Saturday, March 14, 2015

Editorial: Treacherous Opposition

The letter written by freshman Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), which seeks to undermine President Obama during sensitive negotiations with Iranian officials over their nuclear program, is only the latest in a series of attempts to sabotage the Obama administration, even if it leads to war with Iran.

Lately, Republicans, without consulting the White House, invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to Congress March 3 in what amounted to a faux State of the World address to undermine the sitting president.

Republicans followed up with the letter, which warned Iranian leaders that once Obama is out of office in 2017, “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.”

Obama noted it was “somewhat ironic” to see Republicans “wanting to make common cause with the hardliners in Iran.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif dismissed the letter, declaring that “in our view, this letter has no legal value and is mostly a propaganda ploy.” Zarif, who was educated in the US, received a Ph.D. in International Law and Policy from the University of Denver in 1988 and was Iran’s ambassador to the UN from 2002 to 2007, pointed out technical errors in the Republicans’ description of how the US Constitution works.

The Republican letter raises questions as to whether the current Senate Majority is ready for prime time. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was among those who signed on.

One of the seven Republicans who sensibly declined to sign was Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Foreign Relations chairman, who needs 13 Democrats to build a veto-proof supermajority of 67 for his bill restricting the President’s negotiating options with Iran and ensuring congressional approval before any deal is struck. The letter hasn’t earned him any favors, Sahil Kapur noted at Senate Democrats are rallying to Obama’s side and attacking the Republicans for what they describe as an extraordinary act of openly undercutting a president during sensitive foreign policy negotiations.

The action of Cotton and the 46 other Republican senators who signed his letter does not rise to the level of treason, nor does it call for prosecution under the Logan Act, which prohibits unauthorized US citizens from interfering in relations between the US and foreign governments. (Senators can plausibly argue that their role as legislators qualify them to communicate with foreign leaders.) The Cotton letter merely reflects the treacherous game plan of the Republican leadership since Jan. 20, 2009, when its leaders conspired at a dinner meeting at the Caucus Room Restaurant in Washington, D.C., and agreed to undermine the newly inaugurated President Barack Obama at every turn, regardless of the consequences for the American people or the rest of the world.

Republican senators should not be prosecuted for sending a “cheeky” letter to Iran, but the White House might need to think about what secrets it can share with signers of the letter, as well as with Netanyahu, who have shown themselves to be untrustworthy.

Many commenters said the Cotton letter was unprecedented, but at least it was publicized. There are at least two cases in the last 50 years where Republicans have illegally and covertly interfered in relations between Democratic administrations and foreign governments in order to gain a political advantage.

During the 1968 presidential campaign, surveillance of the South Vietnamese Embassy in Washington and right-wing activist Anna Chennault provided evidence that Richard Nixon’s campaign conspired to scuttle the peace talks on the eve of the election. President Lyndon Johnson was trying to achieve a breakthrough to end the war before the election but he discovered that Nixon’s campaign colluded with South Vietnamese President Nguyen van Thieu to derail the talks and thus deny a possible last-minute boost to the Democratic presidential nominee, Vice President Hubert Humphrey.

Nixon narrowly prevailed over Humphrey on Nov. 5, 1968, by about 500,000 votes, less than 1% of the ballots cast. From the start of Nixon’s presidency in January 1969 until 1973, when the war was brought to a close, 20,763 US soldiers died and 111,230 were wounded during Nixon’s war. One million more Vietnamese were estimated to have died in that period.

On May 14, 1973, as the Watergate scandal was unfolding after Nixon’s re-election, Walt Rostow, Johnson’s national security adviser, typed a three-page memo in 1973, summarizing the secret file that Johnson had amassed on Nixon’s sabotaging of the Vietnam peace talks. Rostow expressed regret that he and other top Johnson aides had chosen — for what they had deemed to be “the good of the country,” to keep quiet about Nixon’s sabotage, which Johnson had privately labeled “treason.”

The lack of interest in calling Nixon to account for sabotaging the Vietnam peace talks may have encouraged Republicans to try another “October Surprise” again in 1980. Some of Nixon’s old allies, including George H.W. Bush and William Casey, were key figures in Reagan’s campaign, Robert Parry noted at (March 3, 2012).

Former Iranian President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr claims that after 52 hostages had been taken from the US Embassy in Tehran on Nov. 4, 1979, Reagan campaign representatives met with representatives of Iran’s Ayatollah Khomenei, who agreed to hold the hostages until after the 1980 election. Bani-Sadr wanted to release the hostages, but was overruled by the Supreme Leader. Khomeini kept his side of the bargain, holding onto the hostages until after Reagan was sworn in, and the Reagan administration later covertly rewarded Iran with weapons.

After he was deposed in a June 1981 coup, Bani-Sadr fled to France “to expose the symbiotic relationship between Khomeinism and Reaganism,” he wrote.

Republicans have adamantly denied that Reagan or his campaign struck a deal with Iranian radicals to extend the hostage crisis through the 1980 election, Parry wrote at (March 7, 2013). But evidence has built up supporting Bani-Sadr’s account.

In December 1992, when a House Task Force was examining the October Surprise controversy – and encountering fierce Republican resistance – Bani-Sadr submitted a letter detailing his struggle with Khomeini and his son Ahmad over their secret dealings with the Reagan campaign. But the House Task Force leadership decided to simply declare the Reagan campaign innocent. Lawrence Barcella, the Task Force’s chief counsel, told Parry that so much incriminating evidence arrived late that he asked the chairman, Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind., to extend the inquiry for three months but Hamilton said no.

Parry in 1992 interviewed R. Spencer Oliver, a longtime Democratic figure whose phone was bugged at Watergate. When asked why the Democrats so often retreated in the face of fierce Republican resistance, he explained that the Watergate scandal – though it led to the ruin of one Republican president – had taught the Republicans how to thwart serious inquiries: “What [the Republicans] learned from Watergate was not ‘don’t do it,’ but ‘cover it up more effectively.’ They have learned that they have to frustrate congressional oversight and press scrutiny in a way that will avoid another major scandal.”

Don’t forget that Dick Cheney got his start in the Nixon White House. Now he’s the elder statesman of the GOP.

For the past half-century, Democrats have been unwilling to hold Republican miscreants to account for their high crimes and misdemeanors. The party of Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and Eisenhower has degenerated into the party of Nixon, Reagan and Bush/Cheney. Now Tom Cotton is rising from the muck.

Regarding the letter to Iran, voters must make it clear to the 47 signers that when the disloyal opposition stops short of treason, they still haven’t done an honest day’s work. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, April 1, 2015

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