In 2012, Dr. Lamont Colucci was approached by U.S. News and World Report to write a weekly column on foreign policy and national security. This is under the aegis of World Report – Insights, perspectives, and commentary on foreign affairs. View the article on USNews.com
In 1797, President John Adams sent three American envoys to France in an attempt to forestall war between the United States and its Revolutionary War ally. The three Americans – Elbridge Gerry, Charles Pinckney and John Marshall – were blocked from meeting the French foreign minister by intermediaries, known as XYZ, who relayed the message that if the Americans wanted such a meeting, they would need to provide an enormous bribe not only to France, but to the foreign minister himself. The result of this attempted diplomatic coercion was a fever-pitch call to war in Congress and combat between the U.S. Navy and the French. There were two lasting legacies to this affair: It provided the final ammunition to justify the creation of a permanent U.S. Navy, and it led to the Logan Act, which makes it illegal for private American citizens to engage in personal foreign policy. This is a rather large set of legacies for an event most Americans are not aware of. Finally, it was a complete embarrassment for France and Foreign Minister Charles Maurice de Talleyrand.
What is the point of reminding readers of this vignette in American foreign policy history? We recently witnessed a contemporary XYZ Affair, dubbed by this author as the Senate Shakedown of 2015. In this story, foreign diplomats from Russia, China, Britain, Germany and France were encouraged by the Obama administration and assisted by Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz to pressure senators to vote for President Barack Obama’s nuclear agreement with Iran. This foreign strong-arm team put up a united front against those in Congress who oppose the appeasement agreement.
The Obama-brokered meeting was designed to coerce senators into supporting the administration’s plan by declaring that the U.S. would stand alone vis-a-vis Iran and that sanctions would not be reimposed should the Senate fail to endorse the deal. This was made particularly clear by the Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Even Germany’s ambassador to the U.S. suggested that, if Republicans block the deal, other countries may ask, “Why should I be following [this] Congress?” Moniz has also thown fuel on to the fire by stating that, “It also establishes unprecedented verification measures.” And what real world does he live in? The world in which the only verification system is on-demand inspections or the world in which we replay the low-grade movie of the mid-1990s, where we knew the North Koreans were violating all the agreements, but could not get inspections on demand to verify it? This movie ends with the Kim family riding a nuclear missile down Tokyo’s tailpipe like Slim Pickens in “Doctor Strangelove.”
Thus a twin-pronged foreign extortion racket made clear that individually, and as the major players of the Security Council, this foreign strong-arm team would actively oppose the United States if it failed to enact the worst foreign policy decision of Obama’s two terms. Let everyone pause and let this all sink in: The lone superpower of the world, guarantor of international stability, last bastion to ensure human rights, democracy and global trade invited foreign diplomats to intimidate senators of the Republic for their own commercial and military interests. In the case of our European allies, they clearly see the potential business profits to be made by a reopening of the Iranian market. The Russians and Chinese not only see the economic benefits, but the ability to use a reopened Iran for military and diplomatic benefits to thwart American interests.
A person might have a hard time deciding whether they were more shocked at the international racketeering or at the actions of the White House, so desperate for this sham agreement that they needed to use foreign diplomats to do their dirty work. We might pine for the days when France was only asking for bribes, and they were embarrassed. What do we call the actions of our own government at this time?