This week, a group of Republican Senators drafted a letter to the national leadership in Iran in what can only be described as a blatant effort to sabotage negotiations about that country’s nuclear program and increase the likelihood of war.
The letter, signed by Republican Party extremists—in this case, 46 Senators—would be almost comical for its crudeness, did the stupidity of its signatories and the sheer destructiveness of its goals not portend so poorly for the fate of our country in the hands of such people.
The letter is essentially an attempt to derail negotiations by insinuating to the Iranian government that any agreement it reaches with President Obama would be repudiated by a future Republican administration or Congress.
The Republican goon squad opened their salvo in a manner calculated to insult the intelligence of its recipients:
“It has come to our attention while observing your nuclear negotiations with our government that you may not fully understand our constitutional system….For example, the president may serve only two 4-year terms, whereas senators may serve an unlimited number of 6-year terms. As applied today, for instance, President Obama will leave office in January 2017, while most of us will remain in office well beyond then—perhaps decades”.
The Iranian cabinet, it should be said, consists of some fairly well-educated people. The President has a PhD from Glasgow Caledonian University in Scotland. The Minister of Foreign Affairs has degrees from San Francisco State and the University of Denver, with a doctorate in International Relations. The Minister of Science, Research and Technology studied at MIT. And so on. These are people who have a working knowledge of the world and the systems of government within it.
It is not only insulting, but embarrassing for our own country, that 46 Senators would operate under the assumption that their willful—indeed gleeful—ignorance of the world beyond our country’s boundaries is shared by people in other governments. While you’ll find ready caricatures of the U.S. floating around in most countries, Americans and their politicians are unique in depth of their disdain for and depth of their ignorance of other peoples and other governments. This ignorance—and the ills that flow from it—are a result of the half-witted doctrine of “American exceptionalism” that shapes far too much of our foreign policy.
But if we move beyond the condescending and insulting assumptions of the letter, to its substance, it gets even more troubling, both because of its own inadequate understanding of U.S. government and law, but because of what it suggests about the international conduct of the United States.
The Senators wrote, “We will consider any agreement regarding your nuclear weapons program that is not approved by the Congress as nothing more than an executive agreement between President Obama and Ayatollah Khamenei. The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time”.
Their essential warning is that no country in the world should take seriously treaties signed by the U.S. government. They are suggesting that any moves towards peace will be swiftly undone by right-wing fanatics who are intent on exporting violence that serves no recognizable public purpose to any constituency in the United States. They are making it clear that they intend to wage a guerrilla war against the President who—in their Koch-fuelled hatred and racism—they believe to be illegitimate, and that our international legal obligations will be casualties of that war.
The invitation to Benjamin Netanyahu, a state terrorist and leader of a colonial regime, and the attack on the President’s negotiations with Iran are markers of the Republican Party’s intention to bring to the international sphere the policy of sabotage which has for some time now defined its economic policy.
The Republican strategy is to attack the functioning of government and now diplomacy, to gum up the wheels of our institutions and our economy, to engineer the failure of programs and initiatives, and then to claim that “Government doesn’t work” and to point the finger at Democrats.
When voters inexplicably reward this treacherous behavior, Republicans then promptly set about making government work very well indeed—for the ultra-rich and for the corporate interests that bankrolled their guerrilla war and paid for their sabotage, and in this case, for the warmongers.
The Republican senators closed, “We hope this letter enriches your knowledge of our constitutional system and promotes mutual understanding and clarity as nuclear negotiations progress”.
It was certainly illustrative of the dysfunction of our current politics, which empowers fanatic right-wingers on the basis of corporate personhood and rights. And it has undoubtedly made clear to the world that many politicians in the United States have definitively elevated ignorance and sociopathy to election-winning virtues.
It is clear now that negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program (the Republican Senators reference a “nuclear weapons program” which does not, by any evidence produced from anywhere other than Benjamin Netanyahu’s backside, exist) are proceeding between rational groups in the United States and Iran. Both of these groups—comprising Democrats and a handful of more traditional Republicans in the United States, and the core of the Iranian administration—have their own agendas, but appear to be seriously committed to negotiations, and seem to understand that a settlement is infinitely preferable to the alternatives.
But both are hemmed in by nationalist, fundamentalist fanatics on their right flanks. Both of these fringe elements—elements which threaten to dominate in their respective countries—suffer from a total inability or unwillingness to understand different perspectives. In the case of the fanatics in the U.S.—of whom we have a bird’s eye view—they seem to lack some basic elements of human compassion, and seem unmoved by the prospect of unleashing a war on Iranians, with all of the catastrophe that would entail for the people of that country, in the region surrounding it, and ultimately for the United States.
And they have transplanted the methods which have served them so well in increasing economic and political inequality in the United States into the arena of foreign policy. The consequences of right-wing fanatics being able to shape both our foreign and domestic policy are likely to be devastating for U.S. citizens, and catastrophic for the global community. We have seen how small groups of fundamentalist fanatics can destablise the world and cause great violence. And we’ve seen how U.S. imperialism—even in the hands of “moderate” leadership—can wreak havoc and generate global instability.
In the modern Republican Party, we might see such fanatics take control of an imperial state with superpower capacities. It’s a truly frightening combination.