Americans of a certain age may remember the 1970s-era TV commercial that depicted two kids trying to entice their baby brother, "Mikey," into doing something they didn't have the stomach for - tasting a new Quaker Oats cereal called Life.
In a similar fashion, it seems, Senate Republicans persuaded their freshman colleague Tom Cotton of Arkansas to write something they didn't want to take credit for. Thus Cotton penned a letter to the leaders of Iran suggesting they ignore the president of the United States as he tries to lead negotiations to limit the scope and pace of that nation's nuclear program.
It probably didn't take much to get Cotton to try to undermine the delicate negotiations. After all, this was an opportunity to further burnish his image as the latest darling for conservatives seeking candidates for higher office. Given Cotton's other credentials, including Army tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, the letter could put him in the conversation about second billing on the GOP presidential ticket.
Unfortunately, that's what Cotton's letter is really about - politics. Just as when House Speaker John Boehner invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak before a joint session of Congress. The speech was good politics for Republicans seeking to tighten their ties to the politically active pro-Israel lobby in America. And it was good politics for Netanyahu heading into next week's Israeli elections.
Such acts of political theater, however, are counterproductive when it comes to easing Mideast tensions and ensuring that Iran's stated desire to provide its people with nuclear energy doesn't quickly turn into a full-scale weapons program.
Furthermore, Boehner's disregard for protocol in inviting Netanyahu without consulting the White House, as well as Cotton's letter suggesting foreign governments need not pay attention to a U.S. president, were not only an affront to American diplomacy but an insult to President Obama, who has suffered too many indignities at the hands of the "loyal opposition" - including being called a liar by a Republican House member during a speech.
Cotton's letter, signed by 47 Republicans, including Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.), erroneously depicts the negotiations as bilateral talks between Iran and the United States. They actually involve the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council - the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, China, and France - plus Germany. So to suggest, as the letter did, that anything Obama agrees to by executive action could be blithely ignored once he leaves office isn't entirely true.
Cotton said he wrote the letter to explain the foreign policy powers of the president and Congress to the Iranians. That condescending notion ignores the fact that Iran's chief negotiator, Javad Zarif, has four degrees from American universities and knows quite well how our political system works. More likely, the letter wasn't written for the Iranians; it was written to appease a conservative audience that gets pleasure out of diminishing this particular president's prestige.