By Aidan Coyne
On January 9, 47 Republican senators signed off on a letter written by Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas addressed to the “Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran”; just why this letter wasn’t addressed to the Ayatollah Khameini or President Hassan Rouhani, whose identities are certainly not kept secret, is just one of several oddities about the incident.
The reaction to the letter has been polarizing. Liberals are crying foul and alleging partisan sabotage, conservatives are defending the senators as simply standing up for American security interests against the ill-advised diplomatic overtures being made by the Obama administration. Before even examining the question of who is “right” or “wrong” on the issue, it must be first said that the political strategy behind the move is, well, odd. On the heels of inviting a foreign head of state in order to attempt to publically shame the sitting president, the Republican Party (ostensibly the same party that has not-so-subtly attempted to portray itself as the more patriotic option for American voters), is again making a splash on foreign affairs. Whether or not the move will prove popular amongst the conservative base, already strongly in the corner of the GOP and unlikely to approve of anything coming from Obama’s desk, is irrelevant. Politics is all about capturing the mushy middle, and the notion that most apolitical Americans or committed centrists will get warm and fuzzy feelings about Mitch McConnell and company reaching out to the mullahs of Iran in order to warn them of the futility of negotiating with the United States is frankly bizarre. The only guaranteed effect of the letter is to further polarize the Iranian issue among partisan lines, and paint Democrats who potentially sympathize with the Republican position into a corner which has become increasingly difficult to escape from.
Regarding the issue of who is “right” on the issue, as if such things really mattered in the media spectacle and circus that is American politics, it depends mostly on perspective. The future is unknowable; what is at first observable is the effect on the supposed “intended” recipients of the letter (note that the real intended recipients of the letter were observers of the American political system). On that account, apart from a half-hearted rebuke from the country’s foreign minister, the response has been muted. From a country that has delighted in calling America “the great Satan” in the past, this has been a bit of a letdown from an entertainment standpoint, but probably bodes for the best from the standpoint of diplomacy. The Republicans are worried that the proposed deal is too weak to prevent Tehran from developing nuclear weapons. And they are right to be; the reality is, if Iran has its heart set on making these weapons, even a well-designed agreement may be fruitless to stop them. However, what is the alternative if not war? It is not entirely fatalistic to extrapolate that if one believes that Iran is committed to obtaining nuclear weapons, the answer is inevitably war, the only question being when.
Before rattling the saber too vigorously, and with US arms possibly needed to prevent the grim threat of ISIS at the current moment in time, why not, in the hippy-ish refrain of John Lennon, “give peace a chance” if only for the moment?