progress in the multilateral negotiations to limit and regulate Iran’s program. Russia is one of our partners in these talks. Our internal divisions can only further encourage unilateral moves by aggressive, ambitious President Vladimir Putin.
Beneath the broad tapestry of Iran’s extremist fundamentalism, some signs of moderation among the diverse factions at the top have been visible. Rouhani was elected on a platform to rebuild the beleaguered economy, improve relations with western nations and develop a formal legal charter protecting civil liberties.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Rouhani’s predecessor, was given to far more inflammatory and overtly hostile rhetoric, toward Israel and the U.S. in particular. Yet that only worked up to a point.
Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter’s national security adviser and now at Johns Hopkins University, remains an interested – and often acutely perceptive - analyst of Iran developments. He has emphasized that the fundamentalist mullahs running the country face very fundamental problems.
Without a nuclear agreement, sanctions on Iran could lead to greater extremism, along with leaving Tehran free to pursue the bomb. Brzezinski believes astute diplomacy long-term could move Iran in the direction of Turkey, an Islamic population that is an important NATO ally.
As usual, history provides important insights. Nearly a decade before the Bush administration invaded Iraq, former President Richard Nixon wrote in his book “Beyond Peace” that invading provocative Saddam Hussein’s Iraq would be a mammoth blunder, leading to expansion of the regional influence of Iran.
History confirms Nixon’s insight, and should inform policy.
Essayist Art Cyr is professor of political economy and world business at Carthage College in Kenosha, and author of the book, After the Cold War.