Pelosi in Syria

The Right continues to work itself into higher and higher pitches of hysteria over Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Syria. Today the Wall Street Journal editorial page is shrieking that Pelosi committed a felony by traveling to Syria. The story is that Rep. Pelosi violated the Logan Act:

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.

If in fact Citizen Pelosi violated this Act (which has been on the books in one form or another since the John Adams Administration) then a large part of Congress, living and dead, also violated it. However, the only Logan Act indictment ever occurred in 1803 — the case involved a Kentucky newspaper that advocated the western states secede from the Union and form a separate nation allied with France — but no prosecution followed. In all these years not one American has ever been convicted of violating the Logan Act.

One wonders how many Wall Street Journal staffers were put to work finding some obscure law Pelosi might have violated.

The Righties have decided that the President has sole authority to talk to foreign governments. But Scott Lilly writes at the Center for American Progress:

As the White House quite rightly points out, any attempt to conduct diplomacy, speak in behalf of the United States government, or signal a new policy toward a foreign nation, is a violation of the constitutional prerogatives of the president. But the oath of office that the president must take requires that he “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution,” not just when it is in the interest of the presidency, but when there is infringement of the constitutional authorities of any of the three branches.

Neither Kolbe nor Pelosi were impinging on the authority of the executive branch or attempting to do the job assigned to the president. They were merely attempting to fill the role which the Constitution has assigned to Congress.

Members of Congress are charged with the increasingly heavy responsibility of giving or withholding the resources necessary to conduct our nation’s military, diplomatic, and economic relations around the world. To do so, they have an obligation under the Constitution to know what challenges face the country, what the various options are for meeting those challenges, and how effectively the executive branch is performing in pursuing the options they have chosen.

Congress cannot meet that obligation by sitting behind their desks in the Capitol and receiving briefings (from the executive branch) on how effective their strategies are or how well they are executing them. They need to get out and kick the tires.

Despite the inference that the White House has tried to draw concerning Pelosi’s trip to Syria, the administration has failed to produce any evidence that she did or said anything in her meetings in Damascus that went beyond her role or responsibilities as a member of Congress. Indeed, her schedule was arranged by the U.S. Embassy there and diplomatic personnel representing the president were present at all times. It is certain the White House would have known instantly had such a breech of conduct had occurred.

Pelosi, who served for years as the ranking member of the Foreign Operations Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, knows the drill. She can ask questions, listen to observations, and get a measure of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as a person—all of which could be invaluable in grappling with the legislative choice the Congress must make in the months ahead. But she did not go to Syria to speak on behalf of President Bush or the United States government, and the Syrians are far too savvy in the ways of American politics to believe her if she had tried.

Here’s another sign of the Apocalypse — Joe Klein debunks the Logan Act nonsense. He does a pretty fair job of it, too.

Unfortunately, it appears a large part of the “liberal media” is repeating rightie talking points and getting their “facts” from the Republican Noise Machine rather than, you know, what actually happened.

Scott Lilly goes on to describe the foreign relations conducted by Republican Dennis Hastert when he was Speaker of the House.

Unlike Pelosi, Hastert and his staff were not reticent to speak on behalf of the United States government, nor were they worried about negotiating as though they were official emissaries of the president. But unlike Pelosi, they were not accompanied by officials of the embassy and often did not inform the embassy of their visits. On occasion they even denied embassy requests to attend the meetings they were holding with officials of the Colombian government.

Over the course of several years, Hastert’s aides negotiated billions of dollars in U.S. arms assistance to elements of the Colombian military for specific weapons chosen as a result of meetings between Hastert’s staff and Colombian officials. Following the negotiations, Hastert would insist that the funds be inserted in appropriation bills; after the weapons were purchased, Hastert’s staff would show up for their delivery.

Hastert got away with this behavior because officials in the Clinton administration knew he and his staff could wreak havoc on a wide range of administration priorities. Clinton officials decided to look the other way rather than confront this outrageous intrusion into the constitutional powers of the president.

I still say the Pelosi hysteria is really about the “emergency” supplement appropriations bill that Bush expects to veto as soon as he gets it. The White House is trying to soften up Congress so he can blame them for not funding the troops.

Dan Froomkin wrote this week about classic Rovian strategy.

When the president is on the defensive, Rove’s signature move is to disdain the quaint constraints of reality and attack the critics where they are strongest — ideally, by tarring them with Bush’s own weakness. …

… Rove’s approach was very much on display yesterday at Bush’s Rose Garden news conference.

The president’s current weakness is profound. His war in Iraq appears to be a colossal failure, and as a result the public has turned against him and wants the troops home and safe.

But to hear Bush talk, it’s the Democrats who are the party of failure. It’s the Democrats who are defying the will of the people. And in the latest, truly dazzling talking point unveiled by the president yesterday, it’s the Democrats who would keep the troops in harm’s way.

Given the weight of public antipathy toward Bush’s Folly (and Bush’s handling of Bush’s Folly), you’d think Bush would have a hard time fooling anyone. However …

What Rove can still count on, in spite of everything, is that the president’s assertions make it into the headlines no matter how dubious they may be — and that all too many reporters prefer uncritical transcription to the kind of tough but fair analysis that would be required to put what the president says in context.

Ain’t it the truth? And I fear some among us remain susceptible to being snookered.

What the Right is doing is just a political game to discredit Pelosi, and they’re doing it by tarring her with Bush’s own weakness — his inept foreign policy. Turning the public against Democrats in Congress will allow Bush to blame them for his failures. That’s the plan, anyway.

See also Glenn Greenwald.

Salute to Scarves

Since this is scarf week on Mahablog — WaPo fashion writer Robin Givhan praises Nancy Pelosi’s scarf wardrobe.

I see people on the Right are still blasting Pelosi for wearing a scarf in a mosque, calling it a sign of subservience to men. I think Muslims think of it as subservience to God, but never mind. There are several religious traditions that require headcoverings, either during worship or all the time. Many orders of Catholic nuns still require wearing a veil. Amish men and women seem always to be wearing hats or bonnets. Orthodox Jewish men and women also keep something on their heads all day long. Here in the New York City area Jewish women often wear chic berets or retro-chic snoods.

Sikh men are supposed to wear turbans. Apparently there is something of a turban crisis going on, as young Sikh men have decided that keeping 20 feet of cloth wrapped around their heads disrupts their flow.

Religions have all kinds of dress codes; Buddhist temples usually require the removal of shoes. I know of one Buddhist monastery that won’t allow people into the meditation hall wearing jewelry (beyond very modest ear studs) or T-shirts with messages on them, in which case the visitor is asked to wear the shirt inside out.

One point that seems to be lost on some Pelosi critics is that I doubt she would have been allowed into a mosque with her head bare. I suppose she could have not gone into the mosque, but maybe she really wanted to. It’s what we call a “choice.”

Update: Speaking of religion — see E.J. Dionne, “Answers To the Atheists.”


Glenn Greenwald writes about a 1997 trip to China by then-House Speaker Newt Gringrich. Vice President Al Gore had been in China one week earlier to discuss the Clinton Administration’s “one China” policy regarding Taiwan and its commitment to peacefully address the Taiwan issue. But Newt bluntly told the Chinese that the U.S. would intervene militarily if China tried to take Taiwan. A week later, China admonished the United States for sending mixed signals and accused Newt Gingrich of making ”improper” statements. Glenn comments:

Back then, the media treated Gingrich like he was the American Prime Minister, and his right-wing supporters had no problem with the House Speaker traveling and expressing his own foreign policy views which deviated from the Clinton administration’s. Quite the contrary, many right-wing leaders — including Grover Norquist, Ralph Reed, and Vin Weber — went on PBS and praised Gingrich’s “aggressive role in China.”

They couldn’t have been more pleased that Gingrich did what, in their minds, the Clinton administration was failing to do — standing up to the Chinese. Gingrich, as House Speaker, was heroic for going on his own and doing that. The same behavior from Pelosi (which I’m sure is, in actuality, completely different for all sorts of unknown and indiscernible reasons) is now both a grave political mistake and a reckless breach of protocol.

All together now — It’s OK If You’re A Republican.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post still struggles with its selective amnesia and publishes a story titled “Speaker’s Role In Foreign Policy Is a Recent, and Sensitive, Issue.” This very weird article by Elizabeth Williamson says, in effect, that even though “Pelosi’s dealings with Middle East leaders have not strayed far, if at all, from those typical for a congressional trip” and that a mess o’ Republican congress critters have been hobnobbing about Syria also, Pelosi was still wrong to go because she’s a Democrat. Seriously.

The Republicans who have also been in Syria are sending mixed signals about what Pelosi did there. House Republican Leader John Boehner is sticking by the party line and whining that Pelosi just went to Syria to embarrass President Bush. This is nonsense; it’s obvious that Bush is incapable of feeling embarrassment. A normal person wouldn’t show his face in public again after screwing up as badly as Bush has screwed up. More on this in a minute. Here’s the other GOP POV:

Rep. David L. Hobson of Springfield, who joined Pelosi and other lawmakers in a meeting yesterday with Syrian President Bashar Assad, disagreed with Boehner that Pelosi “came here to embarrass Bush. I think she came here to reinforce certain policies, understand the region better and have the region understand her better.”

In a telephone interview last night from Saudi Arabia, Hobson said Pelosi “did not engage in any bashing of Bush in any meeting I was in and she did not in any meeting I was in bash the policies as it relates to Syria.”

Instead, Hobson said, Pelosi and the congressional delegation urged Assad to curb the number of suicide bombers who cross the Syrian border into Iraq to “murder our troops and the Iraqi people.”

Back to embarrassment — I looked up embarrassment as a psychological phenomenon and found this:

Human behavior experts who study mortifying moments say four conditions must exist before we blush.

First, there must be a failure for which you feel responsible. Then, the failure occurs suddenly, with no time to prepare or adjust. “And it must take place in public,” says Domeena Renshaw, M.D., professor of psychiatry at Loyola University in Chicago. “Your face gets red because shock instantly increases blood pressure, which helps more blood get to the brain to help you figure a way out of the predicament in which you just found yourself.” The final condition: you must value the opinion of others who witnessed your goof.

“Beware the person who can’t be embarrassed,” says Dr. Gross. “That rare individual may consider his position, intelligence and status so lofty, he cares not what others think.”

See? I say no one need worry about embarrassing President Bush. He can no more feel embarrassment than he can fly.

Update: See also “Pelosi in Syria” at the Center for American Progress.