Congress letter to Iran not illegal or treasonous, but dangerous

Nelson Gomez, Editor-in-Chief

Even at a time when domestic politics is marked by partisan voting, failures to negotiate, and an incredible lack of efficiency and productiveness, it would be risky for Congress to enter the diplomatic arena.

Still, 47 Republican U.S. Senators, under the guise of an open letter headed by freshman Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR), proceeded to teach the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs about how treaties work.

“It has come to our attention while observing your nuclear negotiations… that you may not fully understand our constitutional system,” the letter said. “… The next president could revoke such an executive agreement [without Congressional approval] with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.”

This move angered American citizens and Iranian diplomats alike. A petition on the White House’s website to charge the senators with violation of the Logan Act of 1799 even garnered over 290,000 signatures as of mid March.

As condescending and risky as the letter was, allegations of treason are completely unfounded, and a prosecution under the Logan Act would be riskier than the letter itself.

“Every time a member of Congress does something in the foreign policy sphere that’s at odds with the president, someone trots out the Logan Act,” American University law professor Steve Vladeck said.

The Logan Act states that “unauthorized” citizens cannot intervene in diplomatic matters. However, if challenged in court, the implications of the act could be overturned. Charges could also be dropped due to the ambiguity of authorization, or because no one has even been indicted under it since the 1800s.

Moreover, the move is not unprecedented. Former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) even visited Syria in 2007 with three other members of congress, despite cold White House relations with the dictatorship that has since been rocked by civil war.

“The president is the one who conducts foreign policy,” former vice president Dick Cheney said after Pelosi’s trip, “not the speaker of the House.”

This doesn’t make the Senate’s open letter any less of a gamble, though. It may not be the first time that Congress has meddled in State Department affairs, but with the full force of nearly half of the upper chamber making a direct statement to a foreign government, the letter becomes nearly representative of Senate interests.

This, in itself, isn’t a problem. However, by bypassing the State Department, the Senate has made the United States look increasingly divided and its legislature unorganized on the world stage. The letter torpedoes not only President Obama’s diplomatic efforts, but the prospect of a future Republican president as well, for fear of a current executive agreement being tossed.

“I didn’t think it was going to further our efforts to get to a place where Congress would play the appropriate role that it should on Iran,” Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) said. “I did not think that the letter was something that was going to help get us to an outcome that we’re all seeking.”

Unfortunately, the letter has further divided Democrats and Republicans, and in the process has weakened U.S. negotiating power as well as establishing international distrust of American politics.

0.00 avg. rating (0% score) - 0 votes