The White House’s huffing and puffing about Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Syria is just a bunch of hooey. Congress is an independent and coequal branch of our government. Its members can go anywhere they wish to go, and that includes the current House speaker, Pelosi.
As for the Bush administration’s stated desire to “isolate” Syria, that is just another of the president’s inside-the-bubble delusions. He seems to think that saying something makes it so. Syria is not isolated. It is a normal country with normal relations, commercial and diplomatic, with most countries in the world. Mr. Bush is not emperor of the world, and most of the world ignores whatever he manages to say.
Furthermore, as many Americans more experienced in foreign policy than the president have advised, the U.S. should be engaged with Syria. Its location between Iraq and Lebanon and its relative power make it a player in the region that cannot be ignored. A basic rule of diplomacy, which the president seems unable to grasp, is that one talks to people with whom one disagrees.
So the exchange of views between the speaker and the president of Syria is a good thing, even if neither convinced the other of anything. The U.S., taking its cue from the Israeli lobby, has branded Hezbollah and Hamas as terrorist organizations. Since they and other organizations have offices in Syria, the U.S. considers that “state sponsoring of terrorism.”
There again, not everyone in the world considers them as terrorist organizations, even though some members of both organizations have committed acts of terrorism in the past. So, for that matter, has Israel, which generally is credited with being the inventor of the car bomb. So, for that matter, have we, though we call all the thousands of innocent civilians we kill with our bombs “collateral damage,” which is one of the more morally obscene euphemisms in this age of propaganda.
At any rate, Speaker Pelosi is as committed to the Israeli lobby as the president, so her visit changed nothing in policy matters. It did, however, pay dividends in good personal relations. We sometimes forget that countries are not abstract concepts, but places run by individual human beings. Personal relationships can make a difference.
Let us not forget, either, that the speaker of the House is second in line to succeed the president. That doesn’t mean that we should have multiple foreign policies, but it does mean that it’s not a bad idea for those members of the House and Senate with an interest in foreign policy to make their own contacts and collect their own information. After all, “briefings” by this executive branch have been shown to be unreliable.
Nor is it true that the Constitution puts foreign policy exclusively in the hands of the president. It does no such thing. All ambassadors and all treaties have to be ratified by the Senate. Every penny of funding for anything overseas, including the military, is the responsibility of Congress. In fact, the Constitution assigns several functions involving foreign policy to the legislative branch.
Other than appointing ambassadors and making treaties, both with the advice and consent of the Senate, the only reference to foreign-policy duty assigned to the president by the Constitution is to “receive ambassadors and other public ministries.”
Clearly, the current president is at odds with the authors of the U.S. Constitution. A simple reading of that document will assure any doubters that the man temporarily occupying the White House is not a monarch, dictator or emperor. And the Constitution is truly the supreme law of the land.