Pelosi sends a mixed message

040907pelosi.jpgOne of our endearing traits as Americans is that on most issues we seldom speak with one voice. On the other hand the Constitution makes it pretty clear who is in charge of what. The last time anyone looked, foreign policy, with the advice and consent of the Congress on treaty matters and war, is the province of the White House. It is more often than not a tricky business that requires at least an appearance of national unity.

So why did House Speaker Nancy Pelosi decide to travel to Syria when current U.S. policy toward that nation has been to isolate it because of its interference, intransigence and hindrance, in the efforts to bring peace to the Middle East and its undisputed support of terrorists? The White House made it pretty clear that her trip was not a good idea given her position. There was a serious danger that the Syrian government and U.S. allies in the region both would get the wrong message. Just the publicity of her wandering around Damascus, they contended, increased the chances of that happening.

The answer seems fairly obvious. Even in the delicate business of diplomacy the new Democratic majority in Congress wants to signal that there is a new game in the capital of the United States, that it has regained the leadership voice muted by 12 years of Republican control and six years of a GOP presidency. With more than 60 percent of Americans disapproving of Bush’s overall job performance, the Democrats reason there is no better time to accomplish this on all fronts, domestic and foreign. Bolstering this effort is the fact that a huge majority of the national electorate has had enough of Iraq.

Well, there are about 10,000 cliches, all of them accurate, to describe why this approach is not in the best interests of the nation. The most common one has to do with too many cooks spoiling the broth. Our foreign relations are difficult enough without being tweaked by someone who is the chief political opponent of the person assigned to carry them out. She may be one of the two top officials in Congress and is second in line for the presidency but she is a novice in the intricate and Byzantine world of foreign affairs.

Lawmakers love to travel the globe every spring on junkets they euphemistically refer to as “information gathering.” They do sometimes meet with their counterparts in foreign countries and even are greeted by heads of state. But those officially charged with carrying out and protecting U.S. interests in those countries guide them around the pitfalls and prevent them from committing embarrassing mistakes. On any number of occasions Senate leaders on foreign policy are asked to carry official messages and are debriefed thoroughly when they return. Blatant interference with official policies, however, is another matter altogether and that includes ignoring the chief executive’s request not to go to a difficult country where such a visit might be misunderstood.

A number of years ago Republican Jesse Helms of North Carolina, a onetime local radio personality, got himself elected to the U.S. Senate and almost immediately began interfering in foreign policy matters, including holding up U.S. financial support for the U.N. Members of his staff ventured overseas where they tried to intimidate U.S. diplomats and were guilty of a number of outrageous incidents. Helms’ mid-19th century approach to nearly everything, but most particularly overseas relations, was a thorn in the side of several presidents.

As the first woman ever elected speaker, Pelosi has her hands full with domestic matters and overcoming the prejudices of those who believe her next move will be to redecorate the House chambers. Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth. She is an accomplished political professional who can handle most any task. But her forte is not diplomacy and even if it were, the last thing the nation needs now is a divisive approach to our problems with the likes of Syria. She should have listened to the White House and not made Syria one of her destinations. Such requests are not made lightly for someone of her stature.

This president’s remaining term is less than two years. If the next president is a Democrat, which now seems likely, she can expect to have more influence in this area, but it is a cinch whoever that is will insist on his or her own policy and Pelosi would understand.


(Dan K. Thomasson is former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service.)


  1. adam russell

    This is a free country of millions of voices. The idea that Bush is the only voice allowed to speak is obscene.

  2. adam russell

    “It (foreign policy) is more often than not a tricky business that requires at least an appearance of national unity.”

    I take issue with your entire theme that is based on this statement. Our nation has never in our history had unanimity on any subject (or even the appearance). Unless you can present some solid reason to back up this statement your whole article falls apart.

  3. Mark-NC

    Your comments are generally correct though you decided to leave out the meddling of Newt Gingrich when he was Speaker.

    You also left out the trips of a number of Republican Congressmen.

    I believe that the current trips are being done to start deplomacy that doesn’t involve a gun in the face – the only type Bush knows, and a style that has become increasingly dangerous to our nation and the world.

  4. SEAL

    Thomasson obviously has some sort of bias in this matter. I won’t guess at what it is, but when he assumes Pelosi’s intent and the content of her conversation with the Syrians he demonstrates it.

    To top it off he labels her a “novice” in foreign affairs. As compared to who, I wonder? A former governor of Texas? Pelosi may not be the best choice but she has many years involvement in national and international affairs through her service in congress if we are comparing her to Bush or Rice (wherever she is).

    Also, as Mark pointed out, he failed to note the lack of objections when Republicans visited the Middle East and many other things that would have been “fair” to an objective commentary. The intent of his article is obvious.

    I have no doubt that Pelosi made the point to the Syrians that there was to be a new attitude forthcoming in our relationships with their’s and many other countries. But I would not publicly declare that to be fact because, like Thomasson, I wasn’t there. For all we know she told the man he had bad breath.

    I am sick and tired of all these people who have the privilidge of communicating to millions of people using it to lie to them. We need to establish some sort of punishment for these people. Any government employee or other person that has been granted the right of national communication should be guilty of a crime when they lie to the public or offer statements that cannot be verified by fact. Imagine what a difference honesty would make.

  5. Joyce

    Ordinarily, I would like to agree that partisanship should end at the water’s edge. However, these are not ordinary times, when we have an administration that has failed so badly in foreign policy. With his belligerent my way or the highway form of diplomacy, Bush has gotten us into a costly and openended war, earned the US the enmity of most of the world’s people, empowered Iran, and created more chaos in the Mid-East. Most Americans give Bush low marks on his handling of foreign relations. Why shouldn’t Ms Pelosi, who represents where most Americans are, not try to improve America’s relations around the world? The congress has to deal with the mess Bush has made, most notably paying for it. The Iraq Study Group, that Bush has ignored, called for opening up dialogue with Syria and Iran. The Congress will be dealing with trying to clean up after Bush long after he has retired to Crawford. Why not start now??

    Yes, there are important domestic issues, but the chaos in the Mid East is of top priority. Thomasson sounds like he thinks the little woman, Pelosi, should just stay home and take care of the house. Saying she has no diplomatic experience disregards her congressional experience and her 10 years on the Senate Select Intelligence Committee. She has forgotten more than Bush will ever know about foreing policy.

  6. Electric Bill

    Sounds like Thomasson has his panties in a knot over nothing, not unlike Bu$hco’s collective underthings. Like the rest of his failed presidency, George Bush’s foreign policy has been a disaster. “Either you’re with us or you’re against us,” is no way to conduct foreign policy and it hardly fits into the language of diplomacy. Pelosi made a bold move and that’s what the public elected the Democrats to do, make bold moves to try to save this trainwreck we’ re headed toward. Pelosi is the Speaker of the People’s House and her voice is a lot more akin to the people’s voice than the isolated imperialists in the White House.

  7. Kaine

    I think the uproar is primarily a political one. When I see republican representatives heading on the same trip as a democrat, and the democrat is hung for it, I think the outrage is politically driven, not diplomatic.

    If it weren’t political, the republicans would have been sure to work with Pelosi instead of against her!

    I agree with Mark’s statement:
    “I believe that the current trips are being done to start deplomacy that doesn’t involve a gun in the face – the only type Bush knows, and a style that has become increasingly dangerous to our nation and the world.”

  8. Donna

    I am glad the Middle East gets to see up close the face of sanity in American politics. We’re not all religious/extremist/bloodthirsty/cowardly drug abusing cowboy wannabes, and I think it’s time the world was reminded of that.

  9. Carl Nemo

    Pelosi belongs back home in the House where she should be doing the business of “we the people”, not trapsing about on the taxpayer dime and time talking to raghead dictators that are doing nothing but stroking her ego. Cheney and I are lightyears apart when it comes to Iraq and Middle Eastern policy but he’s right that she’s overstepped herself and should not be engaged in diplomatic brinksmanship.

    This is the same person who said “impeachment if off the table”…huh?! This is the subject she should be engaging in the House right now, doing her Constitutional duty to see that Bush and Cheney are removed from office, not running to Syria and other Middle-Eastern enclaves running her duplicit, mealy, mouth!

    I do know this, she’s the wrong person to be Speaker of the House at this grave time in U.S. history. She wasn’t very well respected prior to her ascendency to SOH, but now she’s showing her true flim-flam self to the world. And no Virginia, her trip will not open doors for diplomacy with these cunning, evil, machissmo, raghead leaders. In fact, within, they feel it an insult that they even have to deal with a lowly woman. They feel the same way about Condi too. Madeline Albright was another example under Clinton. This is not a sexist remark, but a fact. Most of the trouble spots in the third world are run by Islamic, Hispanic, and Oriental machissmo, chauvinist pigs! If you have to deal with these monsters then you need to send a male diplomat that has a set of titanium nitride balls along with serious gray matter between his ears! Sorry gals, but that’s the way the ‘worm turns’… ๐Ÿ˜

  10. Carl Nemo

    for straightening out my skewed, ill-thought analysis concerning the overall situation, I’m “clear” now… ๐Ÿ˜

  11. Joyce

    Congressional leaders have an obligation to”traipse” around the world to better inform themselves on foreign policy matters that they will vote on. As for tending to impeachment, Ms. Pelosi can count. There are not enough votes in the Senate for removal. No administration deserves impeachment more than this one. Both Bush and Cheney decieved the country into an unnecessary war that they totally botched. That alone is grounds for impeachment, but there is much more.

    However, the political reality is the country is in a difficult war. To put congress and the country through an impeahment that can’t go anywhere would be irresponsible. Republicans can be counted on to defend their president and it takes 2/3 of the Senate to vote for removal.

    Finally, the male chauvinistic traditions can’t be broken by caving into them. Look at the recent accomplishments of those societies that have repressed women. Their greatest contribution to the world has been the suicide bomber.