Crossing the line

Congressional Republicans are playing a very dangerous and irresponsible game

It was bad enough that Speaker of the House John Boehner invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to a joint session of Congress in a partisan attempt to undermine the Obama administration’s nuclear-weapons negotiations with Iran.

Then, this week, 47 Republican senators sent a letter to leaders in Iran further injecting politics into the mix. In an unprecedented—and shocking—move, they warned the Iranians that any deal worked out could be scrubbed in two years, when Obama leaves office. As Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin pointed out, it was “an overt effort to jeopardize peace negotiations.”

And, as President Obama noted, it’s quite ironic that Republican lawmakers were trying to “make common cause with the hardliners in Iran” who also want the talks to fail. “It’s an unusual coalition,” he said wryly.

It’s not as if Netanyahu and the Republican senators offer any alternative to the negotiations. Under the interim agreement now in place, Iran has significantly scaled back its nuclear ambitions and opened its borders to inspections. The failure to reach a permanent agreement will undoubtedly lead it to revert to its covert rush to arms—a path that is likely to lead to war with Israel.

Ironies abound. There is reason to believe, for instance, as Time magazine’s Joe Klein has written, that Netanyahu’s “bluster and bombing threats have been invaluable to the negotiating process. He’s been a scary-tough cop to President Obama’s sorta-tough constable,” and could further convince the Iranians of the value of an agreement.

Similarly, the Republicans’ letter may have alienated the dozen or so Senate Democrats who were inclined to join Republicans in creating a veto-proof coalition opposed to an agreement with Iran. By injecting such rank partisanship into treaty negotiations, the Republicans have crossed the line separating responsible from irresponsible leadership.