Frary: Down the Slippery Slope to a Decision with Angus King


Late in July, Senator Angus King took a bold position on the Iran nuclear deal. The column’s title tells most of the tale: “Congress needs to carefully review Iran nuclear agreement.” This will please those among us who think careless, slipshod reviews are a lousy idea. Building on this promising beginning, Maine’s junior senator goes on to explain how he plans to work his way to a decision about the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) negotiated with Iran. He tells he plans to read the document word for word, noting questions, observing the data, studying the analysis. More, he plans to pursue expertise outside the Senate and executive branch; consulting with nuclear physicists, economists, arms inspection experts, foreign affairs advisors and defense advisors to amass the best input possible.

Some, reading his column, will find convincing evidence of Angus King’s sagacity, seriousness, moderation, and keen sense of duty. Those burdened with a dour skepticism about politicians in general and Angus King in particular will see only glib self-advertisement. Speaking as a cheerful skeptic, I see much merit in their reservations. The twenty-four hour day poses the primary obstacle to credulity about the senator’s oblique boasts. The prodigious labor he promises and the mass of data and analysis he promises to assimilate hardly seem within the scope of a mere mortal.

Citizens familiar with the limitations of the twenty-four-hour day will grasp this skepticism readily enough. It takes a slightly more subtle understanding to see that the foundations for decision-making are already laid long before a problem presents itself. I’ve read some of Senator King’s columns and public statements and have shared in some e-mail exchanges. I’ve never seen a hint that he reads any periodicals or books much to the right of New York Times editorials.

Despite his labored pretense of being independent just like Maine (and sort of like Eliot Cutler) Angus has an ideological tilt to the left which will incline him to support the liberal consensus. We rely on Rep. Chellie Pingree to tell us what jerks the left knee, and she tells us that “The best way to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons program is through a comprehensive, international agreement like this one. We will get a chance to talk about the details in the days ahead, but I hope my colleagues in Congress don’t let partisan politics stand in the way of approving what could be a historic deal to stop the spread of nuclear weapons.”

All Maine politicians like to talk non-partisanship and many Maine voters enjoy hearing non-partisan rhetoric, but Representative Pingree, a member of the ultra-leftist “Progressive Caucus”, does not provide a very convincing non-par model. We can infer the leftward ideological tilt from her statement and we can expect Angus to tilt in the direction she indicates. He reads the same columnists she does.

Although the definition is often blurred, “partisanship” is a word derived from “party” and refers to a loyalty to political party interests that exceeds loyalty to the public or national interest. Since this also tends to incorporate self interest we know it is a constant influence on political decisions. In the narrowest sense this means Democratic congressmammals will tend to support a Democratic president while Republican congressmammals would rather see him trip and fall on his face. Voters don’t like this. Politicians of both parties pretend it isn’t so. It is.

Angus King’s pretense of non-partisan “independence” appeals to many Maine voters who haven’t noticed that he caucuses with the Democrats and that they reward him with seats on the important Senate Intelligence and Armed Service Committees. If you believe in his non-partisan stance then you more or less have to believe that the Democratic Party is non-partisan. How likely is that?

The problem for Maine’s junior senator is this: some Democratic congressmammals are showing signs of actual non-partisanship, i.e., they aren’t convinced that Barack Obama’s support for the JCPOA is sufficient grounds for casting an “aye” vote. So our Angus talks a lot about his decision-making “process” rather than an actual decision. His official statement “welcoming” the agreement is carefully hedged: “I look forward to thoroughly examining the details to determine whether or not the deal contains the necessary provisions to ensure that Iran cannot develop nuclear weapons capability.”

We can’t say for sure that the man is holding a wetted finger up to examine the shifting winds of public opinion, but we can say for sure that this is the response we normally expect from a political opportunist. Such politicians regularly follow the counsel communicated by their wetted fingers.

Senator King is nor at all clear on how he plans to evaluate the details beyond telling us “As I have long said, this deal cannot be based on trust. It must be based on strict enforcement and verification provisions, and a responsible review of the deal by Congress is a critical part of that process. It’s now time for Congress to step up and analyze this agreement on its merits to see if it meets the high standards necessary to be successful.”

Rep. Bruce Poliquin believes that the JCPOA is “a bad mistake of historic proportions.” He doesn’t describe his decision-making process but states unambiguously that “I remain committed in standing firm with one of our strongest allies in the Middle East. We should stand with Israel, opposing aggression from Iran — a state sponsor of terrorism.”

Senator Collins, like Poliquin skips over the decision process and gets straight to the gist of the nuclear question. “A verifiable diplomatic agreement that prevents Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and dismantles its nuclear infrastructure is the desired outcome; however, it is far from clear that this agreement will accomplish those goals” More explicitly our senior senator observes that the deal will “delay, rather than dismantle” Iran’s capability to construct a nuclear weapon.”

“Far from clear” is a phrase that leaves room for discussion and debate, but she shares Representative Poliquin’s concern about Iran’s support for terrorist organizations that target the United States and Israel. She notes that the agreement allows an immediate and substantial increase in the resources Iran will have to support attacks on the United States and its allies.

Here’s a summary of the Maine congressional delegation’s views on JCPOA. Representative Pingree has nothing to say about subsidizing continued attacks on the United States and its allies, but believes a comprehensive, international agreement offers the best chance to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons program. She doesn’t actually say it will stop the program. She says it offers the best chance of stopping it. Collins thinks it may delay development at best. Poliquin is concerned about its potential for subsidizing and expanding violence in the Middle East.

Angus King hopes for a smooth decision-making process.


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