Tuesday, March 10, 2015

"A Bunch of Irresponsible, Provincial, Childish Idiots"

Meet Tom Cotton the junior senator from Arkansas and currently the youngest Senator in Congress (37 years old).  He's a striver and sadly we'll be hearing more of him.  

He's "Sarah Palin with a Harvard Degree" says Salon. Born in Dardanelle, Arkansas--a small town of less than 5,000--he attended Harvard, studied government, wrote for the Harvard Crimson, and graduated magna cum laude. He went on to Harvard law school and graduated in 2002. After law school he clerked for an appellate judge for one year, and then was a junior associate in a law firm for two years.

I went to college. I've been a partner in two successful law firms.  I've hired smart Harvard grads.  I can tell you that at this point in his career (2005) Tom Cotton knew approximately nothing of the law or how the world worked.  What's he done since then?

In 2005 Cotton enlisted in the army.  He became a junior officer, served in Iraq and Afghanistan as a platoon leader and collected several medals. In between his two tours of duty he occupied himself conducting military honor funerals for veterans at Arlington National Cemetery.

After his discharge from the army in September 2009, he briefly joined a consulting firm before returning to work on the family cattle farm.

Like law practice and army service, cattle ranching didn't last long.  In 2012 he was elected to the House of Representatives from Arkansas's 4th Congressional District. Like Sarah Palin, Cotton was endorsed by John McCain and supported by the Tea Party.  He was identified as a rising star and last fall Arkansas elected him to the Senate.  He was sworn in for his role as the youngest member of the Senate two months ago, on January 6, 2015.

Listen to the video clip above.... Does this sound like someone at a high school debate, or does this sound like the person we want to decide for us whether to go to war with Iran?

Yesterday, March 9, 2015, Cotton wrote a hectoring open letter to the Iranian leadership in an attempt to sabotage the ongoing P5 + 1 negotiations about Iran's nuclear program:
 "[I]t has come to our attention while observing your nuclear negotiations with our government that you may not fully understand our consitutional 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.... We hope this letter enriches your understanding of our constitutional system and promotes mutual understanding and clarity as nuclear negotiations progress." 
This letter was joined by 47 Republican Senators, including the entire Senate Majority leadership and likely Republican presidential candidates Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Rand Paul.

As Lisa Goldman expressed it on Twitter:  What a "Bunch of irresponsible, provincial, childish idiots."

We Don't Elect Junior Senators to Run our Foreign Policy

We'd like our foreign policy to be conducted by competent, experienced, and wise people.  We elect presidents to fill that role.  We expect presidents to surround themselves with wise counsellors and cabinet minsters.  We expect that Presidents should have enough leeway to be effective in carrying out our foreign policy.  We don't expect Congress to undermine our Presidents in this endeavor. We don't expect the most junior and inexperienced Senator to call the shots.  Apparently Mitch McConnell does.

The president represents the entire country.  He or she is supposed to act in the best interest of all of us. Yes, Presidents these days are Republicans or Democrats and they will have policy views and make policy choices that reflect these party affiliations. We may not always agree, but we expect the President to pursue the best interest of the country.

This does not mean that foreign policy politics stops once an election is over.  As citizens we surely have the right to vigorously oppose the policies of a President with whom we strongly disagree.  We may want our representatives in Congress to also vigorously oppose such policies. But we surely don't want our most junior and inexperienced Senators to take direct action with foreign powers or to undermine ongoing negotiations that our government is conducting. And, if the Senate majority leadership felt absolutely compelled to actively oppose and undermine a particular presidential policy, we surely don't want them to delegate this task to the most junior Senator in the Senate. We don't want Congress to follow the lead of a still wet-behind-the-ears blowhard who lacks the breadth of experience to exercise wise and sound judgment in such matters.

We expect better judgment and better leadership than that from the majority party in Congress.

Here is Elias Groll in Foreign Policy Magazine:
The letter represents the second time this Congress has gone further than any of its predecessors in its efforts to kill a deal being negotiated by a sitting American president. Last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu argued against a nuclear agreement with Iran during a speech to a joint session of Congress that was organized by House Speaker John Boehner without coordination with the White House. Senate Republicans have made history again, this time by reaching out to Tehran directly to lobby against the deal. 
Norm Ornstein, a longtime observer of the U.S. Congress and a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute [a conservative Think Tank], said Monday’s letter was unprecedented in the body’s history. He said the only similar episodes came in 1968, when the presidential campaign of Richard Nixon attempted to scuttle peace talks to end the Vietnam War, and in 1979, when Sen. Jesse Helms dispatched top aides to London to try undermine the talks that eventually turned Rhodesia into Zimbabwe.  “But that was on such a smaller scale,” Ornstein said. “Really, it’s the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony.”
And Max Fisher points out at VOX that this entire approach by the Republicans threatens to seriously undermine America's ability to conduct foreign policy, not just on this issue of nuclear negotiations with Iran, but on future issues as well:
Even if you agree with Republicans that Obama's Iran talks are a bad idea, the fact that Republicans have gone beyond opposing a deal to overtly undermining US foreign policy should worry you. Republicans are now freelancing their own foreign policy, conducting shadow diplomacy with both Israel and Iran, dividing US foreign policy against itself. 
Who, a foreign leader might reasonably ask, is really in charge in Washington? How can I risk negotiating with the US when any deal we strike might be sabotaged by Congress? How can I make difficult, politically painful concessions to the US if Republicans might end up pulling out the rug from under me? How much can I really trust the US to uphold its word? How safe of a bet is working with the Americans?

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