The Grand Old Party’s decline and fall from political grace and grandeur is accelerating at a pace that is more than just astonishing. It is frankly sad for those who have Republicans’ best interests — and America’s — at heart.
This week we witnessed an act of political defiance and geopolitical recklessness — an attempt to blow up the ongoing negotiations on limiting Iran’s nuclear bomb-making program. It was a happening that wouldn’t have been plausible or even conceivable during any other time of crisis in our nation’s modern history.
Because responsible Republican and Democratic leaders of past Congresses, including former Senate Republican majority leaders such as the late Howard Baker of Tennessee and Bob Dole of Kansas (now 91), wouldn’t have permitted things to get so out of control.
But this week, the Senate’s Republican leaders not only permitted it but mindlessly signed on to it. Freshman Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), a tea party favorite, celebrated his second month on the job by drafting a rather bizarre letter to Iran’s leaders. It was, quite literally, a civics tutorial on how the constitution says the U.S. government works. And it informed Iran’s ruling ayatollahs that any nuclear weapons deal they make with President Barack Obama could be quickly undone by a vote of the Republican-controlled Congress — or by a pen stroke of the next U.S. president who will take office in less than two years.
What was stunning was that 47 of the Senate’s Republican senators wound up signing their freshman colleague’s letter — including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and many other senior Republicans who once knew better.
Many who were once prominent in Republican politics and policy-making now are genuinely saddened by what is happening inside their party. Among them is the respected longtime former Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), now head of The Lugar Center, a Washington-based forum that focuses on debating and resolving global issues.
“It’s unlikely that such a thing would have occurred during the tenure of Howard Baker or Bob Dole as Senate majority leaders,” Lugar told me. “They wouldn’t have signed such a letter. And they would have understood it was inappropriate to be … soliciting the members of the party to sign on to it.” Lugar, who was defeated by a tea party-supported challenger in 2012, noted that many of his former colleagues in the Senate no doubt felt they might face intra-party challenges if they declined to sign on to the letter.
Lugar was pleased to note that one of the seven Republicans who declined to sign the letter was the current Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn). Corker has been working to forge bipartisan support for an arrangement in which Congress would debate and vote on whatever multinational Iranian nuclear pact arises from the negotiations now underway.
And this brings us to the point where the Obama White House is wrong and the congressional Republicans are right: Congress needs to have a role in finalizing whatever agreement emerges to monitor and limit Iran’s nuclear bomb-making aspirations. That is where the American people can best be informed about the provisions for unannounced United Nations nuclear inspections and monitoring, rules for easing or increasing economic sanctions on Iran, and so on.
So far, Obama’s congressional critics have been vociferous and borderline apoplectic in opposing the nuclear pact now being negotiated — without recognizing that they also are not fully informed about the true pluses and minuses of what is being considered. “There’s no way for an outsider … to know how close we are to a deal that includes program verification,” Lugar said. That’s why Congress must play a key role in examining the details and informing the American public so that we all can make an informed judgment on whether or not it’s a good deal.
After a series of misstatements and missteps in global security, global leaders and the American people aren’t comfortable accepting White House assurances on blind faith and trust. We all remember when Obama famously drew his red line around Syria’s chemical weapons (he must have used disappearing ink).
It is because we cannot trust that we must always verify. Especially when it comes to what international nuclear inspectors can tell us is happening inside Iran’s nuclear installations.
That’s why, now more than ever, we must remain vigilant. This is no time to allow our global security to be undercut by uninformed GOP vigilantes.