A Reasonable Evaluation Of The Letter

There has been a ridiculous amount of fuss about the open letter signed by 47 Republican Senators regarding the White House negotiations with Iran. The most balanced reporting of the letter and its significance was posted at USA Today yesterday. In case you missed it, the text of the letter is posted here.

The article cites a brief history of other letters and activities of Senators:

The White House of course objects to members of Congress getting involved in foreign policy, which it sees as the president’s exclusive domain. But the Cotton letter is part of the normal give and take of American politics, driven by the shared powers enshrined in the Constitution.

This is hardly unprecedented. Recall the “Dear Commandante” letter sent by Rep. Stephen J. Solarz, D-NY and nine other senior Democrats to Sandinista junta leader Daniel Ortega.The letter was a not-so-subtle critique of Reagan administration policy towards Nicaragua. At the time, Rep. Newt Gingrich, R-Ga. said the letter ”clearly violates the executive branch’s exclusive prerogative of negotiating with a foreign government.” The Obama administration could recycle Gingrich’s talking points today.

Members of Congress have gone farther than simply sending letters to try to influence foreign affairs. “Fact finding missions” to countries with sensitive relationships with the United States are a Congressional staple. Then Senator Hillary Clinton went to Iraq in January 2007 — her third trip to that country since the 2003 invasion — as a means of establishing a platform for criticizing Bush policies for her upcoming run for the White House. She joined then Sen. Obama in championing Congressional action to limit the “surge” policy that they quickly declared a failure.

Regardless of how you feel about the letter, this behavior happens on both sides of the aisle and it is part of the give and take of the American political system. It really is not a big deal that 47 Senators signed a letter which briefly outlined how two of the three branches of the American government are supposed to interact with each other.