The Hubris of the Gang of 47

Speaker of the House Jim Wright addresses the media outside the Vatican embassy after a private meeting with Daniel Ortega (Source: Getty Images)

Speaker of the House Jim Wright addresses the media outside the Vatican embassy after a private meeting with Daniel Ortega (Source: Getty Images)

It is hard to fathom that one letter, misguided and fool-hearted as it may be, can stir up such rage in American society. But, the letter (Cotton letter) penned by freshman Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark) and signed by 46 other Republicans did just that. It is just a letter right? An opinion?

Apparently not.

Petitions have been put forth to try all 47 Senators for Treason under the Logan Act. Editorials have been written about the ignorance of the Senators and proof that Republicans are dimwitted yokels who’d lose their stills if they were right in front of them. But this letter is nothing new. There are many examples from recent years that highlight the divisive ground that any foreign policy that the United States contemplates can be. Here are few examples:

  • Jim Wright (then Democratic Speaker of the House) travelled to Nicaragua in 1987 to begin talks with Daniel Ortega. But, closer to home, in 1984, he and 10 other Senate Democrats penned a letter (Dear Comandante letter) to Mr. Ortega in an effort to negotiate freer and open elections. Even the current Sect. of State, John Kerry, then a freshman Democratic Senator with as many months in Congress as Cotton, travelled to visit with Ortega in 1985 and brought back word that Ortega would be willing to negotiate a cease-fire if Congress voted to stop aiding the Contra rebels. By the way, this trip happened a few weeks prior to that exact vote.
  • In 2012, Obama retreated from the International Arms Trade Treaty, presumably based on one letter. Known as the Moran Letter, it is a detailed list as to why 44 members of the Senate would not vote for ratification of the International Arms Trade Treaty.

So, what then sets the Wright and Moran letters apart from the Cotton one? Not much.

The Wright and Cotton letters are both subversive in their tones. The Moran letter, while still direct and decisive, is far less subversive but makes clear that Congress will not support the President. The Wright letter basically states that if Ortega were to listen to Wright and the Democrats, Reagan’s power would be neutered.

If this [stipulations put forth by Wright, et al] were to occur, the prospects for peace and stability throughout Central America would be dramatically enhanced. Those responsible for supporting violence against your government, and for obstructing serious negotiations for broad political participation in El Salvador would have far greater difficulty winning support for their policies than they do today.

 

The Cotton letter intonates the same neutering of Obama’s power.

What these two Constitutional provisions mean is that we will consider any agreement regarding your nuclear-weapons program that is not approved by Congress as nothing more than an executive agreement between President Obama and Ayatollah Khameni. 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.

 

Neither of these paths are productive for a government that is attempting to maneuver through difficult foreign affairs. One thing that the Dear Comandante and Cotton letter also share in common, and where they are in stark contrast to the Moran letter, is that they are addressed to the leaders of a foreign nation. This in itself appears to be a violation of the Logan Act, but since Wright and the other Senators were never prosecuted, we can expect the same for Cotton and his cohorts. The Moran letter took a more sensible approach and directed the letter to the President. They could have CC’d it to the UN and all the other nations that were pushing for the Treaty, but they took a high road. Kudos to them. Cotton could have learned a lesson from the Moran letter, but, why bother knowing our history, right?

So, before John Kerry digs a hole any deeper by repeating what he told the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations that

“It [the Cotton letter] purports to tell the world that if you want to have any confidence in your dealings with America, they have to negotiate with 535 members of Congress,” he said. “That is both untrue and a profoundly bad suggestion to make.”

he may just want to look back at history and see that that is the exact message the Congress has been saying in many of our foreign policy negotiations. And if this letter is truly treasonous, it is wise to remember that there is no statute of limitations for treason.

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