VDH is in the italics and the red is my commentary plus a whole slew of factoids and whatnot culled from the Internets. Throw your best bits into the comments and see if you can come up with better stuff that refutes VDH.
October 18, 2007
Congress's New Role: Undermining U.S. Foreign Policy (by Victor Davis Hanson)
The president establishes American foreign policy and is commander in chief. At least that's what the Constitution states. Then Congress oversees the president's policies by either granting or withholding money to carry them out - in addition to approving treaties and authorizing war.
Apparently, the founding fathers were worried about dozens of renegade congressional leaders and committees speaking on behalf of the United States and opportunistically freelancing with foreign leaders.
[Actually, the Founding Fathers were far more concerned about a renegade Executive, and created the Congress in Article 1 of the Constitution to give that institution the power to hold in check any effort to steer this country towards ruin. ]
In our past, self-appointed moralists - from Charles Lindbergh and Joe Kennedy to Jimmy Carter and Jesse Jackson - have, from time to time, tried to engage in diplomacy directly contrary to the president's.
But usually Americans agree to let one elected president and his secretary of state speak for the United States abroad. Then if they're displeased with the results, they can show it at the ballot box every two years in national or midterm elections.
[No, they don't. "My job as majority leader is be supportive of our troops and to try to have input as decisions are made and to look at those decisions after they're made ... not to march in lock step with everything the president decides to do."-Senator Trent Lott (R-MS)]
But recently hundreds in Congress have decided that they're better suited to handle international affairs than the State Department.
[Yeah, we've heard that before. "I cannot support a failed foreign policy. History teaches us that it is often easier to make war than peace. This administration is just learning that lesson right now. The President began this mission with very vague objectives and lots of unanswered questions. A month later, these questions are still unanswered. There are no clarified rules of engagement. There is no timetable. There is no legitimate definition of victory. There is no contingency plan for mission creep. There is no clear funding program. There is no agenda to bolster our over-extended military. There is no explanation defining what vital national interests are at stake. There was no strategic plan for war when the President started this thing, and there still is no plan today"--Rep Tom Delay (R-TX)]
The U.S. Senate late last month passed a resolution urging the de facto breakup of wartime Iraq into federal enclaves along sectarian lines - even though this is not the official policy of the Bush administration, much less the wish of a sovereign elected government in Baghdad.
That Senate vote only makes it tougher for 160,000 American soldiers to stabilize a unitary Iraq. And Iraqis I spoke with during my recent trip to Iraq are confused over why the U.S. Congress would preach to them how to split apart their own country.
[Anything that puts an end to the ethnic cleansing in Iraq would have to be an improvement over what is going on right now. In fact, it's probably too late to stop the ethnic cleansing. But wait a minute--what do the Iraqis think?
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani endorsed a plan gaining support in the U.S. Congress to divide Iraq along ethnic lines into three separate regions under a limited central government. [snip] “I think the resolution passed by the Senate is a very good one,” Talabani said today on CNN’s “Late Edition” program. “It is insisting on the unity of Iraq, of the security of Iraq, of the prosperity of Iraq, of national reconciliation and asking our neighbors not to interfere in the internal affairs of Iraq.”]
Then, last week, the House Foreign Affairs Committee passed a resolution condemning Turkey for genocide against the Armenian people, atrocities committed nearly a century ago during the waning years of the Ottoman Empire.
If the entire House approves the resolution, the enraged Ankara government could do everything from invade Iraqi Kurdistan - in hot pursuit of suspected Kurdish guerrillas - to curtail U.S. over-flight privileges and restrict use of American military bases in Turkey.
[This has been going on for quite a while and has nothing to do with current policies. Long before the US invaded Iraq, Turkey was sending troops into Northern Iraq. "In recent weeks, the Turkish military has deployed thousands more troops and 100 tanks along the border with Iraq, ostensibly for exercises that have been billed as a routine reinforcement for an expected spring PKK offensive. But this buildup is causing speculation that Turkey could repeat past incursions, such as a 1995 operation that lasted for months and a 1997 attack that brought 50,000 Turkish troops deep into Iraqi territory. ]
This new falling-out could interfere with supplying our soldiers in Iraq. And it complicates a myriad of issues, from the NATO alliance to Turkey's bid to join the European Union.
The speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, earlier this year took another hot-button foreign-policy matter into her own hands when she made a special trip to reach out to Syria's strongman, Bashar Assad.
That visit to Damascus was played up in the government-run Syrian press as proof that ordinary Americans don't feel that Syria is a state sponsor of terrorism. Never mind that the Assad dictatorship helps terrorists get into Iraq to kill American soldiers, is suspected of involvement with the assassinations of journalists and democratic leaders in Lebanon, and recently had bombed by the Israelis a facility reported to contain a partially built nuclear reactor.
[Late 2006: Sen. Arlen Specter, a 26-year Senate Republican, said he will visit Syria despite loud objections by the Bush administration, contending the situation in Iraq is so dire that it is time Congress step up to the plate and see what it can do. Specter, R-Pa., said in an interview late Friday that he is planning a trip to the Middle East that will include Israel and Syria. The senator said he and other Republicans are concerned that the administration's policies in the Middle East are not working and that other GOP members may follow in his footsteps.
"I've talked to my Republican colleagues, and there is a disquiet here," Specter said.]
What are we to make of a Congress that now wants to establish rather than just oversee U.S. foreign policy? Can it act as a foil to the president and so give our diplomats leverage abroad with wayward nations: "We suggest you do x, before our volatile Congress demands we do y?"
Maybe - but any good is vastly outweighed by the bad. Partisan politics often drive these anti-administration foreign policies, aimed at making the president look weak abroad and embarrassed at home.
[The Republican House, guided by then Majority Whip Tom DeLay, actually voted 213-213 against paying the cost for U.S. military involvement while our troops were on the ground. Forty Republican Senators also voted against that funding bill.]
House representatives too often preach their own district politics, less so the American people's interest as a whole. What might ensure their re-election or win local campaign funds isn't necessarily good for the United States and its allies.
And too often we see frustrated senators posture in debate during televised hearings, trying out for the role of chief executive or commander in chief. Most could never get elected president - many have tried - but they seem to enjoy the notion that their own under-appreciated brilliance and insight should supersede the collective efforts of the State Department.
[What State Department? The one run by Condoleeza Rice couldn't get two people to talk to each other at a blabbermouths anonymous meeting. The Republicans have ruined the State Department, and left America with a crippled foreign policy establishment. From the Carnegie Endowment: "The gutting of the State Department dates back to the 1990s, when a Republican Congress, looking at a post-cold war world, slashed its personnel numbers by roughly one third. Several blue-ribbon studies revealed that the U.S. government cut funding for foreign affairs programs from over $5 billion in 1996 to $3.64 billion in 2000 (in 1996 dollars). According to one report, these cuts also resulted in "decrepit facilities" at U.S. embassies that put American diplomacy "near a state of crisis."]
So they travel abroad, pass resolutions and pontificate a lot, but rarely have to clean up the ensuing mess of their own freelancing of American foreign policy.
[In 1999, this was the position of Rep. John Kasich: Kasich opposes all U.S. intervention in Kosovo under current circumstances, a spokesman for the Ohio Republican told CNN. Most recently, Kasich has urged the Clinton Administration to pursue mediation with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic rather than escalate the conflict. Though Kasich has been labelled an isolationist, he has in the past supported Clinton's bombing of terrorist targets in Afghanistan and Iraq. But in this case he told TIME magazine: "A great power has to have the discipline not only to go when necessary but to know when not to go ... Getting involved in ethnic, religious civil wars is a recipe for disaster." ]
Congress should stick to its constitutional mandate and quit the publicity gestures. If it is unhappy with the ongoing effort to stabilize a unified Iraq, then it should act seriously and vote to cut off all funds and bring the troops home.
["You can support the troops but not the president" -Representative Tom Delay (R-TX).]
If the House wants to punish Turkey for denying that its Ottoman forefathers engaged in a horrific genocide, then let congressional members likewise deny funds for our military to stay among such a genocide-denying amoral host.
[Depending on who you talk to, Republicans have never really been consistent when it comes to the slaughter of people. Senator Don Nickles of Oklahoma said [in 1999] last week that he would oppose a NATO bombing campaign "unless and until the Serbs really begin a very significant massacre against the people in Kosovo."]
If Speaker Pelosi believes that Syria is not a terrorist entity but a country worth re-engaging diplomatically, then let her in mature fashion introduce legislation that would resume full American financial relations with our new partner Damascus.
Otherwise, it's all talk - and dangerous talk at that.
[A U.S. Republican congressman met President Bashar Assad on Thursday, a day after a visit by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, spurning the White House policy of isolating the Syrian leadership. Congressman Darrell Issa of California said U.S. President George W. Bush had failed to promote the dialogue that is necessary to resolve disagreements between the United States and Syria. "That's an important message to realize: We have tensions, but we have two functioning embassies," Issa told reporters after separate meetings with Assad and Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem.]