Defenses of Nancy Pelosi’s Visit to Syria

Congressman Tom Lantos has debunked many of the recent attacks on Nancy Pelosi’s middle east trip:

USA TODAY’s views distort both the nature of Speaker Pelosi’s trip and the constitutional role of Congress in foreign policy. As a member of the speaker’s delegation who accompanied her to every meeting, I would like to set the record straight.

Let’s be clear. Speaker Pelosi acted well within the bounds of current U.S. foreign policy. During her visit in Damascus, she publicly declared that she supports the administration’s goals regarding Syria. She delivered strong messages to President Assad condemning Syria’s support for terrorists in Iraq and throughout the region, its association with Iran, its destabilization of Lebanon, and its efforts to obstruct the investigation into the Hariri assassination.

But she also demonstrated that she agrees with the bipartisan Iraq Study Group that constructive dialogue is a critical means of addressing our concerns with Damascus. The speaker believes – and I wholeheartedly agree – that dialogue does not mean defeat.

Nor did Speaker Pelosi challenge the president’s right to make foreign policy. Far from it. As The Washington Post reported Thursday, “Foreign policy experts generally agree that Pelosi’s dealings with Middle East leaders have not strayed far, if at all, from those typical for a congressional trip.”

One source of confusion for critics is the very nature of U.S. relations with Damascus. These are far more “normal” than the White House usually lets on. The United States has long-standing diplomatic relations with Syria, and the two nations have direct diplomatic contact daily. Although there is no U.S. ambassador resident in Damascus, we have an embassy there run by a senior-level diplomat. Similarly, the Syrians have an embassy in Washington, with an ambassador who is highly visible in most of the U.S. media.

The administration’s static approach has not altered Syrian behavior one iota. Five Republican congressmen have visited Assad this week. A growing number of Republicans and Democrats share the speaker’s misgivings about the White House’s ineffectiveness in the region. Like Speaker Pelosi and myself, they are convinced that direct communication with Syria’s leader cannot worsen Syrian behavior. Rather, over time, it may just lead to improvement.

Tom Lantos is a Democratic congressman from California and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

The Horses Mouth  has more from Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson.

The attacks from the right wing lack not only substance but also lack originality. The same right wing bloggers who are so upset about Nancy Pelosi traveling to Syria were attacking John Kerry for his middle east trip a few months ago. The authoritarian right simply does not believe that any branch of government has a right to do much of anything unless it is firmly under their control.

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