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April 9, 2007

The Dangers of Pelosi Diplomacy


For once, it is a good thing to have Speaker Nancy Pelosi back in Washington, D.C. Pelosi just spent the last few days around the Middle East looking for some media attention, enjoying fancy meals with foreign figures and buying souvenirs from the Arab street. Oh, and she was achieving world peace, too.


At least that was her justification for visiting and meeting with the leaders of Syria, a country recognized by the U.S. government as one of the major sponsors of terrorism and a proven source of instability for its neighbors, particularly Iraq and Lebanon. Pelosi made the trip to Damascus against the express wishes of the Bush administration, which is charged with conducting U.S. foreign policy. In taking this imprudent step, Pelosi significantly damaged the nature of our foreign policy as it pertains to Syria, and even possibly broke the law, which forbids such interactions with hostile regimes against the will of the U.S. government.


It is well understood, and it should be particularly recognized by Pelosi, that one of the president’s major roles is that of chief diplomat. So what was Pelosi trying to achieve by taking a trip that blatantly contradicted the expectations of the chief diplomat and his experienced team of foreign policy experts?


Pelosi might be misunderstanding the “mandate” she insists she got last November. Whatever the reason that American voters put her in the Speaker’s office, it was certainly not to go take pictures with an anti-American leader that has been sowing discord in U.S.-backed democracies to his East and West. Pelosi took her “mandate” a step too far.


If Pelosi’s actions were traditionally (and perhaps even legally) acceptable, then Republican congressmen should have been traveling the world throughout most of the 1990s when President Clinton was acting as chief diplomat. Perhaps they could have conducted their own parallel foreign policy, and thus obstructed North Korea’s nuclear program, or freed Lebanon from the grasp of the Syrians. Or maybe, just maybe, they could have accepted the Sudanese offer to hand over Osama Bin Laden on a silver platter. But they did not do these things, for they knew their limits.


To be sure, a handful of Republican congressmen have indeed met with elements of the Syrian regime in recent months. Their actions, of course, are no more acceptable than Pelosi’s. Compared to the Speaker’s self-assigned mission, however, the other congressmen’s visits are virtually unnoticed and highly irrelevant. These congressmen are not claiming to represent the American people nor attempting to start a new track of negotiations with Syria. Pelosi, on the other hand, as the person third in line for the presidency, is doing both – and she should know better.


In addition to the inappropriateness of explicitly undermining the U.S. government’s position toward a hostile foreign government, Pelosi should understand that occupying the Speaker’s office does not necessarily translate into possessing the skills necessary to handle such crucial and sensitive initiatives. After all, this is the same woman who appointed Silvestre Reyes, a congressman who revealed his inability to differentiate between Sunnis and Shiites or appreciate the significance of their inter-religious conflicts, to chair the House Intelligence Committee, which is increasingly responsible for matters that cover such issues of tremendous importance.


In Damascus, Pelosi made another crucial faux pas when she told the Syrian government that she was bringing a message from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that Israel is ready for peace talks with Syria. Soon thereafter, Olmert loudly clarified that he had entrusted Pelosi with no such message, a statement that resonated around the world, embarrassing both Pelosi and the United States. One would think that before getting excited about involving herself in international relations and seeking to achieve world peace, Pelosi would act less intrepidly considering her negligible experience in that department.


The Syrian government has been allowing for civilians and troops to die en masse in Iraq, and has been actively working to destabilize Lebanon, where it still maintains much of the influence it had before being forced to withdraw its troops from there in 2005. Despite much international pressure, the Syrians have been unrelenting in continuing their wicked behavior and sponsoring terrorism. Syria has thus been isolated by much of the rest of the world (except for countries such as Iran and Venezuela), and appropriately so. Pelosi’s visit, however, signaled something very different to the Syrians, and hinted that the U.S. is willing to lower its expectations vis-ŕ-vis Syrian behavior.


Pelosi should not think that she will be able to turn things around in the Middle East just because she recently got a political boost at home. She has confused the Syrians, the Israelis, the Lebanese, the Iraqis and the U.S. government. Unless she is willing to engage in foreign policy within the boundaries drawn by the chief diplomat, Pelosi’s activism will not help – in fact, it will continue to be plainly dangerous.


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