When critics are viewed as traitors

“Traitors.” That’s a strong term, obviously. It should never be used lightly. Yet there it was, flying around like confetti in Times Square on New Year’s Eve.

Why? Because 47 Republican senators who are understandably concerned about the prospects of a nuclear-armed Iran sent a letter to that country’s leaders about the deal now being struck with the United States and other countries. Their message: The next U.S. president can overturn “with the stroke of a pen” any deal Congress doesn’t approve.

“Judas got thirty pieces of silver. What did you get?” one New Jersey resident tweeted. Others, sparked by a White House who accused the 47 senators of “wanting to make common cause with the hardliners in Iran,” were equally vitriolic. The New York Daily News called it an “unprecedented missive.”

Vice President Joe Biden echoed this theme: “In 36 years in the United States Senate, I cannot recall another instance in which senators wrote directly to advise another country — much less a longtime foreign adversary — that the president does not have the constitutional authority to reach a meaningful understanding with them.”

In short, like so many things online do these days, it got ugly — and fast.

It never fails to amaze me how short some people’s memories are. The fact is, there’s nothing “unprecedented” about lawmakers interjecting themselves into matters of foreign policy. Washington Post columnist Marc Theissen, for example, wrote about how Sen. Jesse Helms reacted in June 2000 when President Bill Clinton went to Moscow to negotiate an arms-control treaty with Vladimir Putin.

“After dragging his feet on missile defense for nearly eight years, Mr. Clinton now fervently hopes that he will be permitted, in his final months in office, to tie the hands of the next president,” Helms wrote in an op-ed for Izvestia, a major Russian daily. “Well I, for one, have a message for the president: Not on my watch. Any modified ABM treaty negotiated by this administration will be dead-on-arrival at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The Russian government should not be under any illusion whatsoever that any commitments made by this lame-duck administration will be binding on the next administration.”

Such congressional “meddling” is very much a bipartisan activity, I should add (as anyone who remembers then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s 2007 meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad should know). It’s been going on for decades, as foreign policy expert James Carafano recently noted: “The Mexican-American War, the League of Nations debate, the U.S. entry into NATO, the bitter debate over the SALT II talks, the Panama Canal treaty negotiations and U.S. support for the Contras in Nicaragua are just a few examples of such contests.”

That last example — Nicaragua — is particularly telling. How many of those who so gleefully denounced the 47 GOP senators would also have pilloried the Democratic lawmakers who in the 1980s sought to undermine President Reagan’s efforts to aid the Contras in their effort to stop a Soviet-backed takeover of their country?

Sens. Tom Harkin of Iowa and John Kerry of Massachusetts — who, in an ironic twist, is now on the other side of the fence, working as secretary of state to strike a deal with Iran — actually traveled to Nicaragua to meet publicly with Daniel Ortega, the communist leader. Were they “traitors”? Were they trying to “make common cause” with the communists?

Oh, no, they would say. They were trying to influence foreign policy in the way they thought best, and working to make sure the United States didn’t make any missteps in an important region of the world. And sure enough, The New York Times and many other media outlets made every effort to justify their actions.

But if some GOP senators simply write a letter that is, by historical standards, rather mild? Well, find the nearest yardarm and string up those traitors, posthaste.

The hypocrisy is breathtaking.

 - Ed Feulner is founder of the Heritage Foundation

About the Author

Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D. Founder, Chairman of the Asian Studies Center, and Chung Ju-yung Fellow
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Originally appeared in The Washington Times