Ms. Pelosi, in a telephone interview from Lisbon on Friday, said she could not account for the Bush administration’s assault, which she at one point equated to a tantrum. (She said her children were teasing her about Mr. Cheney’s accusation of bad behavior.) Defending her trip, Ms. Pelosi said that members of Congress had a responsibility to play a role in national security issues and that they needed to be able to gather information on their own, and not be dependent on the White House.
“I am used to the administration; nothing surprises me,” she said. “Having said that, I hope we can have the opportunity to convey to the president what we saw.”
Righties are acting as if congress critters aren’t allowed to go talk to foreign heads of state, but of course they do it all the time and have for generations. My understanding is that no one unauthorized by the White House can negotiate treaties or enter into any sort of agreement with a foreign government on behalf of the United States, but they certainly have every right to go talk to heads of state whenever they get in the mood. They have a duty, in fact, to be informed on foreign policy.
The Constitution, Article II, Section 2, paragraph 2:
He [the President] shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law: but the Congress may by Law vest the Appointment of such inferior Officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the Courts of Law, or in the Heads of Departments.
[Update: I forgot this — In Article I, Section 8, Congress also has power to regulate foreign commerce and define and punish offenses against the law of nations, not to mention its several enumerated war powers.]
So, you see, the White House does not have exclusive authority in foreign policy matters. The idea is that the President and Congress should work together on this foreign policy stuff. But Bush won’t work with anybody; he wants to be dictator. So he’s throwing a temper tantrum because Pelosi is carrying out the normal functions of a member of Congress.
Today righties are linking to an article that calls Pelosi a “dilettante.” If Pelosi, who was “the longest-serving member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence” according to her bio, is a dilettante, what does that make Bush? I’d guess he’s a cross between an amateur and a snapping turtle.
Later in the New York Times article:
Democrats say the complaints have a certain political expediency to them [ya think? — maha], and note that many of the same people criticizing Ms. Pelosi’s decision to delve into foreign policy were fine when Newt Gingrich, then the Republican speaker of the House, made his own foray into foreign policy back in 1997.
The Republican House leader, John A. Boehner of Ohio, criticized Ms. Pelosi’s trip, telling reporters that she was in Syria “for one reason, and that is to embarrass the president.” In 1997, Mr. Boehner accompanied Mr. Gingrich to China, and called the trip “very educational.”
You might remember that Glenn Greenwald blogged about the 1997 trip to China earlier this week. On this trip Gingrich attempted to countermand Clinton Administration policy, which exceeded his constitutional authority. And yesterday I quoted this bit from an article by Scott Lilly:
Unlike Pelosi, [former Republican House Speaker Dennis] Hastert and his staff were not reticent to speak on behalf of the United States government, nor were they worried about negotiating as though they were official emissaries of the president. But unlike Pelosi, they were not accompanied by officials of the embassy and often did not inform the embassy of their visits. On occasion they even denied embassy requests to attend the meetings they were holding with officials of the Colombian government.
Over the course of several years, Hastert’s aides negotiated billions of dollars in U.S. arms assistance to elements of the Colombian military for specific weapons chosen as a result of meetings between Hastert’s staff and Colombian officials. Following the negotiations, Hastert would insist that the funds be inserted in appropriation bills; after the weapons were purchased, Hastert’s staff would show up for their delivery.
Hastert got away with this behavior because officials in the Clinton administration knew he and his staff could wreak havoc on a wide range of administration priorities. Clinton officials decided to look the other way rather than confront this outrageous intrusion into the constitutional powers of the president.
By contrast, Pelosi and a group of other congresspersons talked to President Assad of Syria for “more than an hour.” At least one Republican admitted that Pelosi didn’t say anything out of line to Assad.
Rep. David L. Hobson of Springfield, who joined Pelosi and other lawmakers in a meeting yesterday with Syrian President Bashar Assad, disagreed with Boehner that Pelosi “came here to embarrass Bush. I think she came here to reinforce certain policies, understand the region better and have the region understand her better.”
In a telephone interview last night from Saudi Arabia, Hobson said Pelosi “did not engage in any bashing of Bush in any meeting I was in and she did not in any meeting I was in bash the policies as it relates to Syria.”
Instead, Hobson said, Pelosi and the congressional delegation urged Assad to curb the number of suicide bombers who cross the Syrian border into Iraq to “murder our troops and the Iraqi people.”
For this, the Right has worked itself into an inchoate rage. They are, we might say, unhinged.
Update: See also this NY Times editorial:
There is at least one point on which we and the critics of Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Damascus can agree: It is the White House, not the speaker of the House, that should be taking the diplomatic lead. But the Bush administration has far more appetite for scoring political points than figuring out whether talking to Syria might help contain the bloodletting in Iraq or revive efforts to negotiate peace.
So long as Mr. Bush continues to shun high-level discussions with this troublesome but strategically located neighbor of Israel, Lebanon and Iraq, such Congressional visits can serve the useful purpose of spurring a much needed examination of the administration’s failed policies.
Ms. Pelosi and the five Democrats and one Republican who accompanied her are scarcely the first to raise such questions during the three years that Mr. Bush has instructed his top envoys — and reportedly Israel as well — to avoid negotiations with Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad. Plenty of other Republicans and Democrats have been taking similar trips and offering similar advice. They were ignored, but spared the White House’s ridicule.
I didn’t know Bush was The Decider for Israel as well. Weird.
In the administration’s perverse view, the only legitimate time for negotiations would be after the most contentious and difficult issues — Syria’s support for Hamas and Hezbollah, its meddling in Lebanon and open border with Iraq — have already been resolved. Thus, what ought to be the main agenda points for diplomatic discussions have been turned into a set of preconditions designed to ensure that no discussions ever take place.
It seems Bush learned all he thought he needed to know in kindergarten. “Do what I want or I won’t talk to you” might be acceptable on a playground but not, I think, in international relations.
Update2: The Heretik says, “Bush believes all conversations end at the barrel of a gun, which is one reason he has shot himself in the foot.”