Republicans, and Democrats for that matter, have every right to make public their opposition to negotiating an agreement that will slow down or stop Iran’s development of nuclear weapons in return for lifting severe economic sanctions on Iran.
But I don’t believe foreign policy has anything to do with why 47 Republican Senators signed a public letter warning the Iranians that after Barack Obama leaves office, the next President could rescind any treaty.
No, what we’re talking about here is the latest in a six-year concerted campaign to undermine the legitimacy of our president. The letter belongs under the same rubric as the birther controversy, the frequent accusations that Obama doesn’t understand or love his country, and the snubbing of the president by inviting a foreign leader—Benjamin Netanyahu—to speak before Congress without first clearing it with the Oval Office.
Since Republicans have failed to convince most Americans that Obama is some disruptive stranger void of American values, they act to demean his person by trying to conduct their own foreign policy. BTW, the last time a party out of power ignored a President’s role in foreign policy, it also had to do with Iran—it was the secret and illegal negotiations that Ronald Reagan’s advisors held with Iranians in 1980 to delay return of the hostages until after the presidential election in return for secret weapon deliveries to Iran once Reagan assumed the presidency.
For proof that the letter is merely meant to demean Barack Obama, check out this key sentence: “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.” First of all, while the president could bypass the Senate by signing an executive agreement with Iran concerning development of nuclear weaponry, only Congress can permanently end the economic sanctions against Iran, giving Congress de facto veto power over a deal. But the really wild part of the sentence is the reference to Ayatollah Khamenei, which turns an agreement between two governments into a personal matter between Obama and the personification of the Iranian Islamic right wing. The phrasing of the letter detaches Obama from a standard government process and attached him to one of the leading symbols of “terrifying otherness” bandied about by rightwing fear-mongers in the United States and elsewhere.
What the Republican Senators are really saying with the letter is that Obama is not a real representative of the United States and its government. In the context of the almost continuous attempts to question the legitimacy not of Obama’s policies but of the man himself, the inherent racism behind the letter should shine through to all. Overt racism stands behind the birther and “hates America” comments. The letter and previous Netanyahu speech act more subtly, undermining Obama’s legitimacy, but leaving it to their rightwing audience to supply the reason why Obama is illegitimate in their silent thoughts—“because he’s black.”