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Said Arikat

Senate 'anti-diplomacy' bears Aipac imprint

US Senator Tom Cotton drafted the letter [Getty]

Date of publication: 11 March, 2015

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Analysis: The US Senate's letter to Iran is legally inaccurate, an attempt to undermine Obama and bears the fingerprint of the pro-Israel lobby.

On Monday, Washington, the city known for its love of political scandals and sensations, awoke to yet another political outrage. 


The day before, five days after Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu's spectacle-speech before a joint Congressional session, a group of 47 republican senators, just three below the 50 percent mark of the entire US Senate, signed "An Open Letter to the Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran", telling Tehran not to bother with any deal it might sign with the United States about its nuclear programme, because the

     The senators' letter is an unserious act of anti-diplomacy.

US will be absolved of any document signed by President Barack Obama's current administration.

The organiser of the effort is a freshman senator from the state of Arkansas, Tom Cotton, who was only elected to the Senate last November in the "big-money sweep of 2014". Serving in the Senate since 6 January he is a political novice. He is also a known neoconservative hawk who spent the better part of his adult life after law school in the US military serving as a ranger, first in Iraq then in Afghanistan. In the military, he built a reputation for encouraging his platoon to be aggressive with the local population.


The letter Cotton drafted in a high-schoolish, patronising tone, tells Iran the following:

"It has come to our attention while observing your nuclear negotiations with our government that you may not fully understand our constitutional system … Anything not approved by Congress is a mere executive agreement.

"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."

Just one problem

There's one problem. Cotton, a Harvard lawyer, seems to have misunderstood the US constitution, according to Jack Goldsmith, a Harvard University law professor and former top legal official in George W. Bush's administration, who offered lawmakers their own lesson early in the morning on 9 March. 

Goldsmith wrote in the blog Lawfare that the senators mistakenly say in their message that the Senate "must ratify" any treaty. In fact, Goldsmith points out, the Senate's role is to give the president its consent for a treaty - and to recognise that ratifying it is the president's choice.

Even Republican party insiders and arms-control advocates (as well as, of course, supporters of the P5+1 negotiations with Iran) concede that the next president and Congress will have a hard time changing or cancelling any deal with Iran - a deal that is all but done, according to knowledgeable sources.

However, this extraordinary move by the Republicans shows the extent that the US rightwing has gone to in its efforts to undermine everything Obama has done since he assumed office in 2009 - from doubting the authenticity of his birth as a US citizen, to insinuating he is a closet Muslim. 

Or, as seen with the most recent Republican fundraiser when party leaders like Rudolph Giuliani, Bobby Jindal, Ted Cruz, and Scott Walker among others suggested Obama "doesn't love America the way we do". Many analysts took this to harbour a racist undertone because the president is African American.

Ever since House Speaker John Boehner issued an invitation to Netanyahu last January, the well-established protocol that "politics stop at the water's edge" seems to have disappeared. This idea was meant to recognise that while the US will fight tooth and nail on all topics, including foreign policy within the confines of its own union, when it comes to dealing with foreign powers, particularly foreign enemies, the US faces challenges together.

Obama, who has been shown malicious disrespect by the Republican Party every step of the way, denounced the senators' letter.

"It's somewhat ironic to see members of Congress wanting to make common cause with hardliners in Iran." Upping the ante, Obama, speaking after a meeting with European Council President Donald Tusk, noted that there is not yet an agreement with Iran, but if there is, the president said: "We'll be able to make the case to the American people, and I'm confident we'll be able to implement it."

The Logan Act

The letter, furthermore – which was strangely addressed to the "Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran" and written on US Senate letterhead - is consistent with Netanyahu's position. It does not address anything specific regarding Iran's nuclear programme. It advances no alternative proposals and elucidates no conditions under which the Republican party (as with Netanyahu) would assent to a deal of any kind. It offers, in other words, no hope of resolving one of America's biggest foreign policy challenges in decades. It is the same exact position that Netanyahu, apparently the Republican Party's chief Iran strategy guru, has been peddling all along.

In short, the senators' letter is an unserious act of anti-diplomacy specifically designed to undermine the president's efforts to conduct foreign affairs in his capacity as chief executive. If they insist on touting the supremacy of US rules and regulations (called the US Constitution) they should do their homework and understand that such is governed by the Logan Act.

The Logan Act was passed on 30 January 1799, and is currently codified at 18 U.S.C§ 953). It is a US federal law that forbids unauthorised citizens from negotiating with foreign governments. It was passed in 1799 and last amended in 1994. Violation of the Logan Act is a felony. The law is still in effect and states:

"Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of 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."

So there Mr Cotton and other esteemed Republicans.

Of course, Cotton's background is crucial here. Although a Harvard Law Graduate, his real political baptism was in Iraq and is steeped in the hawkish parlance of the American Sniper Chris Kyle of 'Good and Evil': good Americans, evil Muslims. He also brings the intrigue of the involvement in his nurturing by the mighty pro-Israel lobby The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac) and the powerful money of the likes of Sheldon Adelson.

The role of Aipac

You see, that iconic Israel firster and Israel lobbyist William Kristoll early recognised Cotton's potential as a hit-man for the Israel lobby and poured money into his campaign through a front organisation for Aipac called the "Emergency Committee for Israel", which Mr Kristoll established in 2010 to "counter all these lefty anti-Israel Jewish organisations like J Street".

Kristoll describes the Emergency Committee for Israel (ACI) as a right-wing political advocacy organisation in the US. The group's board members include himself, former Republican presidential candidate Gary Bauer, and conservative writer Rachel Abrams, wife of Aipac diehard Elliot Abrams. The executive director is settler fanatic Noah Pollak.

A frequent ECI tactic is to publish advertisements that attack politicians who question one-sided US support for Israel. It also publishes open letters to political figures and hosts a website that provides information about political races and highlights ECI's concerns regarding Israel's security.

The ECI also, this reporter has learned, poured US$ 1 million into Cotton's last campaign, which it received from backchannels sourced in the deep pockets of gambling billionaire Sheldon Adelson, now Netanyahu's primary backer. It all seems to fit together.

The great mid-1970's drama about the downfall of US President Richard Nixon, "All the president's men", popularised the phrase "follow the money". This saying offers us a lovely insight into how the pro-Israel multi-tentacled lobby operates in electing neoconservative hawks that can ensure endless US war while Israel can continue to oppress, and colonolise Palestinians.

Senator Cotton's is a good case in point.


Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.

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