Victor Davis Hanson: Undermining U.S. abroad

The Washington Times
Undermining U.S. abroad

October 20, 2007

Victor Davis Hanson – The president establishes American foreign
policy and is commander in chief. At least that’s what the
Constitution states. Then Congress oversees the president’s policies
by either granting or withholding money to carry them out – in
addition to approving treaties and authorizing war.

Apparently, the Founding Fathers were worried about dozens of renegade
congressional leaders and committees speaking on behalf of the United
States and opportunistically freelancing with foreign leaders.

In our past, self-appointed moralists – from Charles Lindbergh and Joe
Kennedy to Jimmy Carter and Jesse Jackson – have, from time to time,
tried to engage in diplomacy directly contrary to the president’s.

But usually Americans agree to let one elected president and his
secretary of state speak for the United States abroad. Then if they’re
displeased with the results, they can show it at the ballot box every
two years in national or midterm elections.

But recently hundreds in Congress have decided they’re better suited
to handle international affairs than the State Department.

The U.S. Senate late last month passed a resolution urging the de
facto breakup of wartime Iraq into federal enclaves along sectarian
lines – even though this is not the official policy of the Bush
administration, much less the wish of a sovereign elected government
in Baghdad.

That Senate vote only makes it tougher for 160,000 American soldiers
to stabilize a unitary Iraq. And Iraqis I spoke with during my recent
trip to Iraq are confused over why the U.S. Congress would preach to
them how to split apart their own country.

Then, last week, the House Foreign Affairs Committee passed a
resolution condemning Turkey for genocide against the Armenian people,
atrocities committed nearly a century ago during the waning years of
the Ottoman Empire.

If the entire House approves the resolution, the enraged Ankara
government could do everything from invade Iraqi Kurdistan – in hot
pursuit of suspected Kurdish guerrillas – to curtail U.S. overflight
privileges and restrict use of American military bases in Turkey.

This new falling-out could interfere with supplying our soldiers in
Iraq. And it complicates myriad issues, from the NATO alliance to
Turkey’s bid to join the European Union.

The speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, earlier this year took another
hot-button foreign-policy matter into her own hands when she made a
special trip to reach out to Syria’s strongman, Bashar Assad.

That visit to Damascus was played up in the government-run Syrian
press as proof that ordinary Americans don’t feel Syria is a state
sponsor of terrorism. Never mind that the Assad dictatorship helps
terrorists get into Iraq to kill American soldiers, is suspected of
involvement with the assassinations of journalists and democratic
leaders in Lebanon, and recently had been bombed by the Israelis a
facility reported to contain a partially built Syrian nuclear reactor.

What are we to make of a Congress that now wants to establish rather
than just oversee U.S. foreign policy? Can it act as a foil to the
president and so give our diplomats leverage abroad with wayward
nations: "We suggest you do X, before our volatile Congress demands we
do Y?"

Maybe – but any good is vastly outweighed by the bad. Partisan
politics often drive these anti-administration foreign policies, aimed
at making the president look weak abroad and embarrassed at home.

House representatives too often preach their own district politics,
less so the American people’s interest as a whole. What might ensure
their re-election or win local campaign funds isn’t necessarily good
for the United States and its allies.

And too often we see frustrated senators posture in debate during
televised hearings, trying out for the role of chief executive or
commander in chief. Most could never get elected president – many have
tried – but they seem to enjoy the notion that their own
under-appreciated brilliance and insight should supersede the
collective efforts of the State Department.

So they travel abroad, pass resolutions and pontificate a lot, but
rarely have to clean up the ensuing mess of their own freelancing of
American foreign policy.

Congress should stick to its constitutional mandate and quit the
publicity gestures. If it is unhappy with the ongoing effort to
stabilize a unified Iraq, it should act seriously and vote to cut off
all funds and bring the troops home.

If the House wants to punish Turkey for denying its Ottoman
forefathers engaged in a horrific genocide, then let congressional
members likewise deny funds for our military to stay among such a
genocide-denying amoral host.

If Mrs. Pelosi believes Syria is not a terrorist entity but a country
worth re-engaging diplomatically, let her in mature fashion introduce
legislation that would resume full American financial relations with
our new partner Damascus.

Otherwise, it’s all talk – and dangerous talk at that.

Victor Davis Hanson is a nationally syndicated columnist, a classicist
and a historian at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He is
author of "A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought
the Peloponnesian War."

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