Ignore the Fake Treaty Fetishists

There is nothing magical about a ratified treaty that guarantees that it will survive presidential whims

Iran hawks are never less credible than when they talk about making the nuclear deal that they hate into a treaty. Here is a Bloomberg editorial calling for just that:

The smarter course for both sides is to hold out for a treaty, sanctioned by the U.S. Senate.

This is not a serious proposal, and the recent experience with the Trump administration shows why. The Treaty on Open Skies and the INF Treaty were both ratified by the Senate by overwhelming majorities, they had been very successful agreements that benefited all parties, and then on the pretext of some Russian violations Trump pulled out of both of them. The INF Treaty is now dead, and Open Skies is on its way to being buried now that Biden has said he won’t try to rejoin. I happen to believe that quitting both treaties was a serious error, but no matter what you think about those decisions it is obvious that there is nothing magical about a ratified treaty that guarantees that it will survive presidential whims. Once it was conceded that presidents could cancel U.S. treaty commitments, there is nothing that makes a treaty any more durable than an executive agreement or any other deal struck by U.S. negotiators.

One reason why presidents have resorted to making other kinds of agreements is that the Senate will no longer ratify important treaties. The ratification fight over the completely unobjectionable New START was like pulling teeth, and that was one of the last major treaties that the Senate approved. The same treaty very nearly expired because Trump refused to extend it, and it is difficult to imagine that today’s evenly-divided Senate would be able to ratify a similar treaty. Obama was able to get enough votes in 2010 only because Democrats held a large majority with 59 members and needed just seven Republicans to cross the aisle. Biden would need more than twice as many Republicans to ratify a treaty now. It’s obviously not happening, but the fact that Iran hawks keep coming back to this ridiculous proposal year after year shows just how deep their hostility to diplomacy goes.

Insisting that important agreements have to be submitted as treaties is the same as saying that you think that the U.S. should abandon diplomacy entirely. The fake treaty fetishists don’t respect treaties more than anyone else. On the contrary, they are usually the first ones to seize on the smallest violation as an excuse to get rid of existing treaties. They want an agreement with Iran to be submitted as a treaty to guarantee that there will be no agreement. Lockstep, unanimous Republican opposition to any agreement that Iran might conceivably accept makes it a certainty that a treaty vote would fail. The Bloomberg editors know this, and that is why they are making their bad faith argument.