Pelosi’s Pratfall in Damascus

The Washington Post editorial board has a scathing assessment of Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Demascus:

HOUSE SPEAKER Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) offered an excellent demonstration yesterday of why members of Congress should not attempt to supplant the secretary of state when traveling abroad. After a meeting with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad in Damascus, Ms. Pelosi announced that she had delivered a message from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that “Israel was ready to engage in peace talks” with Syria. What’s more, she added, Mr. Assad was ready to “resume the peace process” as well. Having announced this seeming diplomatic breakthrough, Ms. Pelosi suggested that her Kissingerian shuttle diplomacy was just getting started. “We expressed our interest in using our good offices in promoting peace between Israel and Syria,” she said.

Only one problem: The Israeli prime minister entrusted Ms. Pelosi with no such message. “What was communicated to the U.S. House Speaker does not contain any change in the policies of Israel,” said a statement quickly issued by the prime minister’s office. In fact, Mr. Olmert told Ms. Pelosi that “a number of Senate and House members who recently visited Damascus received the impression that despite the declarations of Bashar Assad, there is no change in the position of his country regarding a possible peace process with Israel.” In other words, Ms. Pelosi not only misrepresented Israel’s position but was virtually alone in failing to discern that Mr. Assad’s words were mere propaganda.

Oops.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Archives December 2006 August 2006 June 2006 May 2006 April 2006 March 2006 February 2006 [IMG Outside The Beltway | OTB] Pelosi’s Pratfall in Damascus Untrained Soldier Killed in Iraq? Fukuyama: History Ended But Not Yet Over Caption Contest Uncle Sam Might Want You… Terrorist Proxy Fighting in the Middle East Beltway Traffic Jam McCain Head Spot Photos Dirty Pool?

  2. Alex Knapp says:

    It takes a special level of incompetence in foreign affairs to look worse than the Bush Administration. I guess I should have known that Pelosi would be willing to jump in and shoot for that level….

    Yikes.

  3. just me says:

    This is case in point of why congress members shouldn’t be trying their hands at foreign diplomacy. In the end it puts a lot of egg on Pelosi’s face, and makes the US look pretty awful.

    If they do not like the administrations set diplomacy, then they should use their office to correct what they can, or use the bully pulpit to complain about it, but engaging in diplomacy pretty much usurps the executive and leads to gaffs like this.

  4. legion says:

    In other words, Ms. Pelosi not only misrepresented Israel’s position but was virtually alone in failing to discern that Mr. Assad’s words were mere propaganda.

    That’s funny, considering the the WaPo editorial board can’t discern that every single word that comes out of Bush’s mouth is also propaganda…

    And on that note, has anyone even reported what the GOP CoDels were doing in Syria just a day before Pelosi arrived? What did they tell people in the region?

  5. spencer says:

    Given all the other detailed reporting on the Pelosi-Israeli connection the Washington Post editorial is at the least very suspicious.

  6. Anderson says:

    Ah, so the Israelis issue a denial, which thus should be taken 100% literally as the unvarnished truth?

    Diplomacy, folks … does anyone here know how this game is played?

  7. John Burgess says:

    Anderson: Yeah, actually. Having ‘done’ diplomacy for 25 years, I’ve got a real good idea of how it works.

    One of the first lessons is to not carry water for other governments, particularly if you can’t get the message right.

    Another is that there is only one Secretary of State. If you don’t like the policies that the Secretary is implementing, you try to win the next election so that ‘your’ President gets to set policy. You don’t create 635 Secretaries to muddy the waters.

    Diplomacy is not conducted anarchically.

  8. legion says:

    John,
    Perhaps someone should tell that to Fox News & the minority party…

    “I don’t care what the administration says on this. You’ve got to do what you think is in the best interest of your country,” said Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va. “I want us to be successful in Iraq. I want us to clamp down on Hezbollah.”

    Bush sharply criticized House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., for leading a delegation to meet with Syria’s president, Bashar Assad.

    The White House, however, stayed relatively quiet about a similar trip just a few days earlier by Wolf and GOP Reps. Robert Aderholt of Alabama and Joseph Pitts of Pennsylvania.

  9. JohnG says:

    Debate occuring inside the country about the direction of foreign policy is completely different from meeting with foreign leaders to discuss alternative foreign policy.

  10. Tlaloc says:

    Everybody who thinks the Washington post editorial board has any credibility raise your hands.

    No one?

    Oh, alright then. Carry on.

  11. Rodney Dill says:

    So just how soon is this bumbling idiot that calls herself Madame Speaker going to resign in shame.

  12. Steve Verdon says:

    So let me get this straight legion…if a Republican does something dumb, then that lets the Democrats off the hook for doing something dumb? Just curious.

  13. legion says:

    Steve,
    No, but it calls into question the integrity and honesty of people (and [ahem] “news outlets”) who loudly condemn Pelosi for doing the exact same thing several Republican MoCs are doing at the exact same time.

  14. James Joyner says:

    loudly condemn Pelosi for doing the exact same thing several Republican MoCs are doing at the exact same time.

    Well, no. The Republicans, presumably, were doing what they were doing with the blessing of and quite possibly coordination with the president. Pelosi was claiming to speak for a foreign government and doing so despite being asked not to by the president. That, to quote my man Jules, is not even the same sport.

  15. Michael says:

    Ms. Pelosi announced that she had delivered a message from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that “Israel was ready to engage in peace talks” with Syria.

    Is this a change? I thought Israel was always “ready to engage in peace talks” given some pre-requisites.

    What’s more, she added, Mr. Assad was ready to “resume the peace process” as well.

    Again, is this new? Did either side ever say they would not be involved in the peace process?

    Only one problem: The Israeli prime minister entrusted Ms. Pelosi with no such message. “What was communicated to the U.S. House Speaker does not contain any change in the policies of Israel,” said a statement quickly issued by the prime minister’s office.

    Again, and someone will correct me if I’m wrong, does Pelosi’s statement represent a change in the policies of Israel?

    In fact, Mr. Olmert told Ms. Pelosi that “a number of Senate and House members who recently visited Damascus received the impression that despite the declarations of Bashar Assad, there is no change in the position of his country regarding a possible peace process with Israel.”

    Again, I didn’t read her statement as saying that Syria’s position has changed. It sounded to me like both sides just re-iterating the same old story.

    In other words, Ms. Pelosi not only misrepresented Israel’s position but was virtually alone in failing to discern that Mr. Assad’s words were mere propaganda.

    Did Israel say she misrepresented Israel’s position? Israel said the message they gave her was no different than their previous policy, did her statement indicate otherwise?

    Well, no. The Republicans, presumably, were doing what they were doing with the blessing of and quite possibly coordination with the president. Pelosi was claiming to speak for a foreign government and doing so despite being asked not to by the president. That, to quote my man Jules, is not even the same sport.

    So if the President decides that only his lawmakers get to make official policy visits, the opposition party should just stay out of foreign policy? Or was the nature of the visit different in substance, not just permission? I’d hate to think that Democrats should have no part in our nation’s foreign relations just because they don’t hold the White House.

  16. James Joyner says:

    I’d hate to think that Democrats should have no part in our nation’s foreign relations just because they don’t hold the White House.

    For the most part (see more nuanced discussion on yesterday’s Pelosi post, second hyperlink above) they shouldn’t. Win the presidency if you want to make foreign policy.

  17. Scott_T says:

    Michael said:
    “So if the President decides that only his lawmakers get to make official policy visits, the opposition party should just stay out of foreign policy? Or was the nature of the visit different in substance, not just permission? I’d hate to think that Democrats should have no part in our nation’s foreign relations just because they don’t hold the White House. ”

    The thing is that if they are working with the White House I’m sure the WH doesn’t care if it’s a “D” or an “R” talking to foreign leaders, if its with the WH’s agenda.

    If it’s not the WH’s agenda, then yeah, then they shouldn’t be conducting foreign relations.

  18. JohnG says:

    It’s pretty simple. The US can only have 1 foreign policy at a time. How we get to that foreign policy (debates, elections, law making, etc) leaves plenty of ways for voices to be heard. However, from the point of view of foreign countries, there must be one unified voice which determines policy, and that is the Executive. If the Congress does not like the foreign policy, there are many ways to alter it through the system of checks and balances, including via law making. However, checks and balances does not mean that if Congress doesn’t like something then they can conduct their own foreign policy and diplomatic efforts. Congress checks the Executive via its own processes, and not by usurping the powers of the Executive.

    If Congress doesn’t trust the Executive’s handling of information then they can go on fact finding missions in order to get their own read on the facts. Then the proper thing to do is bring these facts back to the US and debate on them. What Congress should not do is meet with foreign leaders and make policy statements, and they definitely should not be making policy statements on behalf of other countries.

  19. legion says:

    Well, no. The Republicans, presumably, were doing what they were doing with the blessing of and quite possibly coordination with the president.

    Somehow, I don’t think this:

    Darrell Issa, a Californian Republican, said U.S. President George W. Bush had failed to promote the dialogue that is necessary to resolve disagreements between the United States and Syria.

    Is quite what Bush would want him to say.

    The simple fact of the matter is that this administration long ago gave up any pretense of ‘diplomacy’ or ‘negotiation’. They simply have no talent pool capable of doing it even if they wanted to – Rice’s laughably ineffective jaunts through the region underline this. And now, even GOP members, like Issa, are realizing that a) only diplomacy will ever be able to stabilize the region, and b) Bush will never be capable of that, so therefore c) somebody else will have to do it for him.

    Here’s a bellweather: have any other members of Congress criticized Pelosi (or, God forbid, the GOP CoDels) for this trip? Have these efforts really damaged any vital US interest besides Bush’s ego?

  20. jeff b says:

    Yet again we see that the defining characteristic of Mr. Joyner’s posts is credulity. The Washington Post has run with a story completely unhinged from reality, and Joyner has taken the baton. Pelosi’s office has even come out and openly challenged anyone to lay a factual basis under that editorial, and nobody has done so yet today. In fact the Dept. of State has even gone against the Post, saying that Pelosi did not undermine their mission in Syria.

  21. Tlaloc says:

    The US can only have 1 foreign policy at a time.

    Exactly and since Bush refuses to have ANY foreign policy other than “me good, you bad” somebody has to step up.

    If we had a marginally competent executive this wouldn’t be a problem, but we don’t. This is no different than individuals suing the EPA to force it to do what it should have done in the first place. If the executive won’t run oversight correctly then the courts have to pick up the slack. If the executive won’t run a foreign policy then the congress has to step in and pick up the slack.

  22. Michael says:

    I’m sure the WH doesn’t care if it’s a “D” or an “R” talking to foreign leaders.

    Thank you for that, jokes are often lacking here and it’s good to see one can still keep a sense of humor.

  23. Tano says:

    “Diplomacy, folks … does anyone here know how this game is played? ”

    I think a better phrasing would be “does anyone here know how the interface between behind-the-scenes diplomacy and public prounouncements works?”

    Apparently not many, especailly at WaPo. Micheal, in comments above, seems better at this than the editorialists. I suspect that Israel did tell Pelosi that they wanted peace, and laid out their conditions. And I see no reason to believe that Pelosi misrepresented their message. If you read all that Pelosi said in her pressers, its clear that she did not emphasize the peace-willingness at the expense of other issues. Evn though it may have been covered that way by the media.

    Publicly, the Israeli government is wedded to a hardline, probably, hopefully, as more of a political cover than an actual position. The statement that they released did not contradict anythign Pelosi said, rather it seemed to try to constrain the spin that could have been built around it.

    Why the WaPo took the spin they did is an interesting question.

  24. Dale Cox says:

    Maybe we could promise to normalize relations with Syria on the condition that the keep Nancy Pelosi.