Tuesday, April 03, 2007

‘Prime Minister’ Pelosi vs. President Bush

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By Christopher Truscott

The framers of the Constitution were wise to create an executive position independent of the legislative branch.

But that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t occasionally be nice to have something equivalent to the British office of prime minister – in which case Nancy Pelosi, as leader of the lower house’s majority party, would be in charge and George W. Bush would reside somewhere other than 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

The latest example of the executive void in Washington is the White House’s criticism of Speaker Pelosi’s Middle East travels, which include a trip Wednesday to Syria to meet with President Bashar Assad.

Pelosi, who has apparently read the Iraq Study Group report, which recommends talks with Syria and Iran, wants to “establish facts” and try to build “confidence” between the U.S. and Iraq’s provocative western neighbor. She’ll also be delivering a message from Israel that it could work with the Syrians if they “openly take steps to stop supporting terrorism.”

Sounds pretty reasonable. She’s already in the neighborhood and there’s no way she can make the situation worse. In the spirit of the new baseball season, the speaker might even hit a homerun – or at least a single to keep the inning alive.

The White House, meanwhile, contends it’s a “bad idea.” But given this president’s handling of world affairs, his word doesn’t mean much.

Nevertheless, one has to ask the administration: What would be a good idea? Not talking to the Syrians (or the Iranians) hasn’t helped. Rhetoric and bravado have taken us nowhere. Even the Saudis, our so-called allies, have clearly turned against us. We’re alienated from the key leaders in the Middle East, which is unfortunately an important region of the world, and we haven’t articulated a coherent plan for the future of our involvement there.

Keeping with the baseball theme, Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are 0-for-the-last-six-years on Middle East policy. Even the most obtuse manager would realize it’s time for a pinch hitter. If that means Pelosi carrying on like a de facto prime minister, fine.

On the eve of his famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech, President John F. Kennedy told an audience in Frankfurt, West Germany: “Lofty words cannot construct an alliance or maintain it; only concrete deeds can do that.”

While one visit does not make a solid relationship, Pelosi’s willingness to sit down as a leading representative of the American people – the No. 3 figure in this government – and open a dialogue with our adversary is a positive step. The Syrians can no longer say that we aren’t willing to meet them halfway.

What do we get from Pelosi’s visit? Leadership. Even if it comes from the wrong end of Pennsylvania Avenue, it’s certainly more than we’ve had in quite a while.

Good luck and Godspeed, Madam Speaker.

Christopher Truscott can be reached at chris.truscott@gmail.com. As Speaker of the House, he’d be sure to schedule important meetings with the leaders of countries like the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic and Australia – all of which have nice beaches.

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At 2:22 PM, Blogger Prendergast said...

Got to disagree with you on this one. I didn't like it when Newt Gingrich was wandering around Israel during the Clinton Administration with an alternative foreign policy, and I don't think Pelosi's wise to do similar in Syria.

The place to fight for alternatives to the Bush Iraq War policy is in Congress, not Syria. It's not about Pelosi making the government and American people "look divided," we are divided and everyone knows that--for six years the White House strategy has been to divide Americans.

My objection to what Pelosi did is based on the notion that the American leadership should speak with one voice on foreign policy when negotiating with other nations. Pelosi thinks Bush is wrong, fine; but she's not going to prove that by sitting down at the table independent of the White House with nations that sponsor terrorism. The battle over what we're going to do in Iraq is going to be settled in Washington, not by Pelosi at a conference table in Iraq. If she wants to end the war, fight to end funding for it and take the heat--don't bring back a bunch of "constructive suggestions from Syria."

Of course negotiation with Syria and Iran is necessary. But Pelosi shouldn't be pretending to carry on such negotiations separately, independently of the White House.

It's a mistake--not only strategically--but politically, from the viewpoint of Democrats. How are those pictures of Pelosi with the Syrians going to look if a terrorist organization sponsored by Syria carries out an attack a few months from now; a year from now? If that happens, how will this meeting reflect on the judgment of the fledgling Dem Congress and its leadership?

I think it was a stupid thing for her to do; if it backfires it leaves her party wide open to the "soft on national security" charge.

At 3:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I generally favor a strong executive branch and would rather see this type of thing come from the White House, but it's time for someone to stand up.

For all Newt's flaws, I don't think playing prime minister in the Middle East was his downfall.

All Pelosi is doing is what the Iraq Study Group recommends and she's following in the lead of other Democrats and Republicans who have visited Damascus in recent months.

Will one visit solve all problems? No. Probably won't solve any. But we have to open the lines of communication. Bush gets to state goals, Congress gets to make policy. Time for someone to take the lead.

15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia, but that never kept the Bush administration from photo ops with the Royal Family.

If the GOP wants to play hardball with Democratic Middle East travels, John McCain's analysis of the Middle East can be beamed into every American living room next fall.

Furthermore, Syria has a vested interest in a stable Iraq. The last thing it wants -- being a Sunni-majority country -- is a huge, pissed off Shiite Iranian puppet on its eastern border.


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