Sen. Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas who has been in the U.S. Senate just over two months now, is the man who wrote the letter 46 other senators signed and sent to Iran’s leaders. The letter explained (incorrectly) that any nuclear deal the U.S. signs with Iran would need to be ratified by the U.S. Senate or it would merely be an executive agreement that the next president could tear up. The letter blew up in his face so badly, senators who signed it have been back pedaling on the matter for days now.
Yet Tom Cotton wouldn’t win TheBlot Magazine’s Red Forman Dumbass Award for that. People send letters all the time that they shouldn’t have even written. No, friends, what has pushed the good senator over the finish line for the Dumbass Award is his inability to learn from his mistake. “Face the Nation” host Bob Schieffer interviewed the young senator and discovered that Cotton has “no regrets at all.” Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner!
For those of you who haven’t watched the late and lamented “That ’70s Show,” Red Forman was a curmudgeonly father and a hard-working Korean War vet who just didn’t understand why his son and his friends behaved foolishly, so he had a term for them: dumbasses.
Cotton’s inability to realize that he hurt the country is a minor issue. His inability to understand that his letter interfered with a very delicate international diplomatic offensive is almost forgivable. What makes him a dumbass of award-winning proportions is the fact that he has hurt the other 46 members of the U.S. Senate who signed the letter by having “no regrets at all.”
For instance, signatory Pat Roberts of Kansas said the letter “could have been addressed to other folks and gotten the message out.” Signatory Ron Johnson of Wisconsin said, “If there was any regret, tactically, it probably would have been better just to have it be an open letter addressed to no one.”
Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who claims an expertise in foreign policy because he was a prisoner of war for five years, said of the letter he signed “Maybe that [the letter] wasn’t the best way to do that [explain things to Iran].”
In addition, some of the Republican senators who didn’t sign it are in positions of some power and are going to remember this callow and foolish move as well as the author’s thick-headedness over his mistake.
The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Tennessee’s Bob Corker explained to The Daily Beast, “I didn’t think it was going to further our efforts to get to a place where Congress would play the appropriate role that it should on Iran. I did not think that the letter was something that was going to help get us to an outcome that we’re all seeking, and that is Congress playing that appropriate role.”
For those of you who don’t speak Congressional-ese, allow me to translate it. “Cotton’s idea was dumb, and he has screwed around with my committee. Pay back will be a bitch.” And since Cotton hasn’t apologized to Corker for screwing with the committee’s work, it will be a cold day in hell before Cotton gets any help from that quarter.
What is especially galling is that Cotton is a Harvard-educated lawyer who doesn’t understand the constitutional issue that he was trying to explain to the Iranians (who have their own U.S.-educated scholars who probably do know the process). I’d also note that G. W. Bush got a graduate degree from Harvard. Maybe you should send your kid to Stanford.
What Cotton didn’t understand or perhaps just didn’t explain well is that the U.S. Senate doesn’t ratify treaties. Technically, it passes a resolution approving or rejecting ratification. If approved, the president via the State Department drafts an instrument of ratification and delivers it to the depository government. Under international law, ratification does not occur until the instrument arrives. Thus, a treaty could be signed by one president, the Senate could approve ratification, and another president could decline to deposit the instrument. The first president could also change his or her mind. Under such circumstances, the Senate vote is moot.
However, there are international agreements other than treaties under international law that cannot be torn up at the whim of a future president. Agreements pursuant to existing treaties are binding on the U.S. and other parties and can only be undone according to the terms of the existing treaty. Because they are deals that implement a treaty already ratified by the Senate, they themselves don’t necessarily come up for a vote.
In this case, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) opened for signing in 1968, entered into force in 1970 and was extended indefinitely in 1995. Both the U.S. and Iran signed on July 1, 1968, and ratified it on March 5, 1970. Thus, both parties are bound by is terms. Any deal on Iran’s nuclear program would come under the aegis of the NPT, and therefore would not need a Senate vote.
Tom Cotton, what a dumbass.
Jeff Myhre is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.