Monday, March 23, 2015

Letter was Mistake, But White House on Defensive Over Iran

The general rule is don’t sign letters on nuclear negotiations from freshman senators addressed to Putin, Xi Jinping or the Supreme Leader. Unfortunately, the old rule that freshmen should be seen and not heard and only give a maiden speech after several months has gone by the boards among Gen Xers and the appetite of cable and online news.

The Iran letter from 47 Republican senators, including the majority leader, has been widely panned in newspaper editorial pages. The Wall Street Journal, which shares the Republicans’ skepticism for the Obama administration’s negotiating premise and prowess, called the letter a distraction. Indeed, it has provided the administration and its main spokespersons, Joe Biden and John Kerry, an opportunity to make the case that Republicans and the Senate shouldn’t be included in the final approval process because of their hostile predisposition and “unprecedented partisanship.”

And a recent CNN poll appears to show that the administration has the stronger position in this exchange. A near majority felt the letter went “too far,” not surprising given the torrent of criticism, but more important for Republican leadership is the fact people generally support negotiations to keep Iran from nuclear weapons (68%).

But, Republicans shouldn’t lose heart. The public supports the Republican viewpoint on these negotiations and their view of President Obama’s foreign policy approach and prowess has declined sharply in recent years. Recent Pew Research shows:
  • The President’s job approval for foreign policy is 7 points lower than his overall approval (45% overall; 38% foreign policy).
  • Republicans are now preferred by 13 points over Democrats on foreign policy and, most importantly, 20 points in handling terrorism. (Note: The latest CNN poll claims an 8-point Obama advantage, but that’s not Democrats vs. Republicans.)
  • Importantly, the public believes the President’s international strategy is weak (55% weak, up from 38% in 2009). (See March 6 blog: Obama foreign policy under fire)
But most ominous for the administration attempting to unilaterally negotiate with Iran is not just its weak foreign policy credentials, but the fact the public believes the administration’s major assumption of nuclear weapon-free Iran is unachievable. By 71 percent, they believe Iran will get a bomb. And, Iran is near the top of Americans’ list as an enemy. In other words, if Republicans can appear to be serious players in foreign policy, they have the stronger overall position.

See Washington Examiner: Despite beltway blowback, GOP sees win in Iran letter

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