Michael Gerson’s misguided attack on the Cotton letter

Michael Gerson, writing in the Washington Post, joins the chorus of critics of the letter to Iran drafted by Sen. Tom Cotton and signed by 46 of his Republican colleagues. According to Gerson, the worst aspect of the letter — the thing he considers “the real scandal” — is the procedure surrounding it.

Gerson notes that the drafter, Cotton, has only two months experience in the Senate. But the letter was endorsed by the quintessential Senate old-hand, Majority Leader McConnell. John McCain, with a quarter of a century of foreign policy experience in Congress, signed it. Even Lindsey Graham signed it. Clearly, the letter reflects the sense of the Republican caucus, not the whim of a junior Senator.

Gerson complains that some of the Republicans who signed the letter didn’t analyze it closely, relying instead on McConnell’s blessing. This sounds like spin by members who aren’t enjoying the backlash.

But the letter is a short document; it did not require in-depth analysis. It is either true and appropriate or true and inappropriate. Presumably, if the letter strikes one as inappropriate, it will do so quickly.

In any event, there would be nothing unique on either side of the aisle about some Senators relying on the opinion of the leadership. Indeed, it’s not unheard of for ultra-complex transformative legislation to pass without many Senators having even read it.

Gerson also buys the canard that the Cotton letter will prevent Sen. Bob Corker from getting the Democratic votes he needs to override a presidential veto of a legislation that would purport to require Senate approval of an Iran deal. Corker supposedly was just two votes away from a veto proof majority.

Isn’t it an odd coincidence that when it comes to dealing President Obama a blow on an issue where the public is against him, the Republicans always seem to come up a vote or two short?

I hope Gerson is being disingenuous here. It would be depressing to think that a former senior Bush administration aide is this naive about Democrats.

When it comes to the substance of the letter, Gerson has very little to say. He notes that negotiations are important because the Europeans, whose participation in the sanctions regime is vital, expect the U.S. to negotiate in good faith.

But the letter doesn’t call for ending negotiations or for negotiating in bad faith. It doesn’t urge the mullahs not to negotiate; it simply informs (or reminds) them of the limitations of an agreement the Senate doesn’t ratify. Nor have the mullahs responded by ending negotiations.

Gerson frets that the letter gives the impression that the 47 Republicans are rooting for negotiations to fail. That’s the impression that Democrats want to instill, but it’s not a fair reading of the letter.

To the extent the letter can be said to “root” for something, it is rooting for the U.S. to take a tougher position in negotiations. If doing so forces Iran to make the concessions that produce a decent agreement, the Senators are rooting for negotiations to succeed.

If not, we should all root for the negotiations to fail. Even the Obama administration has often said that no deal is better than a bad deal.

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