EVEN AS a matter of political self-interest, President Bush made himself look bad by carping about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit yesterday in Damascus with Syria’s president, Bashar Assad.
Bush’s complaint that Pelosi and the bipartisan congressional delegation were sending “mixed signals” made it appear that Bush either resents or refuses to accept the Constitution’s unambiguous granting of extensive powers in foreign policy to the legislative branch. Pelosi and her colleagues were doing what innumerable delegations of senators and representatives have done in the past: traveling abroad to consult with foreign leaders, gather information, and enhance their ability to fulfill their obligations to advise, consent, and appropriate funds. Republican congressmen met with Assad last week. If the American system of checks and balances is to function properly, the co-equal legislative branch must exercise its powers to check and balance the actions of the executive branch.
Predictably, the Washington Post editorial on the Pelosi trip calls it “foolish shuttle diplomacy.” It’s a foolish editorial, which you may read if you like. I’m skipping right to the commentary. Nico at Think Progress:
The Washington Post editorial page today published a vicious editorial attacking Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), calling her â€œludicrousâ€ and describing her bipartisan trip to Syria as an â€œattempt to establish a shadow presidency.â€
The editorial rests on two claims, both of which are baseless.
1) Pelosi passed an incorrect message from Israel to Syria. Pelosi said yesterday that she gave Syrian officials the message that Israel is â€œready to engage in peace talks.â€ The Post falsely claims, â€œThe Israeli prime minister entrusted Ms. Pelosi with no such message,â€ misinterpreting a statement from the Israeli Prime Ministerâ€™s office that simply reiterated its position that talks with Syria will not take place until Syria has taken steps to end its support for extremist elements. There is no evidence that Pelosi failed to communicate this message. In fact, Pelosiâ€™s delegation specifically pressed the Syrian president â€œover Syriaâ€™s support for militant groups and insist[ed] that his government block militants seeking to cross into Iraq and join insurgents there.â€
2) Pelosi is attempting to â€œestablish a shadow presidency.â€ This claim is directly contradicted by the Postâ€™s own reporting this morning, which states, â€œForeign policy experts generally agree that Pelosiâ€™s dealings with Middle East leaders have not strayed far, if at all, from those typical for a congressional trip.â€ Pelosi herself has â€œdescribed the trip as little different than the visit paid to Syria the same week led by Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-VA),â€ and she went to great lengths to express her unity of purpose with President Bush on terrorism issues. The Postâ€™s own reporting today also cites several instances of members of Congress meeting with foreign leaders during the past 30 years. As ThinkProgress noted yesterday, in contrast with Pelosiâ€™s trip, previous congressional actions abroad attempted to directly undermine President Clinton.
See also Frank James at The Swamp.
The Washington Post editorial board should apologize for its over-the-top, and borderline sexist, attack on Pelosi for visiting Syria. Itâ€™s fine if they have substantive disagreements, but the mocking language they used (â€œludicrous,â€ â€œfoolish,â€ â€œMs. Pelosi grandly declaredâ€) is unprofessional. You donâ€™t see them using this type of Drudge-like mockery even in their strongest attacks on the administration, but itâ€™s ok for Pelosi I suppose.
CNN’s sloppy and inaccurate reporting of the trip hasn’t helped.
Meanwhile, the parade of Republicans through Damascus continues unabated, with the arrival of Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), close on the heels of another delegation led by Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA). As we know, Bush, like Boehner, has criticized these delegations as undermining his own “diplomacy.” So what does Darrell have to say?
Commenting on Bush’s criticism, California Republican Darrell Issa said the president had failed to promote the necessary dialogue to resolve disagreements between the U.S. and Syria.
“That’s an important message to realize: We have tensions, but we have two functioning embassies.”
“I don’t care what the administration says on this. You gotta do what you think is in the best interest of your country,” said Rep. Frank Wolf of Virginia, who was part of the delegation.
“I don’t care what the administration says on this.”
What’s that about going to Syria to embarrass the president, Mr. Boehner?
I don’t think the attacks on Pelosi are so much about Syria as they are about Iraq, or more accurately the supplement bill fight. The hawks are doing everything they can to knock her down, to make her the enemy. They’re desperate.
Update: Joe Conason writes, “The problem is not what Pelosi did or said, but how she exposed the exhaustion of neoconservative policy.” It’s a good article.