Lessons From 9/11 and the Iran Deal

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U.S. foreign policy, once defined by a bipartisan spirit, has devolved into a game whose rules are plagued with loopholes and asterisks and the mistaken idea that political parties can "win" it. 

Today, on the anniversary of 9/11, Congress continues to play this winner-less game, more concerned with the political consequences of their Thursday vote (or non-vote, as it may be) than with national security itself. 

And this is where Sen. Arthur Vandenberg, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1947 and creator of the now famous phrase that "party politics must stop at the water's edge," would be so severely disappointed. The Iran nuclear deal is being used as a divisive political tool instead of grounds to unite these bitterly divided political parties. 

For the first time in history, our nation will pass an arms control agreement without bipartisan support. Fourteen years ago, after an unimaginable attack on our country on our own soil, our leaders -- not all of whom supported the Patriot Act -- stood shoulder to shoulder and faced the world together. Recognizing the need to present a united front, and perhaps feeling the need to support one another after what would be the most devastating attack on U.S. soil, our leaders worked together, supported each other, and supported their president. No games, no blame, just collaboration to respond, and defend. 

Our nation has a strong legacy of bipartisanship in foreign policy. And rightly so. Solidarity between parties, between our branches of government is essential in projecting strength and unity on the world stage. Now, instead of underscoring our nation's commitment to national security by rallying to support each other, our leaders have further divided along party lines to prove a point -- to each other. And it begs the question: What is the point? 

Is it to see who looks like the hero in this election cycle? Is it to see who can create the most ingenious loophole? Who can duck a vote and thereby circumvent the blame, the outrage of constituents? Will anyone remember which wily resolution passed or didn't? Will anyone care, if our nation loses standing on the international stage because we were too busy infighting, playing political games and amassing political favors behind closed doors?  

There are no signs that the bipartisan support of yesterday will resurface for tomorrow's votes, or for the news cycle that follows. The type of governing that led the 107th Congress through one of the darkest times in our history, the camaraderie between opposing parties like President Clinton and Speaker Gingrich, or President Reagan and Tip O'Neill simply doesn't exist in our government anymore. House Republicans and Senate Republicans are divided over which tactic to use in an effort to push blame onto Democrats. Democrats, unwilling to actually vote for fear it would show a divide in the party, hoped to avoid the entire affair by allowing the resolution to die on the Senate floor. 

In other words, the games have begun, but the governing has stopped. 

This is to the detriment not just of the political players, but to our nation, and ourselves. We open ourselves to weakness when we show other countries just how far we will go to prove one party the "winner" and the opposing party the "loser." In the end, it's all a wash, because in the end, it's our nation that loses the game. 

Many are calling this vote "historic" and it may be so, but not because it is a "vote for peace" or the day that our nation "agreed to guarantee that the means of its own destruction ... in the hands of another nation." It will be historic because, for the first time, our leaders did not set party politics aside to properly consider foreign policy.  

History will be made for the sake of winning votes, winning favors, and winning elections. But it will be our government as a whole that history will look back on as having lost -- lost the ability to effectively govern. 

Fourteen years ago, the world stood still, watching in awe as a leading superpower was attacked. And the world continued to watch our response. In a time of crisis, Democrats and Republicans were able to unify -- if only for a moment -- to present a strong, undivided, impenetrable front.  

We cannot wait for another catastrophe like 9/11 to demonstrate our capacity to work together. Foreign policy is too fragile, too dangerous to be simply a political game.  

If our leaders continue to play party politics this way, we all will lose.

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