Thomas Winn asked some very good questions regarding the Iran nuclear agreement, aka the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. They deserve to be answered.
Agreements between the United States and foreign countries can take three forms. The best known is called a treaty. This kind of agreement requires a two-thirds vote in the Senate to ratify. Another category of accord includes the executive agreement and the congressional-executive agreement. The former allows the president to make a pact with a foreign head of state on his own recognizance. The latter allows a vote of both houses of Congress to complete. However, this vote — as with most other congressional decisions — can be vetoed by the president.
Treaties are legally binding under U.S. law. Both treaties and executive agreements are politically binding under international law.
Between 1939 and 1989, over 94 percent of all U.S. international commitments took the form of an executive agreement rather than a treaty. Since 1939, there have been around 18,000 such agreements. None required Senate ratification.
Most constitutional authorities chalk this up to a modern foreign policy situation that is too complex to have been foreseen by our Founders. We simply need more flexibility than the Constitution technically allows. Presidential authority to enter into executive agreements has been upheld by our courts.
Ronald Reagan is actually the all-time champ in this area, with 2,840 executive agreements to 791 for President Barack Obama.
In his letter, Winn harks back to his high school civics class as his last encounter with this subject. Unfortunately, we teach so little in our schools about how our government really works that, if you have had only high school civics and history class and one class each in college of U.S. history and political science, you have only seen the tip of the tip of the tip of the iceberg.
Insofar as the Iran deal is concerned — I strongly urge anyone who wants (as Winn apparently does) to have an INFORMED opinion to Google “JCPOA summary.” Pick any of the results. They all give a reliable overview of the plan. The first one in the list (Key Excerpts) is only eight pages long.
In my opinion, this is the best deal we can get given the circumstances. That is, unless you are in favor of another pointless, costly and destabilizing war in the Middle East.