The White House is furious that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has traveled to meet with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus. Assad is not the only Middle-East leader Pelosi is speaking to. Nor was she the first American politician to pop in on Assad. Speaker Pelosi was preceded by a Republican posse.
That diplomacy can be presented as dangerous is a credit to the Bush administration’s success in inoculating the American public against civilized, rational conduct in international affairs. The Constitution is the other spot of bother the administration has helped obliterate from the American collective conscience.
As the Independent Institute’s Ivan Eland, points out, “The framers wanted the Congress to be the dominant branch in foreign policy, as with most other aspects of governance.” “The Congress was given the power to regulate commerce with foreign nations, declare war, raise and support armies, provide and maintain a navy, regulate the armed forces, organize, arm and discipline the militia, and call them forth to resist invasions.”
The imperial presidency is a post–World War II aberration. Delusions of grandeur notwithstanding, Mr. Bush is not the commander in chief of the nation; he is “the commander in chief of the armed forces and militia.” The other “unilateral power in foreign affairs” the Constitution gave the president is “to receive foreign ambassadors and ministers.” Eland emphasizes, however, that while making treaties with foreign nations and nominating U.S. ambassadors and high foreign policy officials are also within the president’s constitutional confines, “these actions were both subject to congressional approval with an overwhelmingly large two-thirds majority vote.”
Then there is the allegation that Pelosi is enabling a rogue regime that is also sabotaging us in Iraq. As soon as these accusations amount to more than a repetition of assumptions not yet in evidence, I’ll gladly believe them. So far, what is incontrovertible is Assad’s role as the U.S.’ pressure relief valve in Iraq.
Millions of Iraqis have been uprooted and displaced in the aftermath of the invasion. That they have failed to graze our consciousness is largely courtesy of the intrepid cable cretins. They are currently preoccupied with the “senseless, horrible” demise by poisoned pellets of the nation’s pets. And before that with Anna Nicole Smith. And generally with nonsense.
In any event, together, Jordan and Syria have taken in 1.6 million fleeing Iraqi refugees. Syria continues to succor new Iraqi arrivals. In October of 2006, Ron Redmond, the U.N. Refugee Agency’s chief spokesman, said some “40,000 Iraqis are now arriving in Syria each month.” (The flood has not abated despite John McCain’s assurances of carefree strolls down Baghdad boulevards. This peace of mind he achieved, by one blogger’s telling, thanks to a “pre-visit security sweep … 100 soldiers, three Blackhawk helicopters and two Apache gunships”).
Syria has been generous to these wretched people, many of whom were the cr?me de la cr?me of the now extinct Iraqi middle class. While she was out and about sampling Syrian sweets, Pelosi ought to have headed for the suburbs of Damascus, where, according to the IRIN – a humanitarian news source – “the majority of Iraqi refugees in Syria live.” There she should have thanked the Syrian leader for what he has done for those we’ve helped displace. That’s plain good manners.
Of course, American interests in the Middle East are not to be conflated with Israeli interests. The fact that Bush should be speaking to Bashar doesn’t necessarily imply Israel ought to do the same. Those of us who want the U.S. to stay solvent – and out of the affairs of others – recognize that sovereign nation-states that resist, not enable, our imperial impulses are the best hindrance to hegemonic overreach. Patriots for a sane American foreign policy ought to encourage all America’s friends, Israel included, to push back and do what is in their national interest, not ours.
Israel would be in better shape if it acted less like an American satellite and more like a sovereign state. To hardliners like myself, this entails not acquiescing to Syrian and American demands for the return of territory acquired following Syrian aggression. To Israelis, most of whom are dovish, this implies putting the Golan Heights on the negotiating table. To that end, reports Haaretz, Israel and Syria have been engaged in unofficial talks under European auspices since 2004.
Politics and diplomacy are not mutually exclusive. Pelosi and the roving Republicans who visited with Bashar Assad may well be “playing politics,” but they are also playing catch-up. Someone has to.
Above all, as Herbert Hoover wrote in the foreword to Felix Morley’s “The Power in The People,” “Our social and political institutions are designed to promote diffusion of power.” Those demanding the speaker channel “The Decider” are on the side of concentration of power, and consequently, a further loss of power by the people.
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