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Editorial: Ayotte signs up for a dangerous political game



Last modified: Thursday, March 12, 2015
Sen. Kelly Ayotte’s name is easy to spot. It is in the left column, between the blue scrawl of Sens. Rand Paul and Orrin Hatch. Unlike the thousands of other times she has signed her name, Ayotte will remember this signature. How could she forget? It’s not every day that a United States senator attempts to undermine U.S. foreign policy and weaken the nation in one cursive swoop.

On Monday, New Hampshire’s junior senator and 46 of her Republican colleagues presented an open letter to the “Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran.” The message was clear, albeit remarkably condescending: Any nuclear agreement reached with the Obama administration won’t be worth the paper it’s printed on.

“We will consider any agreement regarding your nuclear-weapons program that is not approved by the Congress as nothing more than an executive agreement between President Obama and Ayatollah Khamenei,” the letter states. “The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.”

Ayotte and the rest of the gang of 47 would like nothing more than for the American people to view the letter as a necessary defense against misguided negotiations and flawed policies, a comeuppance for an arrogant commander in chief who flaunts his contempt for the Constitution. They want you to know, America, that they wrote the letter for you because Obama must be stopped.

In reality, they are playing a political game dangerously out of bounds.

It’s not surprising that they would go to such lengths to thwart the president. Time and time again since Obama was elected to his first term, Republicans have made it clear that blocking his domestic agenda was their one and only job. It was only a matter of time before the tactics were deployed to scuttle foreign policy as well.

But the letter may not have any effect on negotiations with Iran, a nation that understands the game as well as anybody. As columnist Robert Azzi wrote in the Sunday Monitor this past weekend, Iranian leaders’ “over-the-top rhetoric” is “designed primarily for home consumption to keep the fanatical Revolutionary Guard at bay.” The Republican senators’ letter serves the same purpose here in the United States. They are catering to their anti-Obama base and are willing to do real long-term damage to the office of the presidency if it means briefly wounding Obama and Democrats politically.

That is what Sen. Ayotte signed her name to, a piece of correspondence that ignores repercussions that are potentially more dangerous than the protested action itself.

The Iran nuclear situation is complex and worthy of vigorous debate. In fact, there are plenty of Democrats who are not thrilled with the goal of the talks, namely a 10-year pact that would reduce but not eliminate Iran’s nuclear program. But what they and seven Republican senators who didn’t sign the letter understand is that diplomacy is a fragile art that doesn’t happen in a vacuum. When Ayotte signed her name on that piece of paper, she cast her lot with a thoughtless brand of politics splintered from the thread of American diplomatic history. Time and future negotiations will reveal the damage done.

If the open letter to the “Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran” represents the path forward for U.S. foreign policy, chaos is the destination. It’s simply stunning that Ayotte and 46 other senators can’t see that – or choose not to.