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Cheney: Congress Should Have No Say in President's Iran Policy

September 2, 2015

On September 8th, Dick Cheney will deliver an address at the American Enterprise Institute in the hopes of torpedoing the Iranian nuclear agreement. As his Wall Street Journal op-ed this week suggests, Cheney will argue that "the U.S. Congress should reject this deal and reimpose the sanctions that brought Iran to the table in the first place" because "The Obama agreement will lead to a nuclear-armed Iran, a nuclear-arms race in the Middle East and, more than likely, the first use of a nuclear weapon since Hiroshima and Nagasaki."
As turns out, Cheney's sabotage mission is more than a little ironic. After all, Vice President Dick Cheney was completely and catastrophically wrong about Iraq when he declared, "Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us." Halliburton CEO Dick Cheney railed against Bill Clinton's sanctions on Tehran, complaining that U.S. firms were "cut out of the action" because our "sanction-happy" government failed to recognize that "the good Lord didn't see fit to always put oil and gas resources where there are democratic governments." And the last time he was to address AEI on the subject of Iran in 1989, Rep. Dick Cheney insisted Congress had no right to interfere with the President's conduct of foreign policy at all.

You read that right. In the wake of the Iran-Contra crisis that rocked the Reagan administration, Cheney in March 1989 was scheduled to speak to AEI on "Congressional Overreaching in Foreign Policy." But while that address was never delivered due his nomination to Secretary of Defense, Cheney's draft describes almost unlimited executive power with no role for Congress:

[C]ongressional overreaching has systematic policy effects. It is important to be clear at the outset that my argument is about systematic effects, not individual
policy disagreements. For example, Congress' efforts to dictate diplomatic bargaining tactics, as well as the efforts by individual members to conduct back channel negotiations on their own, make it extremely difficult for the country to sustain a consistent bargaining posture for an extended time period, whomever the President and whatever the policy.
[Emphasis original.]

For Cheney, of course, not all presidents are created equal. Once upon a time, he furiously condemned Congressional interference with the President's policy towards Iran. Condemned it, that is, provided the President was not Barack Obama but Ronald Reagan and the issue wasn't limiting Iran's arsenal, but enhancing it.
That's right. In the wake of the arms-for-hostages scandal that engulfed President Reagan beginning in 1986, the minority Republican response to the Congressional Iran-Contra investigation declared that Congress, not the White House, had done something wrong.
Joined then by Utah Senator Orrin Hatch (who also signed this week's letter) among other GOP leaders, Cheney didn't just denounce the majority's findings as "clearly cast in such a partisan tone," but insisted President Reagan had the constitutional authority to ignore the Congressional ban on aid to the Nicaraguan Contras:

"Judgments about the Iran-Contra Affair ultimately must rest upon one's views about the proper roles of Congress and the President in foreign policy. ... [T]hroughout the Nation's history, Congress has accepted substantial exercises of Presidential power -- in the conduct of diplomacy, the use of force and covert action -- which had no basis in statute and only a general basis in the Constitution itself. ... [M]uch of what President Reagan did in his actions toward Nicaragua and Iran were constitutionally protected exercises of inherent Presidential powers. ... [T]he power of the purse ... is not and was never intended to be a license for Congress to usurp Presidential powers and functions."

The Iran-Contra scandal, as you'll recall, almost laid waste to the Reagan presidency. Desperate to free U.S. hostages held by Iranian proxies in Lebanon, President Reagan provided weapons Tehran badly needed in its long war with Saddam Hussein (who, of course, was backed by the United States). In a clumsy and illegal attempt to skirt U.S. law, the proceeds of those sales were then funneled to the contras fighting the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. And as the New York Times recalled, Reagan's fiasco started with an emissary bearing gifts from the Gipper himself:

A retired Central Intelligence Agency official has confirmed to the Senate Intelligence Committee that on the secret mission to Teheran last May, Robert C. McFarlane and his party carried a Bible with a handwritten verse from President Reagan for Iranian leaders.
According to a person who has read the committee's draft report, the retired C.I.A. official, George W. Cave, an Iran expert who was part of the mission, said the group had 10 falsified passports, believed to be Irish, and a key-shaped cake to symbolize the anticipated ''opening'' to Iran.

But in his November 18, 1987 press conference unveiling the minority report, Cheney rejected any notion of wrong-doing by the Reagan administration. "The bottom line, however, is that the mistakes...were just that," Rep. Cheney announced to the nation, "mistakes in judgment, and nothing more."

There was no constitutional crisis, no systematic disrespect for ''the rule of law,'' no grand conspiracy, and no Administration-wide dishonesty or coverup. In fact, the evidence will not support any of the more hysterical conclusions the committees' report tries to reach.

As we fast forward to the P5+1 Iran nuclear agreement of 2015, the evidence will not support any of the more hysterical conclusions Dick Cheney and his allies try tries to reach. And if Cheney was an honest man, he wouldn't just be outraged at that hysteria from Congressional Republicans trying to block the Iran deal. He would be furious that they had the temerity to interfere with American diplomacy, "whomever the President and whatever the policy."


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Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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