For being completely unprecedented, it seems like lawmakers going around the White House in order to influence foreign governments sure happen a lot.
A letter to the Islamic Republic of Iran reminding the Mullahs (and the White House) of the Senate’s constitutional role in advising on, consenting to, and ratifying international agreements has been met with overwrought shrieks and protests from the left. Those who did claim that this letter was an act of treason insisted that it had no historical parallel. In a must-read essay from The Weekly Standard’s Stephen F. Hayes, it’s made clear that this letter was tame compared to Democratic efforts to undermine the American presidents with whom they disagreed.
The New York Daily News labeled “traitors” the letter’s signatories and its author, Senator Tom Cotton (combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, Bronze Star). Max Fisher at Vox.com called the letter “unprecedented” and claimed Republicans were bringing their legislative obstructionism to “the previously sacrosanct realm of foreign policy.” John Kerry bellowed that the “letter ignores more than two centuries of precedent in the conduct of American foreign policy.” Hillary Clinton claimed that if the senators’ objective wasn’t to undermine the president, it was to help the mullahs in Iran. President Obama accused senators of forming a “coalition” with Iran’s hardliners. NBC News called the letter “stunning” and declared that it signaled an end to the days when politics stopped at the water’s edge.
Hayes details the many instances in which Democratic officeholders disobeyed the wishes of the White House and approached foreign governments with the aim of frustrating administration policy. Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) traveled to Leningrad in order to “explain to the Soviets the Senate’s constitutional role in treaty making.” Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) hoped to undermine Ronald Reagan and make him a one-term president. Secretary of State John Kerry sojourned to Nicaragua where he met with Daniel Ortega and accused the American government of supporting “terrorism.” Et cetera. Et cetera.
It’s almost like the collective wails of Democrats who accused the 47 Republicans of sedition were merely projecting.
Perhaps the most vivid memory of a Democrat actively seeking to undermine a president of the opposition party occurred in 2007. Then, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) sat down with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a figure the Bush administration had accused of supporting terrorism and of destabilizing Iraq, and declared that “the road to Damascus is a road to peace.”
Five years later, Assad would deploy nerve gas on civilian populations in Syria amid one of history’s most brutal civil wars – a war which spawned a regional conflict and the rise of one of perhaps the most pitiless Islamist militias the world has ever seen.
Perhaps understandably, Pelosi doesn’t appreciate it when journalists bring that little episode up.
“Pelosi, critics pointed out, took a 2007 trip to visit Syrian President Bashar al Assad when she was speaker of the House to help pave the way for peace negotiations with Israel and try and dissuade Damascus from its continued sponsorship of groups like Hezbollah,” Bloomberg reported. That report also noted that Republicans in the White House had a negative reaction to Pelosi’s trip and nearly mirrored the Democrats’ criticisms of the Republicans who signed the letter addressed to Tehran.
But Pelosi aides are no fans of those making a parallel to her behavior in 2007 and that of Republicans in 2015. In a statement, the House Democratic minority leader’s spokesman, Drew Hammill, lashed out at Republicans and those in the commentary class.
“This visit was organized by the Bush State Department, executed by the Bush Defense Department, and officials from the Bush Administration’s Embassy at the time in Damascus even sat in the meeting with President Assad,” Hammill said. “As Republican Congressman David Hobson said at the time about the delegation’s visit to Syria, ‘I think we actually helped the administration’s position by showing there’s not dissension.’ The comparison between the Republican Senator letter to Iran and Leader’s Pelosi bipartisan delegation to the Middle East in 2007 does not stand up to any level of scrutiny.”
Clearly, Pelosi’s charm and diplomatic acumen resulted in far-reaching advantages for the United States in its bilateral relationship with Assad. Only six years after her visit, a Democratic president would be scrambling frantically to avoid having to make good on his promise to attack Syria if the dictator in Damascus disobeyed the president and deployed chemical weapons on civilians. Which he did. Repeatedly.
You can say this much: There is certainly sorting about Hammill’s statement that doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.