Outside of select pockets in Arkansas and C-SPAN, Tom Cotton probably wasn’t really a “household” name until a few weeks ago. Cotton, a Republican U.S. senator from Arkansas, sent a letter to the Iranian government condemning President Barack Obama’s negotiation with Iran.
The letter was signed by 46 other GOP senators.
This is not a problem at first glance. A statesman reached out to an international state’s diplomat on matters concerning the relationship between America and that state. This seems like a reasonable thing for the senator or for a citizen to do.
Except to some radical degrees – such as death threats and yelling “fire” in a crowded theater – freedom of speech allows for open expression of ideas.
The problem with the senator’s actions emerge when the workflow of diplomacy is examined. Cotton’s actions directly violate how the government conducts business with other states. In general, the president serves as chief diplomat and can then delegate that power to other executives or legislatures.
As a statesman, Cotton’s job is to represent and highlight the vested interest of the people of Arkansas. Should he reside on a committee of foreign affairs, which he does not, then the senator’s role could be expanded to include mediating international negotiations.
Instead, Cotton’s decision to usurp Obama’s position as chief international diplomat leaves the U.S. looking divided at a critical time in negotiations with an adversary.
In the same way that a company makes decisions in its board meetings that are then acted out by the appropriate officers, the U.S. has a dedicated process for interacting with foreign bodies. An employee stepping outside the board’s direction, simply because he disagrees with his or her decisions, could be cause for termination.
As chief executive, the president and his cabinet guide the direction the country will take. The legislative branch’s duty is to pass laws that will serve the people.
By overstepping and undermining the authority of the elected and appointed negotiator, Cotton and his cohorts showed the Iranian government that the U.S. cannot always be trusted in diplomatic matters. By dividing the government in two, not only did Cotton possibly ruin the chance of reaching a deal with Iranian officials, but also struck a huge blow to whatever was left of relationships between Republicans and Democrats.
And yet Cotton was applauded for showing up the Obama administration. Republicans praised him as a herald of their war on the president. But the president is still the president, whether Cotton, the letter signers or his fellow party members like it or not. There are still nearly two years left in Obama’s term. Cotton and Republicans should not spend it attempting to make the president look foolish.
The letter’s reception in Iran has possibly changed future elections. Several political analysts expect more hardline Iranian voices to begin speaking out. And, as previously mentioned, it has weakened relationships between the parties and between the branches. Look at the repercussions.
So, it is worth questioning if Cotton, as a freshman senator, is doing this because he honestly believes it will bring healing to conversations with Iran or if he’s merely drawing attention to himself — possibly for future higher office prospects.
While it can be assumed that Cotton had every intention of helping to mend the relationship between the U.S. and Iran, his execution of that resulted in much backlash. The current flow of power can become stale at times, but it is still the process of diplomacy. Elected officials should respect that. Rules can be challenged and change can be embraced, but not at such crucial, such impacting and such delicate times.
American unity and citizen safety should be the goal. Not 15 minutes of fame. Not proof of a point. And certainly not just to harass the other side.