Politics, Foreign Policy, Current Events and Occasional Outbursts Lacking Couth

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

A Dangerous Precedent

Speaker of the House Pelosi and Senate Majority leader Reid are engaging in some far reaching and very ill conceived political maneuvers the consequences of which I doubt either have given much thought to. When an elected officials partisanship trumps the welfare of our country we are indeed headed for troubled times. How far should the hatred of the Bush Policy go?

On January 24th 2007 General David Petraeus (he who would succeed Gen. George Casey) testified before the US Senate. His testimony included his strategic initiative that would direct an increase in US armed forces to engage in his designed counter insurgency strategy. He defined this new directive as a troop “surge” specifically targeting what had become the biggest flashpoint of the Iraqi insurgency, Baghdad. Some quotes from General Petraeus testimony:

“If we are to carry out the Multinational Force Iraq mission in accordance with the new strategy, the additional forces that have been directed to move to Iraq will be essential, as will greatly increased support by our government’s other agencies, additional resources for reconstruction and economic initiatives, and a number of other actions critical to what must be a broad, comprehensive, multifaceted approach to the challenges in Iraq.”

"The objective will be to achieve sufficient security to provide the space and time for the Iraqi government to come to grips with the tough decisions its members must make to enable Iraq to move forward[…]"

"[…]In short, it is not just that there will be additional forces in Baghdad; it is what they will do and how they will do it that is important."

"Our military is making an enormous commitment in Iraq; we need the rest of the departments to do likewise, to help the Iraqi government get the country and its citizens working, and to use Iraq’s substantial oil revenues for the benefit of all the Iraqi people."
Shortly there after, Petraeus was unanimously confirmed by the US senate.

Let’s allow three months to blur by.

April 23rd via CNN ‘s The Situation Room in an exchange between Harry Reid and CNN’s Dana Bash:

BASH: The phrase "the war is lost" really touched a nerve. Do you stand by that -- that -- that comment?

REID: General Petraeus has said that only 20 percent of the war can be won militarily. He's the man on the ground there now. He said 80 percent of the war has to be won diplomatically, economically and politically. I agree with General Petraeus.
Now, that is clear and I certainly believe that.

BASH: But, sir, General Petraeus has not said the war is lost.
I just want to ask you again...

REID: General -- General Petraeus has said the war cannot be won militarily. He said that. And President Bush is doing nothing economically. He is doing nothing diplomatically. He is not doing even the minimal requested by the Iraq Study Group.
So I -- I stick with General Petraeus. I have no doubt that the war cannot be won militarily, and that's what I said last Thursday and I stick with that.

BASH: Arlen Specter, a Republican, but somebody who, in many ways, is like you, a critic of the president's Iraq policy. He said this. He said: "For men and women who are over in Iraq to have somebody of Senator Reid's stature say that the war is lost, it is just very, very demoralizing and not necessary."
Is there something to that, an 18- and 19-year-old person in the service in Iraq who is serving, risking their lives, in some cases losing their life, hearing somebody like you back in Washington saying that they're fighting for a lost cause?

REID: General Petraeus has told them that.

BASH: How has he said that?

REID: He said the war can't be won militarily. He said that. I mean he said it. He's the commander on the ground there.
What Petraeus said with a bit more context:

And I think, again, that any student of history recognizes that there is no military solution to a problem like that in Iraq, to the insurgency of Iraq. Military action is necessary to help improve security, for all the reasons that I stated in my remarks, but it is not sufficient. A political resolution of various differences, of this legislation, of various senses that people do not have a stake in the success of the new Iraq, and so forth, that is crucial. That is what will determine in the long run the success of this effort.
More from Reid via his CNN interview:

BASH: You talked several times about General Petraeus. You know that he is here in town. He was at the White House today, sitting with the president in the Oval Office and the president said that he wants to make it clear that Washington should not be telling him, General Petraeus, a commander on the ground in Iraq, what to do, particularly, the president was talking about Democrats in Congress. He also said that General Petraeus is going to come to the Hill and make it clear to you that there is progress going on in Iraq, that the so-called surge is working. Will you believe him when he says that?

REID: No, I don't believe him, because it's not happening. All you have to do is look at the facts.
The factors are this has been going on for three months. American deaths are at the highest they've been in two years. We have -- it's like a balloon. Things have quieted down a little in Baghdad, but just a little bit. They've even moved up in the Kurdish area now. Have tremendous explosions up there, killing two dozen people today. The situation in Iraq is not getting better, and it won't until we change course.
So, basically Harry Reid sticks by General Petraeus to the point of conveniently contextualizing his comments on the complexity of COIN (“it can’t be won militarily”) but that solidarity disappears the second the man he confirmed to head the Iraq war dares utter “progress” and “Baghdad” in the same sentence. The confirmation of Petraeus (and, in effect, his "surge") served well to demonstrate a willingness to "cooperate" with the President and the Republican minority. Yet a scant three months later Petraeus and the very obviously long term strategy he brought with him have failed. Very convenient.

April 4th: Nancy Pelosi travels to Syria and engages in talks with a head of state that the President has (right, wrong or indifferent) purposefully isolated:

Pelosi's visit to Syria was the latest challenge to the White House by congressional Democrats, who are taking a more assertive role in influencing policy in the Middle East and the Iraq war.
Speaker Pelosi has apparently appointed herself Secretary of State Pelosi.

There is nothing “un-patriotic” about openly opposing the Iraq war or the policies of the President. Quite the contrary, vocal opposition of the policies the three branches of our government enact are crucial to the foundation of our freedom. Further, President Bush as the commander in chief has earned the criticism and general cynical attitude of the American people in allowing a definitive military victory to dissolve into abject failure to both “win the peace” and conclude the conflict. However;

There is a vast difference between opposition and a senior member of our government telling the planet that the Iraq war is “lost.” There is a vast difference between opposition and decapitating existing foreign policy and blundering into an unfriendly state.

Both Harry Reid and self appointed Secretary of State Pelosi are playing a dangerous game of politicking foreign policy and an ongoing war. I doubt either has looked beyond the partisan scope of 2008 and considered the consequences of their actions and words. One wonders if Harry Reid even thought, before or after, of the moralizing effect his statement would have on the insurgency and the demoralizing effect it might have on US soldiers. What impression did Nancy Pelosi's unsanctioned visit to al Assad leave regarding American cohesion and resolve…

More than burnishing the regime's image in Syria, Mrs. Pelosi is seen as the well-dressed woman who stood up to President Bush, possibly the most unpopular figure in the Arab world after former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

In other words a person who is in no position to officially affect US/Syrian relations has successfully eclipsed and marginalized the President and the staff he specifically appointed to engage in such relations. To what end? It certainly accomplished little in terms of cooling tensions between Syria and Israel.

In the great game of political warfare, Pelosi and Reid are setting a dangerous, shameless almost psychotic precedent in the rules of engagement. Win at any cost.


Adrian said...

I think you're pretty far off base on Pelosi's visit to Syria, for several reasons.

1) You say:
"In other words a person who is in no position to officially affect US/Syrian relations has successfully eclipsed and marginalized the President and the staff he specifically appointed to engage in such relations."

Actually, Congress is given the powers by the Constitution to involve itself with foreign trade and the security of the US (declaring war, etc.). So it's not like Pelosi was creating a new role for herself.

2) You say:
"To what end? It certainly accomplished little in terms of cooling tensions between Syria and Israel."

Cooling tensions between Syria and Israel is evidently not the goal of the United States:

3) You say:
"In the great game of political warfare, Pelosi and Reid are setting a dangerous, shameless almost psychotic precedent in the rules of engagement. Win at any cost."
Are you seriously arguing that Democrats are the party that has set the precedent for a "win at any cost" mentality? Furthermore, given the tremendous amount of bad press Reid has gotten in light of his "the war is lost" comment, do you seriously believe he deliberately said that for some domestic political advantage?

Jay@Soob said...


Thanks for your challenging comment. Let me see if I can aanswer your questions:

1) To my knowledge no congress member (speaker or otherwise) has embarked upon a diplomatic mission with foreign head state and directly contradicted the sitting presidents diplomatic policy. Bush has entertained (again right wrong or indifferent) an approach of essentially ignoring Syria. Pelosi (despite the admin. protests) directly contradicted this.

2) Pelosi brought with her a message "of peace" from the Israeli prime minister. It had absolutely no relevance beyond that of the symbolic. Did Pelosi contradict the presidents foreign diplomacy to deliver a symbolic message to al Assad?

3)This is not at all meant to offend you as I value your opinions and enjoy your blog, but:
I've stated before that I shy away from domestic politics on this blog. One of the biggest reasons I do so is illustrated here in your third counterpoint which begins:

Are you seriously arguing that Democrats...

While many of my philosophical and political beliefs are conservative in nature, I tread no party line and this is not a "drive by blogging" of the democratic party.

I'm not accusing an entire political party of anything. I am accusing both Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid of setting a dangerous precedent in exploiting both foreign policy and an on going war for political gain.

That you disagree and challenge my criticism in an intelligent manner is very much appreciated but this post isn't an "us vs them" attempt at partisanship.

The second half of your 3rd comment:

Yes I truly believe he meant that. Given a chance to rescind or even revise that comment (as I quoted from CNN above) he reaffirmed it. This wasn't a "Macaca moment." Such conviction a scant three months after confirming Petraeus (who very obviously was bringing a long term strategy to the table) seems very much a political maneuver.

Adrian said...

For the first point, Congress and the Reagan administration were very much at odds over policy towards Nicaragua.

For the second point, I don't really see a problem... it's not Bush's prerogative to dictate what Israel can or can't say to Syria. Maybe I'm misunderstanding you?

For the third point, here's how I interpret Reid's comment. He meant it but he probably didn't mean to blurt it out in the manner that he did. However, once he said that, he wasn't going to back away from it because that would be like him getting shouted down.

And in terms of exploiting a war for political gain, see Richard Nixon.

Sorry if I seem harsh. I usually only comment when I disagree. You can interpret that as me agreeing with everything else on your blog!

aelkus said...

Regardless of the political merit of Pelosi's visit to Syria (which I honestly am not myself sure of) I'd at least like to point out that it's not exactly unprecedented.

I'm copying this verbatim from the New York Times on April 4, 1997:

"Speaking with startling bluntness on an issue so delicate that diplomats have tiptoed around it for years, Newt Gingrich said today that he had warned China's top leaders that the United States would intervene militarily if Taiwan was attacked.

As he left for Tokyo after a three-day trip to China, Mr. Gingrich said he had made it absolutely clear how the United States would respond if such a military conflict arose.

Referring to his meetings with China's leaders, Mr. Gingrich said: ''I said firmly, 'We want you to understand, we will defend Taiwan. Period.'"

He also said, ''I think that they are more aware now that we would defend Taiwan if it were militarily attacked.''

Mr. Gingrich, the Speaker of the House, delivered his message, among the most forceful ever given about Taiwan by a visiting United States official, to Wang Daohan, China's chief representative in talks with Taiwan. Mr. Gingrich said he had given the same message to President Jiang Zemin and Prime Minister Li Peng in Beijing last week.

Chinese leaders offered no public response to Mr. Gingrich today. But on Friday, Mr. Jiang urged him to treat the Taiwan issue with care. . . .

Asked about Mr. Gingrich's statements, a Clinton Administration official in Washington said Mr. Gingrich had received briefings about American policy toward China, but that Mr. Gingrich ''was speaking for himself'' in his conversations with Chinese leaders.

The White House issued a statement saying that the policy of the United States was to ''meet its obligation under the Taiwan Relations Act, including the maintenance of an adequate self-defense for Taiwan,'' and that the Administration would maintain its ''one-China policy, the fundamental bedrock of which is that both parties peacefully address the Taiwan issue. . . ."

In an interview on Friday, Mr. Gingrich said he had spoken with Mr. Clinton, and with Mr. Gore on several occasions, to make sure that their messages to Beijing dovetailed. At the time, he did not mention his message on Taiwan."

Needless to say, Gingrich's remarks ran contrary to US policy at the time and inflamed a diplomatic incident. It communicated an overly hawkish message that could have provoked, at least, a stepped-up Chinese defense posture, and at worst, given hard-liners within Beijing the impetus for an attack.

I'm sure there's plenty of other examples that can be dredged up by politicians of both parties across the years.

But the bottom line is that what you're describing is not new--and there's never really been a point in American history where our government has communicated foreign policy with one voice.

Jay@Soob said...


I don't take your comments as harsh at all. Quite the contrary, they are well thought out and intelligent.

In terms of the second point, I agree, it's not Bush prerogative to decide Israels diplomatic efforts. It's also not Pelosi's prerogative to usurp the Presidents foreign policy, no matter how malformed she (and I and others) opine it to be.

In terms of the third point, I'll meet you half way in agreeing that what you posit is certainly a possibility.

Jay@Soob said...


I can imagine ole Newt sauntering in to meet the Chinese delegation on their own "turf" replete with western arrogance, perhaps wearing a slightly cocked Stetson, maybe a pair of pearl handled Colt .45's weighing down his gunbelt on each hip. Fingering the well worn grips of his pistols he drawls, "Yew Chicoms is gonna leave off from the TyeWonEeese, er there's gonna be sum vilence. An you ain't gonna like the outcome."

While I credit Clinton as the best president since Nixon in terms of US-Chinese diplomacy (most favored nation and all) the idea that Newts cowboy declarations are a contradiction to Clintons own actions holds water only in terms of the measure of overt civility. To wit:

In 1996 in response to both an increase in Taiwan Chinese tensions and a Chinese missile "test" President Clinton engaged a massive show of naval force in the Taiwan Straights. While Clinton enacted a very public discourse of "peaceful reconciliation" regarding Taiwan and a "one China" policy he also made it very clear (beyond that of Newts own posturing) that a one China fully realized would have the US to contend with.

My point: While Newt lacked couth during his moment of public bravado he certainly wasn't acting in direct contradiction of his president. Clinton, being the master orator he is, managed to negate Chinese aggression through military show of force and yet assuage his actions through both political maneuver and friendly rhetoric.

aelkus said...

Clinton's state department policy towards China rested on a forceful defense of Taiwan being an unstated threat, a tripwire whose presence was implicit. However, at the same time, the State Department carried out diplomacy in China with the goal of improving relations with Beijing (which carried the implicit consequence of marginalizing Taipei). Implicit in his adherence to the "one-China policy" was the idea that Beijing represented the legitimate Chinese government, not Taipei. This was the pattern throughout the years of the Clinton administration. Of course, Clinton did at times indicate that the tripwire was still in effect after specific Chinese provocations---the 1996 incident (which followed a Chinese missile test) being an egregious example. However, such displays of force were exceptions to the rule. Obsessively highlighting a defense commitment that should have been more or less self-evident would raise Chinese suspicions and cross-strait tensions, not to mention give the Taiwanese (who were calculating the costs and benefits of openly declaring their defiance of the one-China policy) the impression that the US would help them gain formal independence and recognition, something that Clinton's state department was not prepared to do.

Clinton was vilified for favoring authoritarian Beijing over democratic Taipei. In this context, Gingrich went to Beijing to deliver a bellicose message that went far beyond the agreed framework of diplomatic conversation established through visible (summits, trade agreements, public diplomacy) and invisible (military force posture, economic interaction, and state-to-state interaction) diplomacy between the two countries. Gingrich's intention was to loudly affirm his support for Taiwan as an independent, democratic state and intimidate the Chinese. While the substance of his remarks, on surface, does not seem to contradict Clinton, it sends an entirely different message than that of Clinton's state department, one that promised confrontation rather than cooperation. In short, it undermined the Clinton State Department's attempt to communicate a specific message to Beijing and contradicted the spirit of State Department's China policy.

Likewise, Nancy Pelosi's visit substantially did not differ so much from established Bush administration policy. She talked about ending Syrian support for terrorists, something that I'm sure Bush has little problem with. The problem, as you state, is the manner of her conduct (meeting with a foreign head of state and communicating a concialiatory stance in contradiction to established policy and posture) undermined the message of firmness the President was seeking to communicate. I don't see a substantial difference between the two cases.

Returning to my earlier comment about this having a long history, it is in the end, little different than Congress rejecting Woodrow Wilson's treaties, Congress preventing Ford from aiding South Vietnam during the final NVA offensive, or the Democrat-Republicans attacking the Federalists' support of Britain during John Adams' presidency. Part of living in a democracy is that many times our government cannot speak with a unified voice to the world. Sometimes the signal can get jammed.

Jay@Soob said...

At the risk of putting the boots to a dead horse I have more to say about this subject. When time allows.