Opinion Forum

Robert B. Simpson: Politics no longer stops at water's edge

I claim no special expertise in government and international affairs. Just a reasonable degree of common sense, I hope, and a basic understanding of how our system works. Or is supposed to work. So I found the recent letter to Iran, signed by 47 U.S. Senators, astonishing. It used to be said that "politics stops at the water's edge." Today politics obviously stops at nothing. In an effort to kneecap the President in his efforts to conduct foreign policy, which is the prerogative of Presidents, these geniuses were willing to weaken him and the country in future negotiations with other countries and make America look considerably less "exceptional" than we like others to believe we are.

If you think I am coming at this from a partisan stance, let me assure you that I would say the same and think the same of the letter's signers if their and the President's political parties were reversed. Despite the modern trend in Washington, I strongly believe that some things are wrong no matter who does them.

As an ordinary citizen, let me make a few points that the more learned 47 seem to ignore. First, Congress does not have the option to conduct negotiations with foreign powers as a bipartisan effort along with the President. Presidents make whatever deal they think is appropriate and that they can sell to Congress. Then they make the case and Congress can say "no" if they wish. The duty of Congress is to advise and consent, or not consent. Considerable horse-trading may be involved, but Congress doesn't get to negotiate the deal from the beginning and then turn around and vote for or against.

Second, the insistence of the 47 that America demand a stricter agreement that protects us better ignores a few things. Such as, this is not an American deal. It is not a treaty. It's not an agreement. It's a non-binding international arrangement, and it involves the U.S., the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, China, and Iran. Much as we might like to think we're driving the train, we're not. We can negotiate with these other nations and try to come up with an arrangement that gives us as much of what we want as they will go along with. Or we can insist on having everything exactly our way, and they can go ahead and lift their sanctions on Iran, leaving us behind. We can then impose stronger sanctions if we wish, while Iran laughs at us and Russia fills their needs.

It appears that the only alternative to an arrangement that at least offers the possibility of reducing the likelihood of Iran's eventual development of nuclear weapons is war. I realize that we're in danger of running completely out of wars, but maybe we ought not to rush into another one in the Middle East just out of an unwillingness to try anything else.

There is a loud cry demanding that the 47 be charged with treason. An attractive thought, but such a charge would never stick and would only add fuel to the already raging partisan fires that threaten to burn down our political structure. The Constitution defines treason very narrowly, and this childish and vindictive act doesn't come close. Sedition, maybe. Treason? Not legally, although it's easy to think of this as a traitorous act.

The figurehead of the letter-writing enterprise is Senator Thomas Cotton of Arkansas, who came into the Senate about 10 weeks ago. There have been expressions of outrage pulsing through parts of the Internet at the idea that anyone could accuse this man of treason. After all, it is pointed out, he's a combat veteran who served in Iraq and in Afghanistan, earned the Combat Infantryman's Badge, and was awarded a Bronze Star.

Well, that's good enough for me. Clearly he would never commit traitorous acts. For comparison, I thought back through our history to the American Revolution, when arguably the best general officer we had was a man who was brave, charismatic, tactically shrewd, and a great leader. He always rode to the sound of the guns, even if it required, as it once did, breaking out of confinement despite injuries and jumping on a horse to gallop away to the sounds of battle he heard in the distance. General Benedict Arnold would go down in history as the man whooh, wait. Not the example I needed. Never mind.

Senator Cotton is Arkansas's problem, not mine. Most of the other signers are also somebody else's problem, and the people who voted them into office will have to reap what they have sown. Trouble is, the rest of us will have to reap it, too.

Robert B. Simpson, a 28-year Infantry veteran who retired as a colonel at Fort Benning, is the author of "Through the Dark Waters: Searching for Hope and Courage."