In an interview with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on the Today show this morning, Matt Lauer skipped over the motivation for Senate Republicans' open letter to Iran and asked Paul instead whether if he were president he would want a group of senators "undermining" his delicate negotiations.
Paul rejected the premise, claiming he signed the letter because he wanted to "strengthen the president's hand" by reminding Iran of the U.S.'s own hardliners. Paul also reiterated that sanctions on Iran would have to be lifted by Congress. Watch this portion of the interview below:
Paul was working on a more "moderate" sanctions bill with Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), but nothing in the multilateral Iran negotiations has yet required any change to sanctions legislation. If a deal is agreed to, Congress will have to lift much of the U.S. sanctions by repealing the associated laws. Congress could decide not to do so but that decision wouldn't stop other countries parties to the deal, France, the U.K, Germany, Russia, and China from lifting their own sanctions, without which the American sanctions are far weaker.
The letter from Senate Republicans to Iran treads no new ground—in that way it was similar to Netanyahu's address to Congress earlier this month, targeted more toward appealing to the domestic hardline audience than actually influencing negotiations. As with the Netanyahu address, the Iran letter also had some Obama supporters screaming "treason." Those sensibilities, naturally, were absent when Democrats tried to "undermine" (woefully inadequately) President Bush's foreign policy. Joe Biden thought the letter was beneath the Senate's dignity but when he was in the Senate he didn't shy away from calling out the foreign policies of multiple presidents.
On Twitter Glenn Greenwald pointed to a Teddy Roosevelt quote popular in that era, that a president "should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct," and that anything less than being at liberty to speak out about his actions was "base and servile." Negotiations with Iran could yet prove to be a success—especially if they result in no new responsibilities for the U.S. to monitor or subsidize Iran's nuclear program, and no obligation for the U.S. to attack on the whim of other countries' decision-makers.
Rand Paul is not his father, but neither does he appear to be thirsty for a war with Iran, an idea with surprising staying power on the national political scene. It's no Munich moment for Paul, who still seems like he'd be a more authentically anti-war (or pro–less war) candidate than any serious contender this century, the present occupant of the White House included. But even if negotiations are a positive step, speaking out against them is certainly not "treason," not even for elected officials.