Rand Paul keeps offering the same unpersuasive defense of his decision to sign on to Cotton’s Iran letter:
“I want the president to negotiate from a position of strength,” said Paul. “I want him to be able to go to the Iranians and say, ‘Congress is going to have to vote on this, because Congress put these sanctions in place. To remove them, Congress will have to vote on it, so you will have to give up more.'”
It should be obvious that this doesn’t strengthen the U.S. negotiating position. On the contrary, it has the potential to cut our diplomats off at the knees by creating doubts about whether the U.S. can be trusted to fulfill the commitments that it makes as part of any agreement. This isn’t going to give the Iranians incentives to make additional concessions, since they might conclude that the U.S. can’t deliver on what it has promised in any case. Frankly, whatever some of the senators may have thought they were doing doesn’t matter very much. The reality is that the letter had the effect of strengthening Iran’s negotiating position:
According to sources close to the negotiations, the letter may have given Iran more leverage in the nuclear talks.
“The game that was played in the past is that we are credible and the Iranians are not credible,” said one. “The letter is creating the advantage for the Iranians. It is hurting our position in the negotiations.”
Even if one were inclined to believe Paul’s weak excuse for the terrible decision to sign the letter, the fact remains that the stunt had the opposite effect of the one that Paul claims to have wanted. The decision to sign the letter may be consistent with Paul’s support for Corker’s Iran legislation (though Corker himself didn’t feel compelled to sign on), but that just reminds us that Paul has made the wrong call on that as well. Finally, signing the letter aligned Paul with a senator who has bluntly stated that he desires the negotiations to be derailed. The most generous explanation is that Paul didn’t understand what Cotton was trying to do, and that is almost more damning than if he did understand. It isn’t good enough to support diplomacy in theory while being maneuvered into doing things aimed at wrecking it in practice. In signing the letter, Paul made a serious error whether he intended something else or not.