Congress as Foreign Relations Actor (Pathological Strain)
On top of everything else, Congress now threatens to severely restrict official contacts with Iran. This from Heather Hurlburt at Democracy Arsenal:
If you’re too transfixed by the prospect of the US losing its seat on the IAEA board of governors, losing Japanese funding through UNESCO for police training in Afghanistan, and potentially losing global patent protection, all over the Palestinians’ effort to join the UN and an outdated 1994 law, you’ll miss the fun of a new Iran bill coming through the House that apparently attempts to catch what international cooperation the 1994 law may have missed.
The bill bars US diplomats from even talking to their Iranian counterparts without prior certification by the President and notification to Congress 15 days in advance. Imagine if JFK had had to tell Congress before he called the Soviets during the Cuban missile crisis. More to the point, US and Iranian diplomats have been sharing a conference room discussing the political future of Iran’s neighbor Afghanistan this week. The New York Times reported that the Administration had quietly reached out to Iran to attempt to bring it into a political discussion around Afghanistan’s future stability. No more of that.
And a report on FP’s The Cable predicts “a massive withdrawal” from international organizations pursuant to the legislative restriction on top of the UNESCO case as Palestine secures membership in others.
The question is, how to rein Congress in? The courts have been useless (although the Jerusalem passport case has the potential at least to bring them back into the picture), and obviously Congress doesn’t do the president’s bidding on hot-button foreign policy issues (that is the problem).
Perhaps there is some way of externally disciplining Congress when it gets out of hand on these fronts. Some sort of shaming? The more international actors come to recognize that Congress is the problem, the more likely a form of directed opprobrium will emerge.
UPDATE: In the comments, Jennifer points to this very interesting OLC opinion concluding that even funding-framed legislative restrictions on participation in UN activities are unconstitutional. The same reasoning would apply to the proposed Iran bill. Less likely that it would extend to the UNESCO episode (and Obama isn’t going to take it there in any case).