During some of the darkest days of the United States, President Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” As William Saletan writes in this article about the congressional debate on the Iran deal, we now need to fear the possibility of the Republicans winning the White House and taking over the entire federal government. I have paraphrased his article below.
Instead of showing that they are ready for responsibilities of national security and foreign policy, Republicans have participated in “a spectacle of dishonesty, incomprehension, and inability to cope with the challenges of a multilateral world.” According to Saletan, the danger comes from the interrogators.
“In challenging [Secretary of State John] Kerry and [Energy Secretary Ernest] Moniz, Republican senators and representatives offered no serious alternative. They misrepresented testimony, dismissed contrary evidence, and substituted vitriol for analysis. They seemed baffled by the idea of having to work and negotiate with other countries. I came away from the hearings dismayed by what the GOP has become in the Obama era. It seems utterly unprepared to govern.”
“Here are the lowlights of what you missed” in the 11 hours of hearings on July 23, 28, and 29:
- North Korea. In all three hearings, Kerry explained how the inspection and verification measures in the Iran deal are designed to rectify flaws that led to the failure of the North Korean nuclear agreement. He spent much of his opening statement outlining these differences. This made no impression. When the Senate held its next hearing a week later, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the presiding Republican, dismissed the Iran agreement with a quip: “How did that North Korean deal work out for you?”
- Israel. As evidence that the Iran deal is bad, Republicans point to criticism from Israel. But they seem more interested in the rhetoric of Israeli politicians than in the judgments of Israeli security experts. Kerry read from an article that quoted supportive statements about the deal from the former leaders of two Israeli intelligence agencies. Republicans batted the quotes away. Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming scoffed, “That wasn’t even in the newspaper. That was a blog post.” Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina dismissed the statements as irrelevant because they didn’t come from elected officials. Why listen to experts when you can rely instead on quotes from politicians?
- The IAEA’s “secret deal.” Kerry and Moniz have repeatedly explained that the International Atomic Energy Agency, which enforces nuclear conduct agreements, publicly evaluates each country’s compliance but keeps some details about inspection logistics private. The IAEA briefs other governments about its procedures but doesn’t give them the logistical documents. Republicans, having shrugged at this policy for decades, are suddenly outraged. Many of them seem to think the Obama administration is colluding with Iran and the IAEA. They claim that Susan Rice, Obama’s national security adviser, has seen the IAEA’s Iran documents but won’t show them to Congress. Rep. Ted Poe of Texas asserted that Rice “said that she has seen this deal with the IAEA.” Kerry corrected him: “Susan Rice’s quote is, ‘We know their contents, and we’re satisfied with them. We will share the contents of those briefings in full and classified sessions with Congress.’ She has not seen them. She has been briefed on them.”
Kerry’s clarification should have settled the matter. But it didn’t. The next day, Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma grilled Kerry” and constantly insisted that Rice had said she say the deal with IAEA. In attempting to quote Rice, Inhofe actually quoted Congressman Poe and then refused to understand, saying, “Who is quoting her. This is quotation marks.” He was actually quoting Poe’s misinterpretations.
- EMPs. Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin asked Moniz about a 2008 commission report on EMPs, electromagnetic pulses, which could be triggered by nuclear detonations and could knock out the U.S. power grid. Moniz, the former chairman of MIT’s physics department, has spent his career working in nuclear science. He told Johnson that he was unfamiliar with the report but that “if you look at our Quadrennial Energy Review published in April, we do identify EMP as a risk to transformers, and we are beginning to try to work up a response to that.” Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas used this exchange to portray Moniz as an idiot. (Cruz finished his grilling by not allowing Moniz to answer a question and then saying, “OK. You’re refusing to answer the question.”
- Sanctions. Kerry uses the phrase snapback to describe how sanctions are automatically re-imposed if any permanent member of the U.N. Security Council (the United States, United Kingdom, France, China, or Russia) decides Iran has violated its obligations. Sen. Dan Sullivan of Alaska berated Kerry for using this term, since, although the agreement outlines this procedure, it doesn’t literally include the word snapback. Sullivan also argued that the term was misleading because, in originally building the sanctions, it “took years to get countries to divest out of the Iranian economy. It’ll take years to do it again.” But Sullivan ignored the implication of his own argument: As Kerry has said all along, the unhappiness of our allies about having to enforce these sanctions, let alone China and Russia, is why the sanctions won’t last if we reject these countries’ terms for the deal.
- Pariahs. Republicans accuse Kerry and Obama of isolating them by agreeing to terms that suit our allies but don’t suit Congress. Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee told Kerry, “You have turned Iran from being a pariah to now Congress being a pariah.” Sen. James Risch of Idaho offered the same complaint: “These negotiations have taken us from a situation where we had Iran exactly where we wanted them to now, if we don’t go along with this, then we are going to be the isolated pariah character.” The Iran talks involved seven countries. Corker chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Rep. Ed Royce chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Yet Royce protested that the deal gave Russia and China “a say in where inspectors can and cannot go,” failing to understand that international sanctions require international support. When everyone else in the talks finds terms they can agree on, we can’t hold out for our own terms and expect sanctions to persist.
- Bad guys. Republicans think that because Iran is dangerous, we shouldn’t negotiate with it. Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, one of the most outspoken critics of any deal, has consistently hammered this point. Rep. Randy Weber of Texas repeatedly used the phrase “bad actor” to dismiss Iran and the idea of negotiating with it. Rep. Dave Trott of Michigan invoked a motto from his business career: “You can’t do a good deal with a bad guy.” These are people who revere Ronald Reagan, who negotiated with the Soviet Union.
- Indifference. Republicans think it’s weak and softheaded to care what Iran thinks. Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania told Kerry we should demand a better deal, “and if the ayatollah doesn’t like it and doesn’t want to negotiate it, oh, ‘boo-hoo.’ We’re here for America.” Weber, speaking for others in his party, ridiculed Kerry’s concerns about Iranian distrust of the U.S.: “Me and my colleagues were up here thinking, ‘Who cares?’ ” When Kerry replied that the Iranians wouldn’t have negotiated on Weber’s terms, the congressman scoffed, “Oh, my heart pains for them.” A negotiator’s job consists of understanding, caring about, and accommodating the other side’s concerns.
- Winning. Graham is running for president as a foreign-policy expert. But three hours of testimony on Wednesday about the difficulties of using military force to stop Iran’s nuclear program taught him nothing. Wrapping up the hearing, Graham demanded that Defense Secretary Ashton Carter answer a simple question: “Who wins the war between us and Iran? Who wins? Do you have any doubt who wins?” When he didn’t get the prompt answer he wanted, Graham thunderously answered the question himself: “We win!” He sounded like a football coach delivering a pep talk. The differences between football and war—what “winning” means, and what it costs—didn’t enter into his equation.
- Patriotism. You might think that Kerry’s service in Vietnam—a Silver Star, Bronze Star, and three Purple Hearts—would deter Republicans from challenging his patriotism. But you’d be wrong. At the House hearing, Rep. Lee Zeldin of New York lectured Kerry: “A lot of Americans have fought and died to make our country the greatest nation in the world. And you, sir, respectfully, you don’t have the power to surrender our greatness.” Cruz, who has never served a day in uniform, ended the Wednesday Senate hearing with this remarkable assault on the secretary of state:
Cruz: Gen. Soleimani, the head of the al-Quds forces, has more blood of American service members on his hands than any living terrorist. Under this agreement, the sanctions under Gen. Soleimani are lifted. Now, Secretary Kerry said to the families of those men and women who gave their lives, who were killed by Gen. Soleimani, we should apologize. …
Kerry: Sir, I never said the word apology. I never mentioned apologize. I said we should thank them for their extraordinary service. I never said the word apologize. Please, don’t distort my words.
Cruz: Secretary Kerry, it is duly noted you don’t apologize to the family members of the service members who were murdered by the Iranian military.
Kerry: That’s not what I said, senator. [I said] I thank them for their extraordinary service and I would remind them that the United States of America will never take the sanctions off Qasem Soleimani.
Cruz: Sir, I just want to clarity. Do you apologize or not?
Saletan finished, “There’s plenty more I could quote to you. But out of mercy, and in deference to the many dead and retired Republicans who took foreign policy seriously, I’ll stop. This used to be a party that saw America’s leadership of the free world as its highest responsibility. What happened? And why should any of us entrust it with the presidency again?”