In July of 1972, the actor and political anti-war activist Jane Fonda made a controversial visit to North Viet Nam. Once there, she appeared in the media and posed for photographs, which she now calls a “huge mistake”. Many of those who supported the war considered her a traitor — “Hanoi Jane”. Some veterans continue to be bitter. Just this January when she made an appearance in Maryland, a protester was quoted by the Frederick newspaper: “She encouraged North Vietnam to pull away from the negotiations table…She got Americans killed.” Fonda was a private, albeit high profile, citizen. But her alleged interference with negotiations being conducted by the Nixon administration was considered treasonous. While the president was a Republican, Democrats controlled both houses of Congress. That was also the case when months later he negotiated with China, considered one of our archenemies. No one on Capital Hill questioned the president’s right to do so, much less inserted themselves in the process. They understood the constitutional role of the executive branch.
When elected legislators insert themselves into the conduct of foreign policy, into the negotiating process, it’s not like Fonda in Viet Nam but another matter entirely. It was bad enough when the House Speaker circumvented diplomatic norms by inviting Bibi Netanyahu to lobby against a potential treaty before a joint session without consulting the White House. Seeking to directly undermine negotiations under way by the president and secretary of state is beyond the pale. Perhaps the letter sent by GOP senators to the Iranians isn’t treasonous but it surely is treacherous. If this were merely the ill-conceived work of freshman Tea Party Senator Tom Cotton, we might see it as an inexperienced faux pas. With forty-seven signatories including those of Mitch McConnell, John McCain and a number of would be presidential candidates, it borders on being un-American. It flaunts the separation of powers and makes us look a banana republic.
Richard Nixon, already under the cloud of Watergate, negotiated a reversal of a years old China policy unchallenged by the Democratic majority on the Hill. Everyone understood their respective roles. When our duly elected president is engaged in something of relatively less consequential nature — Iran is no China — the Republican leaders in today’s Congress act far out of line. It seems that their irrational hate for our president has no bounds. They are hardly the loyal opposition; they’re an embarrassment. They also put the country and the world in greater danger and if blood is shed it will be on their hands.