Diplomacy is defined as skill in managing negotiations, handling people, etc., so that there is little or no ill will; tact. This is the thesis of my contribution to the famous book series “for dummies,” though I never thought this one would be so vital.
Congress failed this week to block the effectiveness of the recent nuclear agreement between the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, China, and Russia with Iran. The real failure of Congress though is not that it was unable to block what has been sold to the public all summer as Obama’s Iran deal. The real failure is that the Congress, and others, have undermined American diplomacy by behaving as if our executive branch is not empowered to engage in diplomacy abroad.
Too many of our elected officials seem to be infected with some sort of rare virus that makes it difficult for them to understand to what they were specifically elected. Let’s review, shall we?
The President, including our current one, is elected as the head of state, and the head of the executive branch of government. Presidents, according to the Congressional Research Service, have reached nearly 20,000 international executive agreements since 1789. Just over 1,000 of them have been ratified by Congress. Presidents are in charge of diplomacy for us, not Congress. Like it or not.
Lately for those who don’t like it, it has become fashionable to engage in a trend of pretending that our head of state isn’t exactly that. Should Congress be empowered to negotiate with foreign governments? Should individual states, through their Governors alone, be able to decide whether they will honor deals agreed to by a President and a foreign country?
In my draft version of “Diplomacy for Dummies,” our government will not send Congress, and it’s 535 negotiators, to negotiate any deals, with any foreign governments. Ever. I thought about scenarios when sending the 50 governors might work, since that was a more manageable and incredibly more popular bunch. But then I imagined them debating the dinner menu or the bus route to the summit and realized they would likely starve and be lost before they got their chance to close any deal. So they were cut from the negotiator list as well.
In Chapter One of this book, when dealing with foreign entities, only one negotiator is allowed to speak for us. So do your best Mr. or Ms. President. There won’t be anyone logically able to handle this task for us. Or so I thought.
So, when I woke up on Friday morning and opened up the Indy Star on my iPad and came across “Iran’s Deal is Bad for U.S.,” a column written by Rep. Todd Young, I read every word. Congressman Young is a riser in Indiana Republican political circles and is one of three candidates seeking the GOP nomination for the open U.S. Senate seat next year. He has a military background, a solid reputation, and is considered to be a front runner in that statewide race. So I read the column with a bit of optimism, hopeful that he would give a perspective that was unique and refreshing. I was disappointed.
He acknowledged the expected congressional failure to block the deal and suggested what appears to be his version of leadership in the face of losing this partisan battle. And here it is:
“I’m taking the early lead on an effort I’ve likened to a ‘scarlet letter’ proposal. I want to make sure Americans are duly informed when they interact, whether through investments or business interactions, with entities that have assets tied to Iran.”
Presumably the goal of this effort is to encourage the American business community to voluntarily continue economic sanctions against Iran after and during the deal’s effectiveness. Hmmm. That sounds like something else I read this week.
Governor Mike Pence wrote a letter to Indiana’s congressional delegation on Tuesday informing them that he has led 14 other governors in a letter to President Obama expressing their opposition to the Iran nuclear deal. He went on to commit to continue state level economic sanctions against Iran and to work with the Indiana General Assembly to possibly bolster those sanctions.
So here is the worst thing about the nuclear deal that is set take effect on September 17: members of Congress are now looking to find ways to get the private sector to impose their own sanctions on Iran, and at least 15 state governments are announcing their plan to ignore the deal altogether in their “official” capacity.
Is the deal signed by the P5+1 coalition so bad that Americans should undermine their own credibility in such a blatant way? Of course not. But this exercise in partisan politics is a dangerous trend that cooler heads need to help end.
In “Diplomacy for Dummies,” all negotiations have a beginning and an end. At the beginning, there is an impasse to which both sides of a dispute seek a solution. By entering into negotiations, it is presumed that concessions will be made by both parties. If or when a settlement is reached, that negotiation has reached the end. Even for America.
Disagreeing with the outcome of a negotiation doesn’t nullify it. And it is important to accept that not liking it also doesn’t make it a failure. The current failure is too many elected officials think they are the President or the negotiator, and who clearly are not.
I couldn’t care less what the Governor of Arkansas thinks of this deal. Just like I’m betting no Californian cares what Rep. Young (R-Indiana) thinks. But President Obama works for both of us. And this was part of the job he was hired to do for us.
I negotiate plenty in my professional life. It isn’t always easy. If it were, everyone would do it. But when it becomes impossible, people quit listening to each other. With stakes as high as nuclear war, nothing could be more dangerous. The way opponents of the Iran deal have behaved over the past few months has convinced me that I need to finish my book. And fast.