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Controversy over Republican Letter to Iran


Tom Cotton, the Arkansas senator who drafted the letter, sought to reinforce this message in the midst of the ensuing political controversy, calling upon all potential presidential candidates from both parties to attach their names to it, according to CNN.

At least one, Republican Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, added his name on Tuesday, and The Advocate points out that Jindal reiterated Cotton’s call, urging Democrats and Republicans to make clear that Iran is dealing with a “lame duck president,” whose inability to run for another term constrains his ability to extract cooperation from Congress, especially over an Iran deal that is unpopular on both sides of the aisle.

“Make no mistake,” Jindal said, “any Iran deal that President Obama makes is not binding on a future president.”

But not every Republican has been so quick to embrace Cotton’s strategy, although even some of those who did not move to sign the letter indicated that they did agree with the spirit of opposition to the Obama administration’s tactics in negotiating over Iran’s nuclear program.

Similarly, many Democrats have been clear about their preference for exerting more pressure on Iran even though some of the same Democrats have come out strongly in opposition to Monday’s letter. The American Spectator described the letter as having “really gotten under Barack Obama’s skin.”

Although the Spectator expresses skepticism about the wisdom of Cotton’s strategy, it nonetheless praises the letter for starting a conversation about what the US hopes to accomplish in the negotiations. The Obama administration’s resistance to releasing any clear details about the prospective agreement has helped to fuel the anxiety that is supposedly the driving force behind this letter.

That sense of secrecy extends to Obama’s dealings with Congress. In defending his letter on Tuesday, Cotton dismissed claims that he had shown unprecedented partisanship and went on to assert that the president’s efforts to circumvent Congress on such an important issue of foreign policy are what is unprecedented.

Cotton as certainly not been the only one of the original 47 signatories to refuse to back down in the face of criticism. NBC News reports that Florida Senator Marco Rubio declared that he would readily send another such letter tomorrow. “I think the risk of a nuclear Iran is so great that we need to do everything possible to keep us from finding us in a situation where we are going to have a nuclear Iran,” he said.

However, not all criticism of the letter is coming from the opposite side of the aisle. A post at the conservative blog Hot Air described the move as “too much too soon,” noting that while it is crucially important that Congress has a voice in deciding to accept and enforce an agreement that resembles a treaty, it has no constitutional guarantee of that voice until after the chief executive’s negotiations are concluded.

But of course this does not prevent the author of the piece from emphasizing that the agreement currently taking shape is bad for US interests, should ultimately be opposed, and likely won’t be upheld by Iran. “I believe that they are looking us in the eye and lying, just as they lie to the rest of the world when they say they have no interest in obtaining nuclear weapons,” he said, adding that too many concessions have already been offered up by the US.

This is much the same as the argument made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a speech to a joint session of the US Congress last week. The Times of Israel reports that on Tuesday Netanyahu declared that there appears now to be even more support in the US government for his positions.

The Republican letter may have served as evidence for Netanyahu’s conclusion, although it is not the first indication of receptiveness to his speech among a significant portion of the US Congress. The speech itself met with approximately 25 standing ovations, and that week Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell sought to fast-track legislation guaranteeing congressional oversight on any deal, before scrapping the plan in the face of Democratic opposition.