The front page was clearly designed to get a reaction from people, and by that measure it’s been wildly successful, with the rightwing launching into spittle-flecked apoplexy over it. The Left, meanwhile, has been mostly agreeing with the word.
However, that word was nothing more than a marketing ploy, a gimmick to get attention. The NYDN editorial itself is strong, but not nearly as inflammatory. Part of what makes it worth paying attention to (despite the paper’s cover) is that it’s a generally conservative paper that actually agrees with Republicans on the Iran nuclear negotiations: “We join GOP signatories in opposing the pact as outlined, but we strenuously condemn their betrayal of the U.S. constitutional system.”
Pointing out the Republican signators represent the majority of the Republicans in the Senate, the NYDN says, “They are an embarrassment to the Senate and to the nation,” and they are because it’s illegal for anyone other than the US President, whoever he or she may be and of whatever party, to conduct US foreign policy. So, the NYDN is absolutely right when they said:
“Rather than offer objections domestically in robust debate, as is their obligation, ringleader Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and his band trespassed on presidential turf by patronizing Iran’s leaders with the suggestion ‘that you may not fully understand our constitutional system.’”The 47 Republicans have broken a US law called the Logan Act, which since 1799 has specifically forbidden unauthorised US Citizens from interfering in US foreign policy. Had they done the open letter as a message to the US people, they would have been on solid Constitutional ground, but by seeking to conduct foreign policy, they broke the law. Even so, the fact that the 47 Republicans have clearly committed a criminal act doesn’t by itself make them “traitors”, even with a very loose definition of that term. The NYDN doesn’t actually claim that it does.
The 47 Republicans are, however, incredibly stupid. One has to wonder, do those Republicans have contempt for international law and obligations? In the words of one formerly prominent Republican who was also utterly clueless about international law and obligations, “you betcha”. So, given their ignorance, those 47 Republicans stupidly threatening to repeal any pact should they manage to win the White House in 2016 isn’t at all surprising.
The more worrying part is that part of the Republicans’ letter was more accurately aimed at themselves, because they “may not fully understand our constitutional system.” In fact, they clearly don’t. At all. The president conducts foreign policy and Congress’ role is limited to oversight, including ratification (or not) of any treaties. Ironically, it was the Iranian foreign minister who schooled the Republicans. As The Week put it:
“The next time Republicans in the Senate try to explain treaties and the U.S. Constitution to Iranian officials, they may want to pick someone other than a foreign minister with a masters and PhD in international relations from the University of Denver, plus two degrees from San Francisco State University. Javad Zarif, who is also Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, responded to a letter from Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and 46 other GOP senators with an explainer of his own.”Zarif dryly noted:
“The authors [of the letter] may not fully understand that in international law, governments represent the entirety of their respective states, are responsible for the conduct of foreign affairs, are required to fulfill the obligations they undertake with other states, and may not invoke their internal law as justification for failure to perform their international obligations."He went on to correctly say that the Republicans’ stunt has "no legal value and is mostly a propaganda ploy.”
Republican politicians have every right to state their opinion on foreign policy issues as loudly as they want to, but they have no right to try and conduct their own partisan foreign policy. The NYDN may have been a bit hyperbolic when they called the Republicans’ stunt “a treacherous betrayal of the U.S. constitutional system”, but they’re basically correct.
But, no, it’s not treason, and that word is a distraction from the real problem: The ignorance and stupidity of those 47 Republicans. That's worrying enough.