April 08, 2007

More Pelosi...

WaPo:

HOUSE SPEAKER Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) offered an excellent demonstration yesterday of why members of Congress should not attempt to supplant the secretary of state when traveling abroad. After a meeting with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad in Damascus, Ms. Pelosi announced that she had delivered a message from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that "Israel was ready to engage in peace talks" with Syria. What's more, she added, Mr. Assad was ready to "resume the peace process" as well. Having announced this seeming diplomatic breakthrough, Ms. Pelosi suggested that her Kissingerian shuttle diplomacy was just getting started. "We expressed our interest in using our good offices in promoting peace between Israel and Syria," she said.

My my. It's almost like we're in the midst of a constitutional usurpation of authority here of unprecedented proportion. Perhaps our friendly editors at the WaPo might pop a Valium or two, sit down for a couple minutes, and take a deep breath. The 'Nancy in Damascus' kerfuffle was quite simple, really. CODELs go through that town with much regularity, and Olmert reportedly asked her to pass on a message to Bashar (that there was no "summer attack" in the works from Israel), as the Israelis were concerned about a possible military miscalculation emitting from Damascus. Pelosi, not schooled by any means in the foreign policy subtleties of the Middle East, overplayed her hand, with intimations of ambitious peace gambits, use of "good offices", and so on. A rookie foot-fault, not a constitutional catastrophe imperiling the division of powers as among the branches.

Olmert, so weak domestically he makes Bush look like a guy riding a crest of unbridled rah-rah popularity, had to issue a "clarification" to state, for the record, that Israel's policy position on Syria wasn't new, that they had to do X and Y before any jaw-jaw might get started in earnest, that Damascus was still part of the "axis of evil" (Israel's variant, I guess, as ours never included Syria, at least not per Frum's original hifalutin' SOTU verbiage). In other words, a rear-end covering exercise, but not a whole-sale repudiation per se of Pelosi and her trip to Syria. Olmert was basically saying: I'm not wimping out vis-a-vis Syria guys, we're still holding the line. One suspects this wasn't only to cover his right domestic flank, but (speculation alert) that there may have been some carping from the White House, say Elliot Abrams calling someone in Olmert's office, along the lines of: c'mon guys, we're trying to help you, let's sing from the same song-sheet at least. (In reality, our non-policy regarding the Syrians isn't helping the Israelis at all, but that's a story for another day...).

Indeed, Olmert tasked Pelosi with transmiting a message because everyone sane realizes that the time has come to talk directly, at high levels, with the Syrians. This includes sane Israelis, sane Americans, sane Europeans, and sane Syrians. Unfortunately, such sanity doesn't prevail in the saintly certitudes of the upper reaches of the American Executive Branch, but at least it does now on the Hill Side. Regadless, notice what Olmert's clarification didn't say, it didn't deny that he had asked Pelosi to send on a message, indeed, she also reportedly delivered messages to Damascus stressing the need for them to help gain the release of IDF personnel. In addition, she was accompanied by Tom Lantos, the only Holocaust survivor in Congress, a long-time observer of the Middle East (one who knows well the history of the Baathist regime in Damascus), and who doubtless helped prep her before her meeting with Bashar. So it's not like she was wildly freelancing, as I said, there were some over-exuberances, but not attempts at off-the-reservation negotiations. (Related, don't miss this refutation of the WSJ op-ed alleging Pelosi's trip was a criminal violation of the Logan Act).

Here's the rub. The real reason that Nancy Pelosi's visit caused such a stir is that it reminded the world that the White House has no Syria policy. It was another in a long line of the 'emperor has no clothes' moments. The hysteria about it was mostly a function of it showcasing how dismally we've dropped the ball in the Middle East. If we had a Secretary of State worth her salt on such issues, authorized by the President to speak and deal-make with adversaries, things wouldn't have gotten to the point where former Republicans like myself would actually be cheerleading one of the more underwhelming foreign policy lights on the Hill for calling the Administration's bluff and traveling to Syria. But, yes, I found myself heartened by Pelosi's visit, as it signaled that all the policy-making poverty born of ideological certainty just took another beating, as Bush's stock continues to plummet during his (too long) lame duck coda.

So, in short, she communicated a helpful message of calm from Israel, but as she's a foreign policy novice, she overplayed her hand. Of course there won't be any break-through, or major shuttling or such. Of course she's not Secretary of State, and as House Speaker, she needs to be more careful going forward. But still, the symbolism was important, and netting it all out, I think she did the right thing, and the WaPo's hysterical over-reaction was rather comical, frankly. Would they rather our 'no talk, they know what the need to do' imbecility lead to another war between Israel and one of her neighbors? No, Nancy's walk-about the Damascus souk hasn't imperiled the role of the Secretary of State and Executive Branch in some Grand Constitutional Order, and at least it helped cool the regional temperature some.

P.S. Oh, and let's not let this snippet from the WaPo piece pass unnoticed:

As any diplomat with knowledge of the region could have told Ms. Pelosi, Mr. Assad is a corrupt thug whose overriding priority at the moment is not peace with Israel but heading off U.N. charges that he orchestrated the murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri
Memo to the WaPo: Discussions with the Israelis on the Golan are not mutually exclusive with continued progress on the Hariri investigation front, I don't think. Indeed, "any diplomat with knowledge of the region" would tell you that. I said diplomats now, not think-tank absolutists who call Syria "Syran" and other such claptrap.

UPDATE: M. Kleiman has more.

Posted by Gregory at April 8, 2007 01:21 AM
Comments

Rubbish! Blow it out your @$#&^!

Posted by: Zifnab at April 8, 2007 10:50 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The problem with mentioning the Logan Act is that it: 1) doesn't apply; 2) has only been used once, and that was apparently for political payback; and 3) ignores the fact that Congresspersons have been going oversees to talk directly to national leaders (including those the US is officially Not Speaking To) for years and years.

In fact, if wingnuts want to call Congresspersons who defy or sabotage official US policy "Traitors!" , they'd better start with Republicans. Like, say, a very young Richard Perle sabotaging the Paris Peace Talks in Vietnam by telling "our avowed enemies" (the North) that they'd get a better deal with Nixon. Or, say, Newt Gingrich, who undermined Clinton's dealings with Colombia. Or, say, Dan Burton, who took money from Milosevic to oppose the NATO air campaign against Yugoslavia.

But they don't mention those instances. Funny, that.

The Logan Act, insofar as it has any legitimacy at all, is not meant to make sure the US government "speaks with one voice." It's to make sure private citizens don't carve out their own treaties, agreements, etc. with other nations - or, for that matter, wage war with other countries using private armies.

Posted by: CaseyL at April 8, 2007 11:11 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Casey, you are one ill informed moron. There is a world of difference between ordinary congressman and the SPEAKER of the House, two steps away from the Presidency. And the nonsense you have posted about Perle and Gingrich is just that...utter bullshit.

Posted by: Zifnab at April 9, 2007 12:52 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

:The real reason that Nancy Pelosi's visit caused such a stir is that it reminded the world that the White House has no Syria policy.:

This is utter BS. Bush has a Syria policy--it is to isolate him until he stops actively supporting terrorism. No rewards for him. Hey--the UN has the SAME policy towards Syria vis-a-vis Lebanon.

What part of Assad putting on a smiley face to the world while hiding terrorists in his pocket do you not understand? Did Pelosi think she could blink her eyes sweetly and make him change his mind? What a dip.

Posted by: MaggieMo at April 9, 2007 01:11 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Gregory,
So in essence you would argue that Mrs. Pelosi is using her office in Congress as an Individual Education Program in order to obtain the skills she'll need to seek employment as a messenger girl for Western Union? Perhaps you are right. Nancy Pelosi certainly does seem to be the sort of girl who could profit by as much Special Education as she can get. After all, look how much confusion she suffered over the meaning of the word "win" back in January. I guess it had too many syllables for her current level of reading comprehension? In any event it was good of our dear Nancy to deliver a message the Syrians could have read for themselves merely by reading one of their own newspapers and the fact that she only needed public correction once does show that she is slowly making progress. Certainly she demonstrated a great deal of docility in meekly departing when the leaders of Syria dismissed her with a snap of their fingers so that they could go watch a Soccer game instead. :P


http://wwwwakeupamericans-spree.blogspot.com/2007/04/syrian-president-blows-nancy-pelosi-off.html

I suppose that given the way she botched the delivery of the message we shouldn't be too unhappy that they didn't at least give her a tip before they sent her on her way. OTOH, the photos we have seen of her in a burka also do a good job of showing the future of any woman who trusts the policies currently followed by the Democratic Party. I wonder how long it will be before the voters recognize her talent and dismiss her from being Congressman so that she can pursue her future role as messenger girl? I have no doubt that the sooner she is so dismissed by the voters the better off America will be! ^_~

Posted by: Towering Barbarian at April 9, 2007 02:28 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Wow. Where'd all the pinheads come from? Greg, you must've been linked to at LGF.

Posted by: CaseyL at April 9, 2007 03:11 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Right-Wing Nationalists look so desperate and anxious when their war prophecies fall apart.

Posted by: SomeOtherDude at April 9, 2007 03:45 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Meanwhile, this is being downplayed! Any thoughts?

Posted by: FurGaia at April 9, 2007 03:57 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Reading the somewhat fawning comments of CaseyL and SomeOtherDude reminds one of that old saying, "How dangerous the feeble are in their frightening passion for aligning themselves behind imbeciles!"

Posted by: Zifnab at April 9, 2007 04:21 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Ahh, the 25 Percenters have arrived.

Posted by: Calosin at April 9, 2007 04:53 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Reading the somewhat fawning comments of CaseyL and SomeOtherDude reminds one of that old saying, "How dangerous the feeble are in their frightening passion for aligning themselves behind imbeciles!"

Zifnab, I suggest that you not look too hard in the mirror when you make those sorts of comments - you may not like what you see.

Posted by: mabman at April 9, 2007 05:13 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Notice how testy they get when the Democrats and the British keep ruining their chances at another splendid little war.

Posted by: Doug H. at April 9, 2007 05:17 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Oh wow. I thought I'd seen every form of obnoxious stupidity the Internets had to offer, but that was before I read "Towering Barbarian"'s blog.

PROTIP: Each superfluous emoticon ("smiley") in your blog post or comment reduces your apparent IQ as perceived by the reader by ~5 points. Based on this alone, the average post on your blog already falls into invertebrate (if not protozoan) territory before the reader even gets to parsing the actual content.

Posted by: AWJ at April 9, 2007 05:45 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

CaseyL,
Permit me to congratulate you on being curious about your own origins. ^_~

AWJ,
"Oh wow. I thought I'd seen every form of obnoxious stupidity the Internets had to offer, but that was before I read "Towering Barbarian"'s blog."

Praise from a fan is always welcome and no one with a discerning mind can doubt that your reaction counts as high praise indeed. Thanks for endorsing my blog! ^_^

"PROTIP:"

Don't you think before you open with a phrase like that you should at least take a moment to declare at *what* it is you claim to be a "pro" at? o_O

Just a thought. ^-^

"Each superfluous emoticon ("smiley") in your blog post or comment reduces your apparent IQ as perceived by the reader by ~5 points."

Ah! In other words you are emoticonphobic and think the rest of the world should share your emoticonphobia? O_o

That's too bad. :P

But take heart, you are *not* alone! ^_^

http://timblair.net/ee/index.php/weblog/emoticons_make_allah/

Nice to know the company you keep when you come out against emoticons, isn't it? ^o^

"Based on this alone, the average post on your blog already falls into invertebrate (if not protozoan) territory before the reader even gets to parsing the actual content"

Your request that I add in more emoticons as a means of scaring off the petty and the humorless is duly noted. ^_~

In the meantime, I'm still wondering if poor Nancy Pelosi has enough brainpower to learn her lessons from this trip and in the future leave being a delivery girl to those who have a better grasp of reality than she does. Between you and me I don't think she has the brainpower for the job, and I'd say she is clearly best suited for going back to Washington and going back to being a Congresscritter instead of trying to rob the limelight from Hillary, Barrak and John for the sake of her little ego trip. ^^

Posted by: Towering Barbarian at April 9, 2007 06:30 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

You know, I really have to wonder if the fact that Nancy Pelosi is a woman has something to do with all this faux outrage. There certainlyl seems to be more than a suggestion of resentment that she somehow stepped out of her place.

Posted by: DRS at April 9, 2007 10:32 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

If the current comments are any indication of the current intellectual depth and insight of the average Right-Wing nationalists, it’s no wonder we’re getting our asses handed to us, in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Thank God Progressives were in charge December 7, 1941. To bad progressives were not in charge September 11, 2001.

Posted by: SomeOtherDude at April 9, 2007 02:54 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Not that it matters to the losers from Wingnut Land, but here is an interesting update on the Pelosi trip from the newspaper Ha'aretz: Olmert's office was very upfront that it did indeed to ask Pelosi to convey a message to Assad:

The speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, is scheduled to meet with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus today, and will deliver a message of calm from Israel.
"We hope the message will be understood," political sources in Israel said yesterday. "The question is whether Assad is looking for an excuse ... so that he can carry out an attack against Israel in the summer, or whether this is a mistaken assessment."

Pelosi visited Israel yesterday and told her Israeli interlocutors that the country must speak with Assad and that the door should not be closed to Syria, even though she is aware that Syria supports terrorism and continued cooperation with Iran.

More:

"It's obvious the White House is desperate to find some phony criticism of the speaker's trip, even though it was a bipartisan trip," said Lantos, a Holocaust survivor who is considered the Democrat closest to the pro-Israel lobby. "I have nothing but contempt and disdain for the attempt to undermine this trip."

The White House had no comment on the allegations by Lantos that it pressured Olmert to offer a clarification.

Such backdoor statecraft between the White House and Olmert would not be unprecedented.

Last year, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice talked Olmert into a 48-hour cease-fire during the war with Hezbollah to allow humanitarian relief, but within hours Israeli planes were bombing again, to Rice's surprise and anger. Olmert had received a call, apparently from Cheney's office, telling him to ignore Rice.

Emphasis mine in that last bit.

I've got nothign good to say about rice, but if it's true that she had convinced Olmert to go for a 48-hour cease fire during last summer's utter disaster of a war, and it was Cheney's office who kiboshed it, then I owe Rice an apology.

Posted by: CaseyL at April 9, 2007 04:38 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

There is a world of difference between ordinary congressman and the SPEAKER of the House, two steps away from the Presidency. And the nonsense you have posted about Perle and Gingrich is just that...utter bullshit.

Wasn't Gingrich Speaker too?

Otherwise fine post Greg. Glad to see the absence hasn't dulled your powers of perception any.

As for your new found gang of commenters, well...

Posted by: Eric Martin at April 9, 2007 05:23 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Used to be that comments here were enlightening, and then after half a dozen or so posts a clown like "neill" would step in. Today it seems the hiveminders and lickspittles got the word from higher authority to start slinging bullshit right away. I hope this doesn't become the norm here.....

Posted by: sglover at April 10, 2007 03:47 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I forgot to mention:

the WaPo's hysterical over-reaction was rather comical, frankly.

The WaPo has been in an accelerating dive for some years now. They're still congratulating themselves for driving a couple miles down Georgia Avenue and noticing that things at Walter Reed are a little dicey. Meanwhile, guys like Josh Marshall have been doing serious digging, connecting dots, and finding real news.

Posted by: sglover at April 10, 2007 03:52 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

MaggieMo at April 9, 2007 01:11 AM

Bush has a Syria policy--it is to isolate him until he stops actively supporting terrorism.

Right, so until then Junior sends renditioned Canadian Citizens there for torture.

What a dip.

Hilarious.


Posted by: jdmckay at April 10, 2007 04:13 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

About Belgravia Dispatch

Gregory Djerejian comments intermittently on global politics, finance & diplomacy at this site. The views expressed herein are solely his own and do not represent those of any organization.


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