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Dusting off the Logan Act

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

When there's nothing to argue about, knee-jerk critics of Arkansas' junior senator -- energetic and determined Tom Cotton -- will argue about nothing. In this case, about the antiquated Logan Act, which you might say was antiquated from the moment it was passed in 1799. For it was part of the Federalist Party's package of Alien and Sedition Acts, a conglomeration of bad ideas and worse law designed to silence the Jeffersonian opposition.


Such tactics didn't work then, and will surely prove at least as futile now when they're rolled out of mothballs to silence Sen. Cotton, a man who does not silence easily -- if at all. The notorious Logan Act made it a crime for a private citizen to correspond with a foreign government "without authority" -- but Tom Cotton is a sitting member of the U.S. Senate, the body that must approve treaties with foreign governments. Surely that is authority enough to express his views. To anybody. And that includes foreign governments.

Oh, yes, the senator is also a citizen of the United States who, like all of us, enjoys freedom of speech under the First Amendment. If that's not sufficient "authority" to express his opinion -- to anybody -- what would be? The man is an American; he can look anybody in the eye and say just what he thinks. Without apology or hesitation. May he continue to do so. May all of us.

The latest nitpicking criticism directed at Sen. Cotton by the White House, State Department and their legalistic minions demonstrates mainly the historical ignorance and partisan arrogance of this administration. To quote Stephen Vladeck, professor of law at American University in Washington: "The larger problem is that the Logan Act is a relic of an era in which Congress routinely criminalized political differences. It was enacted about the same time as the heavily discredited Alien and Sedition Acts."


Peter Spiro, another professor of law, has contributed this bit of woolly speculation to the debate: "All of this is academic because nobody is going to get prosecuted under the Logan Act, but if there were ever a good case for prosecution (and there never is), this is probably as close as it gets to a pretty clear case."

Right. And if pigs had wings, they could fly. Or at least bump along as awkwardly as Tom Cotton's congenital critics.

Meanwhile, another great charade continues as this administration tries to shift the whole ground of American diplomacy in the Middle East, moving away from all this country's old friends and allies. Such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Jordan, the Persian Gulf emirates. Instead, the administration is embracing old enemies like Iran's mullahs as they get a nuclear weapon of their own. With all the uncertainty and danger that would unleash throughout the region and maybe world. With the result that the Arab states are moving toward forming a new military alliance of their own to fill the power vacuum America is leaving behind.

There has scarcely been a more cynical or futile diplomatic reversal since the Nazi-Soviet Pact set the stage for the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 -- an alliance of "convenience" that would soon be undone when the Nazis turned around and invaded the Soviet Union in 1941. When the partners to a diplomatic deal neither trust each other nor should, then abandon hope all ye who enter so dangerous a diplomatic quagmire.


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