Sen. Susan Collins stood against most of her Senate Republican colleagues a few weeks ago when she refused to sign Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton’s letter to the government of Iran. The missive was an attempt to undermine the diplomacy over Iran’s nuclear program being conducted by the U.S. State Department.

“It did not seem to me to be appropriate for us to be writing the ayatollah at this critical time during the negotiations, and frankly, I doubt very much that the ayatollah would be moved by an explanation of our constitutional system,” Collins said.

Maine’s junior senator, independent Angus King, similarly declined to sign, and has been a vocal proponent of the peace and disarmament process.

“The framework announced today is an important step forward in reaching a final deal between Iran and our P5+1 partners,” King said in a statement this week on the announcement of a preliminary deal with Tehran. “A nuclear-armed Iran is a dangerous proposition not only to the United States, but also to the rest of the world – and diplomacy is, as it always has been, the best way for the U.S. and its allies to mitigate that threat.”

These are important stands for both senators, not just against the crass partisanship of Senate Republicans, but also against the entirely upside-down approach that Congress usually takes to issues of war and peace.

As Elizabeth R. Beavers and Kate Gould, lobbyists for the Friends Committee on National Legislation (a Quaker-led organization working for peace and social justice), put it in a recent op-ed for MSNBC, “members of Congress want to micromanage peace, while putting war on autopilot.”

This simple encapsulation defines much of what is wrong with our nation’s foreign policy. On issues of diplomacy and peace, politicians, especially Republicans, far too often play games for political advantage. They seem to care far less about actual progress in Iran than they do about how “tough” posturing will help them personally in Iowa, or in their next tea party primary challenge.

On issues of war and military spending, however, they are far more willing to let things slide. Force authorizations go unquestioned, the use of torture goes unchallenged and military spending goes through the roof.

When Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon wrote a letter to the White House requesting more transparency on the use of military drones, for instance, only two of his colleagues joined him in signing on. All the letter asked for was an official interpretation of when the administration can take lethal action outside of declared war zones and against Americans.

“Every American deserves the right to know when their government believes it is allowed to kill them,” Wyden explained. It’s shocking that more of his colleagues don’t agree.

You might be surprised to learn that the incredibly broad 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force passed by Congress immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks is still in effect. Rather than rescind this emergency measure, Congress has continued to give American presidents a blank check to wage war.

Even the fiscal aspects of America’s military programs, which you’d think Republicans would focus on, given their cost-cutting rhetoric, get relatively little attention.

President Obama’s 2015 budget proposal would see non-war military spending increase to $549 billion, exceeding the spending caps imposed by Congress by $115 billion, according to the National Priorities Project, a research organization focused on federal budget transparency.

But that’s not enough for some in Congress. This month, the Republican-controlled House and Senate budget committees approved amendments to add $38 billion more, even while proposing deep new cuts to vital programs such as Medicare and food stamps.

Sens. King and Collins are in positions where they can help to end this hypocrisy and turn things around. King serves on the Senate Intelligence and Armed Services committees and has an important oversight role in the passage of Defense Authorization Acts. Collins serves on the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee and has significant power over how military funding is spent. Few state delegations in the nation have more influence over these issues.

Traditionally, Maine’s senators have used positions like these to advocate for steady spending on shipbuilding as a way of safeguarding jobs at Bath Iron Works and the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. At this crucial moment, however, Maine’s representatives in Washington also should take a broader view and ask deeper questions about our military spending, our foreign policy goals and our priorities as a nation.

Mike Tipping is a political junkie who works for the Maine People’s Alliance. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @miketipping


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