On March 9, Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas sent off a letter to the Iranian government signed by 47 Republican senators, including the entire GOP leadership. It warned Iran that any agreement made without congressional approval could be reversed "at the stroke of a pen" by the next U.S. president in 2017.
There was no internal Republican caucus debate, and no consultation with the Republican chairman of the Senate International Relations Committee, Robert Corker, who refused to sign the letter.
Both Kentucky senators signed, though Sen. Rand Paul held back for a while. Certainly, Sen. Mitch McConnell should know better as Senate majority leader.
This unprecedented break with prudent practice has created a furor that places the U.S. government in a difficult position, both with Iran and also with our European partners in this. It has endangered the success of the difficult and complex negotiations that are going on, though negotiators still say they are confident that the framework deal will be reached before the March 24 deadline.
Despite such optimism, the Cotton move was a high-stakes, ill-conceived maneuver with all the gravity of a blog posting. It puts our diplomacy on a critical issue at risk.
If Republican senators want to make the point that the Iran deal should require a treaty, they need to make the case to the American people.
Washington sources report that Corker and Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez were only two votes away from a veto-proof majority that would have required Senate approval of an Iran deal. So why did Cotton move ahead and why did McConnell sign his letter?
A more serious objection to the Cotton letter is grand strategy: The alternative to a "bad" nuclear deal is not war, it is strong sanctions and covert actions to limit Iranian actions until the regime falls or demonstrates behavior change in key areas.
However, this kind of approach depends on tightening of sanctions in cooperation with Europe as well as Russia and China. This can only be achieved if these countries believe we have negotiated with Iran in good faith.
As citizens, we need to communicate our displeasure with Cotton and his allies, especially our own senators. To them we must make it clear that shoddy politics, both in substance and practice, is not what we desire and expect.
Concurrently, we must urge the Obama administration to spell out its position and increase its communication both within the government and with the public.
It will be just a little under two years until the next president takes office. In the meantime, a lot of malevolence can hurt our country if we are not careful and we don't play straight with ourselves and our allies, as well as with those with whom we disagree.