Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s foray into shuttle diplomacy in the Middle East has drawn the fire of President Bush and a rebuke from Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Olmert denies he ever authorized Ms Pelosi to take a message to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. A spokesman for President Bush has characterized her trip as “counter-productive,” and while the President’s men have probably gone too far in denouncing Pelosi for flirting with a sponsor of terrorism, they are perfectly justified in complaining that her negotiations—if they can be called that—are sending a mixed signal.
Let’s be clear what is at stake here. Pelosi’s views on the Iraq war and Syria’s role in a Middle East peace are irrelevant to any assessment of her self-appointed mission. She is Speaker of the House, not the President of the United States, Secretary of State, or an accredited diplomat. Naturally she plays an important role in formulating and debating House policies, though in recent decades the Congress has played a very reduced part in affairs of war and state. But, even in the palmy days of Congressional influence in foreign policy, nothing she would say on such a trip could have any value whatsoever except as propaganda, which might potentially give aid and comfort to the enemies of the United States. Even if a Democrat, as seems likely, succeeds George Bush, it is very unlikely that a Democratic President will take much interest in Pelosi’s private conversations with Middle East leaders. The best that one can say about Pelosi’s trip is that it is inconsequential. The worst is that it reveals a self-important woman who puts party politics above the American interest.
The President, in criticizing Pelosi’s meeting, has been accused of hypocrisy. Why has he not similarly censured Republican congressmen who have met with Assad? The answer is simple. In the first place, those Republicans did not defy the President’s wishes in going to the Middle East, and, second, they did not play at diplomacy, pretending to carry serious messages back and forth between heads of state. Admittedly, President Bush’s entire foreign policy is a string of unmitigated disasters, and his Middle East policy has seriously damaged American credibility all over the world. All that was needed to make it worse, was for a cynical Congressperson to make the rest of the world wonder if anyone is actually in charge of affairs of state. Ms Speaker has filled that much-needed gap in our incompetence.
According to the Constitution, diplomacy is the exclusive privilege of the executive branch. This privilege was long-established in the British tradition even before it was declared in Article II, Section 2 that:
He shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls. . . .
Although film stars, political activists, and credibility-seeking politicians appear to think otherwise, George Clooney and Jesse Jackson are not diplomats, and neither is Nancy Pelosi. This problem of citizen diplomacy came up in the infancy of the American republic when, in 1798, Dr. John Logan, a Pennsylvania legislator and future senator, entered into negotiations with France during a period of conflict that came close to war. Although Logan did not try to pass himself as a diplomat, his behavior so outraged Congress that it passed the Logan act, modified slightly as recently as 1994. According to the Logan Act, still in force:
Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.
By her own admission—indeed, by her own boasting—Nancy Pelosi has “without authority of the United States” carried on intercourse with foreign governments with intent to influence their conduct in relation to controversies with the United States. I only wish the Act specified life, instead of a mere three years, and I only wish the Republicans had the guts to prosecute her.
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