An Open Letter to Republicans Who Sent Letter to Iran

An Open Letter to Republicans Who Sent Letter to IranAn Open Letter to Republicans Who Sent Letter to Iran

We need to talk. It has to do with the open letter you sent to the “Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran” on Monday, March 9. You know, the one attempting to sabotage the ongoing “P5 + 1” negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program.

This is serious stuff. The issues you address concern the vital interests of the United States and its allies, and touch on the numerous sociopolitical complexities at play in international economic and political systems. Given the gravity, I expected a more nuanced approach to the thorny policy questions raised by the nuclear talks – instead, what I discovered was a juvenile temper tantrum dressed up in senatorial letterhead.

Considering Congress’ recent proclivity toward treating the American people like a class of 10th graders, I suppose I was overly optimistic. So let’s bring the discussion down to your level, just in case my arguments don’t sink in the first time around.

We will begin with the law. Many of you are veterans of the legal profession. This suggests some familiarity with moral ambiguity, the vicissitudes of complex social interactions, and the general fuzziness of human life. Any sane person might naturally assume you understand the importance of playing nice with others, learning to reach mutually acceptable arrangements with people different from you, or mending fences and forgiving old grudges with those for whom you do not care. Because, you know, that’s what differentiates humans from, say, viral bacteria.

Unfortunately, however, you are also careerist politicians. Generally speaking, this means you have had whatever vestiges of critical thinking skills beaten out of you by campaign fundraisers, the 24-hour news cycle, and the crushing weight of your ever-growing egos. Regrettable, but understandable. Nevertheless, you ought to be able to recognize—if all these other things are too much to ask—the simple dictates of the law.

  The Logan Act

If this assumption is correct, let’s consider the Logan Act - part of United States federal law that forbids unauthorized citizens from negotiating with foreign governments. I don’t mean to be condescending. I’m certain you already know the United States Code by heart, but for the edification of our readers, here’s what the act states:

Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.

This section shall not abridge the right of a citizen to apply, himself or his agent, to any foreign government or the agents thereof for redress of any injury which he may have sustained from such government or any of its agents or subjects.

These seem like pretty clear directives. I get that the language was originally drafted in 1799 and might not be all that easy to follow for the average middle-schooler. But, I think we all expect our congressional representatives to have graduated from middle school already.

Not only did you ‘directly commence correspondence’ as US citizens with a ‘foreign government’ in relation to a ‘dispute’ with the United States, and ‘without authority of the United States,’ but you also sought to ‘defeat the measures of the United States.’ That’s three for three. What were you thinking?

Even if the Logan Act didn’t say what it does, the enumerated powers granted Congress by the constitution (Article I, Section VIII) restrict you from meddling in diplomatic negotiations with foreign governments. I imagine the Founders would have a tough time reconciling your actions with Congress’s role in providing “advice and consent” only in diplomatic affairs. Even Iran’s Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, had to correct your mistaken view of Congress’s constitutionally defined role in these proceedings—to say nothing of your grasp of international law. Ouch.

  plainly stupid

Clearly, your actions have gone far beyond the letter of the law, and speak to something very wrong with American politics right now.

The last time such a flagrant act of diplomatic subversion took place was during the 1968 presidential election. Then-candidate Richard Nixon secretly communicated with the government of South Vietnam to scuttle peace talks between President Lyndon Johnson and the North Vietnamese government, promising Saigon better terms if it obstructed Johnson’s efforts toward Hanoi. The result? The war dragged on and Nixon won the election.

Yes, you read it right: not since Richard Nixon has something so pathetically petty been attempted by public officials on the diplomatic stage. And let’s face it, any sentence that begins, “Not since Richard Nixon…,” is not one in which you want to be mentioned. It’s already bad enough that countless foreign policy observers consider your move, in the words of Fred Kaplan, “brazen, gratuitous, and plainly stupid an act as any committed by the Senate in recent times.”

I understand it’s no fun being ignored by the executive branch, and that your egos must take a bit of a hit when nearly two-thirds of the American people agree with a president for whom you so obviously have no respect. It must hurt. I get it. Nobody likes being proven so disastrously wrong over and over and over again. But throwing a tantrum is not going to make things any better.

If anything, pitching this kind of a fit makes you look more craven than your voting records indicate. You need to act like responsible adults if you expect the White House (or anyone, for that matter) to take you seriously. I know that may be a lot to ask, but life is not without its sacrifices, and you can’t sit at the kids’ table forever.

Douglas H. Garrison is the communications director and research assistant at the University of Denver’s Center for Middle East Studies and co-editor of Muftah’s Egypt & North Africa section.