Editorial March 13, 2015

Publisher’s Letter

The Prime Minister, the Wiseguy, and the Vandals

“…we’re supposed to believe that this serious protocol anomaly is just an innocent occurrence in the regular course of events…which it is not.”

McElroy, Publisher

McElroy, Publisher

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu showed up in the US during the 2012 presidential campaign when his friend Mitt Romney was running and said he was not here to campaign for his friend…but he was. His actions belied his words.

Mr. Netanyahu returned the other week to address Congress on his concerns about the US negotiations with Iran over Iran’s nuclear policy. He says he has deep respect for the President and for the Office of President…but he doesn’t. His actions belied his words.

The Israeli Prime Minister was invited to address Congress by House Speaker John Boehner without following the usual protocol of fixing it with the White House; an action that angered the White House and exacerbated tensions. Boehner has said he doesn’t get it why the President would fear a speech by one of America’s greatest allies…but he gets it. He’s just being a wise guy. That’s what wise guys do; they make a mess and then feign innocence.

This is not without its irony; the Prime Minister has been warning that Iran’s nuclear weapon capability is just around the corner since 1992. The website firstlook.org/the interceptor reported March 2nd that Netanyahu said in 1992 that Iran was 3 to 5 years away from the bomb and restated that timeline in 1995; in 2009 he told a US congressional delegation Iran is probably one or two years away from the bomb and later that year told another US congressional delegation that Iran was currently capable of making a bomb. In 2012 the timeline expanded to a few months. The Intercept reported that while Netanyahu was addressing the UN about Iran, Israel intelligence “had actually determined the country (Iran) was ‘not performing the activity necessary to produce weapons.’”

The end product of this visit is that during the possible end to negotiations with Iran we are being persuaded otherwise by a duplicitous prime minister and a wise guy and we’re supposed to believe that this serious protocol anomaly is just an innocent occurrence in the regular course of events…which it is not. Mr. Netanyahu was the advance man for what was just around the corner.

Adding insult to injury 47 Republican Senators sent a letter this week to Iranian leaders explaining how the legislative process works in America and asserting that whatever deal is reached this March the next US president can undo it.

Mr. Netanyahu’s tired obsession is having results; legislation has come forth to require congressional approval of any nuclear deal with Iran. The House will look to increase sanctions anyway.

All of this stems from his cognitive bias as evidenced by his obsession with making up facts and then changing them regarding Iran’s progress with its nuclear program and doing so in the face of his own intelligence agency telling him there is no threat there.

Most definitions of cognitive bias are similar. Here’s one from Chegg.com that seems to hit the mark, “A cognitive bias is a mistake in reasoning, evaluating, remembering, or other cognitive process, often occurring as a result of holding onto one’s preferences and beliefs regardless of contrary information.”

One nonsensical result of this bias is a signal from the House it wants to increase sanctions on Iran as the negotiations draw to conclusion. Sanctions have worked for the past several years causing economic havoc in Iran and are what brought Iran to the table in the first place. Clearly, any negotiations would certainly involve Iran doing something the US wants and the US easing the sanctions.

House Hawks seem to think that increasing sanctions now will better deter Iran’s nuclear ambitions…but that is not really what they are after and what they are after is surprisingly banal; when you couple the Republican distaste for nearly any policy the President puts forth you can see what Mr. Netanyahu’s visit and the letter from the 47 Senators truly are; vandalism. Foreign affairs vandalism by an obsessed prime minister, a wise guy House Speaker, and a gang of pile-on Senate vandals.

Background

It’s Complicated

The negotiations between the US, other countries and Iran over Iran’s nuclear ambitions is a legal process but differs from the treaty process. It is seen as negotiating a treaty, but it is different.

What describes the President’s negotiations?

Begin with military law (ML) that defines negotiations this way: ““legal and orderly administrative process by which governments, in the exercise of their unquestionable powers, conduct their relations one with another and discuss, adjust and settle, their differences” and as “debate or discussion between the representatives of rival interests, discussion during which each puts forward his arguments and contests those of his opponent.”

What laws apply, and what is the President’s authority?

Move next to the legal framework surrounding, supporting, and sustaining the resulting deal we see two bodies of law that don’t necessarily agree. What is going on with Iran is a Sole Executive Agreement that ML defines as “…international agreements made by the executive branch but not submitted to the Senate for its advice and consent.” ML goes further, though, to note “Presidential agreements lack an underlying legal basis in the form of a statute or treaty.” But “Some executive agreements are concluded solely on the basis of the President’s independent constitutional authority and do not have an underlying explicit or implied authorization by treaty or statute. Authorities from the Constitution that Presidents claim as a basis for such agreements include the President’s general executive authority in Article II, Section 1, of the Constitution”

So it is a treaty and it isn’t.

Ratification by the UN

Foreign Policy Magazine March 9th. reported, “The Iranian foreign minister (Mr. Zarif) added that the deal is being negotiated as a multilateral agreement between Iran and the P5+1 countries — the United States, China, Russia, France, the United Kingdom, and Germany — and not a bilateral treaty between Washington and Tehran. Rather than go to the Senate for ratification, Zarif said the final deal will go to the (UN) Security Council for final approval.”

International law or US law?

From there this Senate letter  opens a can of legal worms; A response  from Iranian Prime Minister and negotiator Javad Zarif to the Senate letter’s assertion that “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,” was that doing so would be “blatant violation of international law” and he is right under international law; “Under international law an international agreement is generally considered to be a treaty and binding on the parties if it meets four criteria: The parties intend the agreement to be legally binding and the agreement is subject to international law; The agreement deals with significant matters; The agreement clearly and specifically describes the legal obligations of the parties”. But revoking the agreement would not be a violation of US law.

And then there is the Logan Act

The Logan Act of  enacted in 1799, intended to ban U.S. citizens from engaging foreign governments with the intent to influence any disputes or controversies with the US,

The communications, either in writing or in conversation done without the authority of the United States” could bring fines and three years in prison. The law, however, has been used once or twice since 1799 and is of questionable constitutionality. ##

Quotes on the Issue

Mr. Zarif added that a change in administration would not relieve the United States of its obligations under any agreement. “I wish to enlighten the authors that if the next administration revokes any agreement with ‘the stroke of a pen,’ as they boast, it will have simply committed a blatant violation of international law,” he said.” New York Times March 9, 2015

“Iran reacted with scorn to the letter, saying it would have no impact on the talks and suggesting that the authors were the ones who did not understand the American system of government in which the president conducts foreign policy.” Peter Backermarch New York Times March 9, 2015

Norm Ornstein…resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, 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.” Foreign Policy Magazine March 9th.

“Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), an Iraq war veteran, said “I’m not going to sit here and defend the Senate letter,” Kinzinger said. “But the letter might never had been written had the administration been more open with members of the Senate and members of the House about what was going on, and what their goals are” regarding the Iran talks.         Washington Post – 3/11/2015

“If you are a country in the Middle East or Asia relying on Washington, this raises questions about America’s predictability,” said Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations who served in the George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush administrations. “…it makes others around the world more uncomfortable and contributes to a more dangerous and disorderly world.” Washington Post – 3/11/2015