Russell's Blog

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Pelosi in Damascus

Posted by Russell on April 06, 2007 at 3:26 p.m.
Like most people who don't like totalitarianism, I'm not a big fan of the Syrian government. From what I understand, they are not nice people. However, their supposed odiousness is not a good reason to refuse to talk to them. On the contrary. Otto von Bismark described politics as "the art of the possible." Diplomacy is just politics across borders. To refuse to engage in diplomacy is to curtail what is possible. The administration's policy of minimal contact with "bad" governments is guaranteed to accomplish minimal results.

On an emotional level, I can sympathize with Bush's policy toward Syria. I'd like to personally avoid talking to the Syrian government, if at all possible. But someone has to talk to them. The Syrians may have important influence in a situation in which America is deeply involved. I, and 300 million other Americans, pay Mr. Bush to talk to Syria so we don't have to.

So, if Speaker Pelosi wants to roll up her sleeves and do some of the necessary diplomatic work the administration refuses to do, I'm perfectly happy to let her. Of course, as a member of Congress, she can't hold binding negotiations with the Syrians, but she can have a dialog. That's better than nothing.

Naturally, the administration is positively wigging out. The most serious accusation is that Pelosi is "undermining" the administration's foreign policy. In a general political sense, I suppose that might be bad. It would certainly strengthen the administration's foreign policy position if the Speaker of the House supported it. If the policy were any good, support from Congress would make it better. But in this case, the administration's foreign policy has been an unmitigated failure. I hope, for the sake of the nation and the world, that Pelosi is undermining it.

In any event, there is nothing that compels a citizen, or a member of Congress, to uphold a particular foreign policy. That's the difference between policy and law. George Bush cannot order me to help him with his foreign policy, nor can he so order Speaker Pelosi. Since neither I nor Speaker Pelosi are part of the executive chain of command, we can act within the limits of the law to support or undermine executive policy as it pleases us. Period.

However, I don't think Pelosi's talks with the Syrians have done anything to undermine Bush's foreign policy. Unless, of course, George Bush's foreign policy is simply to aggrandize himself. If that is the policy, then maybe Pelosi has undermined it a bit.

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