Opinion: #Traitors: Iran and the Senate Meltdown

John Hess is a senior political science major. Contact him at jhess14@kent.edu.

John Hess is a senior political science major. Contact him at [email protected].

John Hess

The news has recently been filled with controversy surrounding the ongoing negotiations with Iran. The first act in this drama involved a visit by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the U.S. Congress where he voiced opposition to the current negotiations. This visit, done without consulting the White House, was seen as a direct snub to the Obama Administration, which has been responsible for the talks. Many Democrats, as well as various sectors of Israeli society, condemned the move.

Next, 47 Republican senators sent a letter to Iranian leaders, threatening to undo any accomplishments of the current negotiations unless their demands were met. This elicited outrage from Democrats, most notably Vice President Biden who called the letter, “beneath the dignity” of the Senate. 

Finally, questions arose as to whether the senators violated the Logan Act of 1799, which forbids unauthorized citizens from conducting foreign relations with a government with which the U.S. has an ongoing dispute. A petition at whitehouse.gov accused the senators of treason and called for their prosecution. This petition has gained more than 280,000 signatures as of this moment. 

Before I go further — no, nothing will happen. I shouldn’t have to say this. We’re not arresting half of the upper house of Congress. Would it be awesome? Abso-freaking-lutely. Is it going to happen? No. 

Obama won’t push this issue and alienate the already uncooperative Senate. The really interesting thing here is the response to the letter. Three hundred thousand people who hadn’t heard of the Logan Act two weeks ago latched onto a meme based on this two-hundred-year-old law for a single “gotcha” moment. 

This is a perfect example of a trend I’ve been noticing for a long time: meme politics. In the Internet age it seems that politics have been broken down into short, easily digested memes with little substance or meaning. This kind of low-intensity, high-emotion politics has come to dominate the debate on any number of issues. They demand almost nothing from you — no time, no commitment, and no understanding — and in return you get the thrill of standing up for something.

 There are two problems with this approach. First, it’s really unhelpful. Second, it leads to arbitrary issues receiving huge amounts of attention while more dire concerns are neglected. Netanyahu can unleash hell in Gaza and kill more than two thousand Palestinians, the vast majority being civilians, but how dare he speak to Congress?

The U.S. government can back Saudi Arabia and its repressive ultraconservative king, even looking the other way when he helps neighboring Bahrain crush its Arab Spring, but those Senators had better not talk to the regime’s Shia counterpart! 

Let’s be clear: both the actions of Republican Senators and Netanyahu deserve scorn, but they’re hardly the defining issues of our time. These are minor problems which serve to distract us from larger, more structural issues. The way our international system functions, and the way we currently interact with and talk about it, is very deeply flawed. There’s no White House petition or social media debate that will change that. We need to engage with these issues on a deeper level and stop expecting a solution to present itself for our easy consumption. 

If you have any thoughts, feel free to stop me on campus and share. I’d be glad to talk. 

Contact John Hess at [email protected].