Thursday, 5 April 2007

Republican meets Syrian president, Pelosi battle continues

It's getting harder and harder for critics to criticize US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's diplomatic trips in the Middle East. I have written in defense of her. We have already seen some positive effects, namely Syria and Israel opening up to talks. Now a Republican, Rep. Darrell Issa, has met with Syrian President Bashir al-Assad.

"It is difficult to isolate Syria which is pivotal to finding solutions to all issues in the region," the Syrian agency quoted Assad as saying. Issa, who is of Lebanese dissent, also met Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem.

More than a dozen U.S. lawmakers have visited Damascus in the last four months and met Assad after the Iraq Study Group recommended to Republican President George W. Bush engaging with Damascus and Iran to help stabilize Iraq.

Pelosi urged Assad on Wednesday to end alleged Syrian support to rebels in Iraq and to use its influence with the Palestinian group Hamas.

Pelosi said holding a dialogue with the secular Syrian leader, whom the Bush administration has been trying to isolate, was in the U.S. interests.

This is hypocrisy at its extreme — American polarization mixing with regional dialogue. Pelosi gets heavily slammed by the White House and many members of the public — even CNN, and NYT to a lesser extent — for going to Syria and other countries on a largely-diplomatic capacity. Other Republicans have visited Syria and now Issa has met with the country's leader!

For more analysis on the Pelosi-foreign policy issue:
By law, Congress must keep out of diplomacy. In history, House speakers and lawmakers have crossed that line, some with the blessing of the president and some against his wishes.

Foreign policy experts generally agree that Pelosi's dealings with Middle East leaders have not strayed far, if at all, from those typical for a congressional trip. But in a nation deeply divided over America's role and standing in the world, the Democratic-led Congress's push into foreign policy has prompted a ferocious reaction from a White House doubly protective of its turf.
International uproar over a House speaker is something relatively new, said Brookings scholar Thomas E. Mann.

Pelosi is not making policy. That would be bending the law, although it is sometimes done. She is visiting, talking, being diplomatic without saying 'This is official policy' or 'This is where the United States stands' like Secretary Rice or President Bush can do.

Of course Pelosi's diplomacy has not been flawless. There were political and communication troubles on the Israeli issue. But is it really worse than nothing, no diplomacy with Syria at all? No, it isn't.

Update: A member of Pelosi's office points out what's fact and what's fiction. I am not a huge supporter of Pelosi, but the fact she can get slammed for taking a congressional diplomatic trip and others don't is very disturbing. The Washington Post editorial (see link in last paragraph) is obviously anti-Pelosi. Although it does point out some truths it is smothered in partisanship. The American news media has also cast a negative light on the trip. This is, in my opinion, all getting kind of ridiculous.

I guess the White House still does have plenty of support — enough to crack the line of political polarization once again and turn many against something they have little reason to dislike. I have yet to hear a convincing, logical argument outrightly against Pelosi's visit to Syria. It is not meddling. She is not going against Bush's policies any more than other Congresspeople have when they've visited.

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Wil Robinson said...

I noticed that Cheney said Pelosi used "bad behavior" in her foreign policy attempts, apparently screwing up something between Israeli and Syrian peace talks.

Cheney said she has no business making foreign policy, and that she made a mistake...

OK, I'll give him that, it's true, you can't have every Senator and House Member making their own foreign policy, it sends mixed messages. The President and Secretary of State should do that.

However, here's the Reuter's story:

"Vice President Dick Cheney accused U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday of "bad behavior" on her Middle East trip, saying she bungled a message for Syria's president that was later clarified by Israel."

Cheney noted that Israel had to clear up the mess.

So is he saying that it's OK for Israel to conduct US foreign policy but not one of our own elected leaders?

I think I'd rather have a US citizen making their own bungled attempts at foreign policy than say, a FOREIGN country.

Great point about the Republicans visiting Syria. Why isn't this in the "liberal" media???

clearthought said...

I agree Wil. Pelosi's diplomacy has not been perfect, but I think we need to open up communication with Syria before they get even closer to Iran. Isolation has made everything worse, not to mention we cannot have peace without discussion and diplomacy.

I wish Pelosi could have acted less official, but still this was not an 'official' visit like Secretary Rice would make. Pelosi has been praised by the Israelis and the Arab media — a rare thing for an American!

Pelosi is not instituting foreign policy, she is relaying messages and, more appropriately for a Congressperson, just meeting with officials and talking. Foreign congressional visits are not a rare thing, even, as we've seen, to a place like Syria.

Lastly, that Washington Post editorial was mostly rubbish. It made accusations Pelosi did not actually transmit the message from the Israelis to the Syrians, which every involved party seems to dispute.