As Republican senators continue to clamor over how good or bad a diplomatic deal with Iran is—regardless of the fact that the deal does not yet exist—respected Harvard academic Nicholas Burns penned a column this week describing the dangers recent actions have towards our government’s ability to conduct foreign policy moving forward. In the Boston Globe, Burns writes:
47 Republican senators sent a letter to Tehran warning it against an agreement with Obama as they planned to repudiate any deal in Congress. Some called this letter treasonous. While that goes too far, it was surely reckless in its assault on the president’s lead role in the conduct of foreign policy. Congress has the right to exercise oversight and control the purse strings. But we won’t have a successful foreign policy if 535 members of Congress insist on interfering directly with the president’s negotiations with foreign governments on difficult issues like nuclear weapons.
[Furthermore], Senate Republicans are considering a new bill that would have Congress vote to approve or disapprove the Iran talks before Obama even has a chance to conclude them. This cart before the horse strategy produced an unusual public appeal last weekend by Obama’s chief of staff, Denis McDonough. In a letter to the respected Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker, McDonough asked Congress to give Obama and his negotiating partners the time and space to conclude talks with Iran. McDonough acknowledged the central role of Congress in deciding, if an agreement is reached, whether to then end statutory sanctions on Iran.
But he warned Congress against seeking to approve or disapprove the “non-binding” agreement being negotiated with Iran. Unlike treaties that require Senate ratification, past presidents have routinely negotiated these kinds of non-binding agreements on critical international issues. Imagine if isolationists in Congress had voted down FDR and Winston Churchill’s historic Atlantic Charter in 1941, or Democrats had rejected Nixon’s Shanghai Communique that opened relations with China in 1972? Both were non-binding agreements negotiated by American presidents and cited by McDonough in his letter as precedents for Obama’s Iran agreement.
By all accounts, Obama is close to concluding negotiations with Iran to limit its nuclear future. Congress will have every right to ask tough questions of the administration when a final deal is reached, since it will involve a set of complex, messy compromises with the noxious Iranian government. But if Obama succeeds in achieving a deal that leaves Iran well short of a nuclear weapon, with a restricted enrichment program, 24/7 verifications oversight, and the threat of continued sanctions in place, it will be worthy of public and congressional support.
You can read Burns’ entire column here.