As last week progressed, and the scope of the fiasco surrounding the Senate Republicans' letter to Iran became more obvious, many GOP officials on Capitol Hill furiously tried to think of excuses. The scramble was understandable: Republicans had tried to sabotage American foreign policy, and the stunt hadn't gone well.
Over the course of three days, congressional Republicans came up with at least four different excuses, including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) blaming a D.C.-area snowstorm the week before. None of the arguments was particularly persuasive.
But National Review's Deroy Murdock yesterday presented the most amazing excuse yet: the 47 Senate Republicans shouldn't be criticized for sending a letter to Iran since they didn't literally, physically "send" anything.
Before U.S. Senator Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) and 46 of his GOP colleagues are frog-marched to the gallows and hanged for treason, one vital point of confusion must be cleared up. Say what you will about the Republicans' open letter "to the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran." The Cotton/GOP letter regarding Tehran's atom-bomb talks with Obama was not sent to the ayatollahs. Had Cotton & Co. actually delivered their communique to Iran's mullahs -- perhaps via a Swiss diplomatic pouch or something even more cloak and dagger -- their critics would be on less swampy ground in calling them "traitors," as the New York Daily News screamed.
The National Review piece added that "the Cotton Club" -- Tom Cotton and his 46 GOP cohorts -- "did not send its letter anywhere." Murdock added, "Cotton & Co. never even dropped an envelope in the mail."
How do we know for sure this is an unpersuasive argument? Because Tom Cotton himself says so.
The National Review argument emphasizes the fact that the Republicans message was an "open letter," published online. As such, if we parse the meaning of the word "send" in the most charitable way possible, then maybe the GOP senators didn't actually communicate with Iranian officials, at least not directly, during sensitive international talks.
Indeed, the National Review piece said those who claim the Republicans "sent" a letter are guilty of spreading a "gross inaccuracy."
Does the argument have merit? Actually, no, it doesn't. Tom Cotton himself, presumably well positioned to speak on behalf of the "Cotton Club" given his role as ringleader, specifically said he and his Republican partners "sent a letter to Iranian leaders."
Or put another way, if the Republicans involved in this ridiculous stunt themselves say they "sent" a letter, it's not unreasonable to think the rest of us can make the same claim.
I can appreciate the creativity behind the defense. In fact, it almost brings me back to an undergraduate course on metaphysics -- if someone publishes a letter but doesn't send it, does it really reach its destination?
But this is the wrong way to resolve the fiasco. The letter was specifically addressed "to the Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran." Officials in Tehran noticed, read the message, and responded. The GOP signatories themselves acknowledge that they "sent" a letter intended to derail American foreign policy.
The right may find this embarrassing a week later, but arguing that open letters without envelopes don't count is the wrong way to go.
On the contrary, the National Review piece arguably makes matters worse for its allies. Murdock wrote that if "Cotton & Co." had "actually" sent a letter to Iran, the left would be more justified questioning the Republicans' patriotism.
But according to Cotton, he and his colleagues did send a letter to Iran, which leads to a conclusion National Review may not like.