My cousins, Marjorie and Ellen, couldn't be too much different. Listening to them, it's tough to believe they're sisters. Pick an issue -- if it's possible for them to take opposite sides, well, they do.

Remember that dress that some saw as white and gold and others said was black and blue? Whichever way one of them saw it, I'm sure the other one saw it differently. Politics? One is liberal, the other conservative. At family gatherings, they bury the hatchet, mostly in each other. But should either of them have a problem, they turn to each other. As contentious as they are toward each other, that's how much they support each other. Their fussing never gets in the way of family ties.

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At one time, the political parties were like Margie and Ellen. In the aftermath of World War II, Sen. Arthur Vandenberg, a leading candidate for the 1948 Republican presidential nomination, put political partisanship aside to work with the Truman administration, clearing the way for forming NATO. Most historians agree that without Vandenberg's declaration, "politics stops at the water's edge" and then his putting his considerable influence behind the Senate's reaching a bipartisan agreement to support Truman's efforts, NATO would never have been born.

As of today, the United States, in concert with four European nations and China, is engaged in difficult negotiations with Iran to restrict that country's capacity. What brought Iran to the bargaining table in the first place are the broad economic sanctions in place against the Iranian government. It took more than 20 years of coalition building and the increased supply of oil made possible by fracking to create the political and economic noose around Iran without also hurting American and European economies.

Every President since Jimmy Carter has had bipartisan support in dealing with the Iranians. But not now: today's national Republican Party lacks the leadership, the courage and the patriotism that Vandenberg displayed. Their actions have proven beyond doubt that their agenda is partisan opposition to the President on all matters, even if it means weakening the country or threatening its security. Let's examine the evidence: most recently, 47 senators, all Republican, signed "An open letter to the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran," condescendingly informing them that any deal they might make with President Obama would be temporary. Leaving aside the factual errors in the note, the Senate has no authority under law to discuss treaties with any foreign government. And let me be clear, the Cotton letter was not the position of the United States Senate. It was entirely the production of the Republican Party's right wing. That letter was intended to weaken the Administration's negating position. Even John McCain said, "maybe it wasn't the best way."

More importantly, though, the letter has the effect of saying to the Ayatollahs that it's pointless to negotiate with the United States, France, England, China, Russia, and Germany. Even if the P5-plus-1 talks have just a faint chance of producing a satisfactory agreement, breaking off discussions leaves no chance at all for any agreement. There are sure to be areas, such as a long breakout time, where the potential agreement can be improved, but neither side will get all it wants.

But Israeli PM Netanyahu said that Iran's total surrender to Israeli demands is the only thing he would accept. We know this because he told Congress as much. House Speaker John Boehner, whose job description doesn't include conducting foreign policy, and without the courtesy of informing the President, invited Netanyahu to tell us that no deal at all is better than anything the United States and five other countries can come up with against an economically weakened Iran. Did the Republicans really think it was necessary or wise to bring the leader of a foreign government to insult our President and further encourage Iran not to negotiate?

If Iran believes that political conflicts in the United States make us a less reliable negotiating partner, they'll become more intransigent, not less. Iran's radical leadership won't compromise on its nuclear program unless they believe they can trust us. Cotton, Boehner and the Republican leadership encourage the Ayatollahs to remain intransigent, and that is very bad indeed for Obama, but worse for the United States.

Mitch Edelman writes from Finksburg. His column appears every second Tuesday. Email him at mjemath@gmail.com.

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