Friday, March 13, 2015

Michael Gerson unclear on history

Same day same opinion pages more ignorance.

Michael Gerson denounced Cotton et al. He added a to be sure paragraph. To be sure, this paragraph demonstrates ignorance as well as intellectual dishonesty.

It is true that President Obama set this little drama in motion. Major arms-control treaties have traditionally involved advice and consent by the Senate. Obama is proposing to expand the practice of executive agreements to cover his prospective Iranian deal — effectively cutting senators out of the process. By renewing a long-standing balance-of-powers debate — in a way that highlights his propensity for power-grabbiness — Obama invited resistance. And there is a practical argument for Senate approval of arms-control agreements: It strengthens and empowers the president in punishing violations. The whole U.S. government is placed on record promising consequences for infractions (if, of course, the Senate concurs).
All treaties, by definition, require the approval of two thirds of the senate for ratification. However, it is very unusual for negotiations to lead to a treaty, and unusual for the US Senate to ratify signed treaties (the Senate did ratify an arms control treaty in 2011). It is absurd to suggest that it is normal practice for negotiations to eventually lead to ratification.

Ratified cold war arms control treaties ... is an error -- the bolded s implies a false claim of fact. There only was one such treaty during the cold war -- the ABM/SALT I treaty of 1972. The SALT II treaty of 1979 was never ratified. It is true that when Gorbachev and Shevernadze said yes to every demand then to every added demand, there were post cold war arms control treaties which were actually ratified.

But Gerson's real problem is with the interim agreement signed by Gerald Ford in Vladivostok November 24, 1974. That was an arms control agreement signed without extensive consultation of congress. It came as a genuine surprise. It was the not legally binding communique regulating strategic arms until the Salt II treaty was signed in 1979. Neither the Vladivostok "joint communique" nor the Salt II treaty ever had the force of law. Gerson's claim about arms control treaties is irrelevant, but it is also false. Treaties with friendly countries are ratified (hard as it is to remember the USA and Russia were friendly in 2011). Arms control agreements with hostile countries have hardly ever been ratified. Accepting an deal and not demanding a better one is politically costly. It is best for everyone for the President to have sole responsibility.

The proposed deal with Iran is not like arms control treaties, because it will impose no limits whatsoever on any country other than Iran. The offer is to relax sanctions in exchange for iranian concessions. Current law authorizes Obama to do this. It makes no sense to impose sanctions such that approval from congress is required to remove them (which doesn't mean it hasn't been done). Sanctions are coercive measures along the lines of twisting someone's arm until they say uncle. It does not make sense to twist someone's arm and say "I will keep twisting until you say uncle at which point I shall ask congress to consider when to begin marking up a bill which may auhorize me to cease to twist your arm unless it is voted down, filibustered or any senator decides to put a hold on it."

The unprecedented power grabbiness is the insistance by Republicans in congress that Obama may not exercize authority granted to the President by an earlier congress without asking them to repeat that he has permission.

Of course, Cotton et al, do not want an agreement negotiated with the active participation of Congress (can anyone even imagine how such negotiatoins would work) nor do they want a treaty ratified by the Senate. They oppose any possible agreement with Iran. I'm sure Gerson knows this and is just pretending that a ratified treaty is conceivably possible.

To be sure, the nonsense is in a to be sure aside. I'm sure Gerson considers his op-ed to be a bold denunciation of Cotton et al. Since the paragraph is the minimal concession which might be sufficient to allow him to remain a Republican in good standing, he can't be expected to notice the fact that it uses made up nonsense pseudo-history to criticize Obama.

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