ABILENE — ”How many of you know what was in the Iran (nuclear) agreement?” former U.S. Sen. Nancy Kassebaum, R-Kansas, asked members of the Abilene Rotary Club Friday afternoon.
“I do, because I signed on in support of it,” she said. “What was important in my mind ... our top intelligence all supported it, because it gave us an opportunity to know what was going on in Iran to a certain extent -- a connect we need to have.”
President Donald Trump on Tuesday pulled out of the Iran Nuclear War Agreement, formerly known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
“I think by our just tearing it up, we’ve probably really helped Russia more than anybody,” Kassebaum said. “Obviously, Russia is looking for a means to be able to assert control over the Middle East.”
Kassebaum, who spends most of her time now on her farm in Morris County, served as a U.S. senator for Kansas from 1978 to 1997. She spoke to Rotary members about a wide range of topics, including the influence of social media, voting, education, foreign trade policies and the importance of being involved in your community.
She said prior to the meeting that she has not been a fan of Trump “from the very first Republican debate.”
“I even have a hard time thinking of him as a Republican,” she said.
Kassebaum said she supported the Iran agreement because it was monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
“What it did was limit for up to 10 years their ability to enrich uranium, so they were not going to be able to complete their nuclear warheads,” she said. “It was a small way to show that we could somehow cover what was going on. Now, we’re out. I think the unintended consequences may be harsh.”
The agreement, many people believe, was critical in preventing a potential nuclear war in the Middle East.
Iran president Hassan Rouhani said immediately following Trump’s withdrawal that uranium enrichment could began in the near future.
“So if necessary, we can begin our industrial enrichment without any limitations,” he said during a live broadcast. “Until implementation of this decision, we will wait for some weeks and will talk with our friends and allies and other signatories of the nuclear deal, who signed it and who will remain loyal to it. Everything depends on our national interests.”
Bad social media
Kassebaum said social media “is hurting our political ability to have dialogue or debate.”
“I hate to raise it (the issue), because my seven grandchildren just think it’s outrageous that I would even criticize social media,” she said. “And they’re right, I’m just too stubborn I don’t even do email. Some of you might be glad.”
That social online communication, she said, “is missing something that we lack today and I think it’s that ability to sit around and debate the issues before us.”
Kassebaum singled out groups like the Anti-Saloon League, the leading lobbyist for prohibition, as groups that spoke how they felt and pushed for dialogue.
“Carrie Nation left no doubt about how she felt about drinking,” she said. “It wasn’t something that was just on TV, it was out getting with a group being able to debate, being able to talk about the issues today. That’s one of the things that bother me.”
Kassebaum applauded the younger generation “who are willing to stand up,” following the high school shooting in Florida on Valentine’s Day.
“If we are going to accomplish anything, it has to be a willingness to involve ourselves and not just get in our own corner,” she said. “That is where we need again to draw the young people in and say we do care. Education is the foundation.”
She said she hopes the teenagers running for Kansas governor are serious.
“I hope they have thought of the issues. You don’t run for office just for the fun of it. It takes thoughtfulness. It takes a dedication,” she said.
Kassebaum said it is just as important to be on the school board, county and city commission and state government “as it is to be in Washington.”
“You need the collaboration between all of those different entities to make up a successful, positive government,” she said.
When it comes to agriculture in Kansas, Kassebaum warned of what could happen if the North America Free Trade Agreement between the U.S., Canada and Mexico is dismissed.
“Mexico takes our biggest supply of corn,” she said. “Their biggest corn supply comes from the U.S.”
Kassebaum said the current Congress “isn’t able to reach across the aisle.”
She said that during his vote against the Trump-supported health care bill, Sen. John McCain mentioned Regular Order, which means amendments or new bills go through committees of jurisdiction and are debated between Republicans and Democrats.
“That, to me, represents what isn’t happening,” she said. “You have to be able to reach across the aisle. You have to sit down and discuss. I bet three-fourths of us would all differ on various issues here in the room and that’s as it should be. That’s what democracy is all about.”
Her late husband, Howard Baker, who served as a Tennessee senator from 1967 to 1985, “could work across the aisle.”
“He used to say, ‘Listen, Nancy, the other fellow may have a good point,” she said, jokingly. “That was an era that is almost gone now, that could work across the aisle. Of course Sen. (Bob) Dole had that ability, too, but it’s certainly changed.”
Getting back to dialogue, she said, is essential to change.
“I was asked that one -- who were your allies and who were your foes — and I said that’s not the way we did things then,” she said. “That’s one of the things I think is a mistake today. Everybody sort of gets in their own corner — the Republicans and the Democrats — and it’s so hard to have a dialogue and a debate that helps people understand really what is at stake and what we’re talking about.”