Saturday, November 13, 2010

Why Do Politics Stop at the Water's Edge?

The latest scandal burbling out of Washington involves a meeting between House Minority Whip (soon to be Majority Leader) Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) and Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu wherein Rep. Cantor promised to serve as a "check" on the Obama Administration's policies regarding Israel and the Middle East.

The main objection to this is that "politics stop at the water's edge", and that when it comes to foreign policy, America speaks with one voice emanating from the executive branch. Certainly, there is plenty of precedent for this belief, one aggressively trumpeted by Republicans during the Bush administration. And I suppose there is something to it -- constitutionally, control over foreign policy is delegated largely to the executive branch, and there is something deeply unseemly about an American politician tells a foreign leader that he will take his side in a clash between that county's desires and America's.

That being said, there seems to be a fiction being enacted here, which is that there are no substantive political disputes about what American interests are or what American foreign policy should be. There are no inherent American interests, only competing conceptions of what America should be interested in. And nobody is really surprised that Rep. Cantor and President Obama disagree on the question. So why shouldn't Rep. Cantor use what leverage is constitutionally delegated to the House of Representatives to try and enact his favor cluster of foreign policy priorities?

Now therein lies the rub for me: I find Rep. Cantor's intervention substantively distasteful, as I think his policy prescriptions are worse for America, worse for Palestinians, and ultimately worse for Israelis. So for that reason, I oppose what he did -- the same as I would oppose a Cantor meeting with the Chamber of Commerce where he pledged to serve as a "check" on the Obama Administration's efforts to regulate the financial industry. But the belief that domestic politics represent something fundamentally different from foreign policy -- the former a subject of legitimate democratic constestation, the latter beyond the bounds of ideological debate -- strikes me as near-entirely fictional.


N. Friedman said...

You claim that "constitutionally, control over foreign policy is delegated largely to the executive branch." My Constitution says no such thing. Policy (e.g. declaring war) is made, at least in part, by Congress, in my copy. The President is charged, in my copy, with commanding the military but he does not set policy to the complete exclusion of Congress.

The problem here is that Obama has adopted a delusional policy - if you assume he is actually trying to settle the dispute. As you surely know, it was pointed out by more than one scholar, from day one of his Israel policy, that demanding a freeze from the Israelis would complicate efforts to negotiate a settlement by making it a precondition for speaking.

Perhaps, Obama knew that by demanding settlement freezes that the Israelis would not agree to, he would dispense with the need to have negotiations at all. And, perhaps, he had the Machiavellian idea of creating an impasse that would solve the problem of the negotiations leading nowhere, which essentially all involved know is where negotiations would go just now. And, perhaps, the ideas was to seem to be doing something, not to help the Palestinians or Israelis, but, instead, to be able to be credited by the Arabs and Europeans for seeming to side with them. Nah. That is beyond Obama's ability, to judge from his total failure in nearly every part of his foreign policy.

While I do not like the country to speak with more than one voice, Obama's policy is so contrary to the country's interest that, frankly, having Congress act as a check - which is proper under the Constitution - is a necessity.

N. Friedman said...

So that my point is clear, I should have said that, under our system, the primary party to make policy is Congress, not the President.

PG said...

With regard to the President, the Constitution says: "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 ... he shall receive Ambassadors and other public Ministers." These are put in Article II, the section about the executive.

Article I's foreign policy references are with regard to Congress: "To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations... To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offenses against the Law of Nations; To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water." With regard to the states: "No State shall, without the Consent of Congress, lay any duty of Tonnage, keep Troops, or Ships of War in time of Peace, enter into any Agreement or Compact with another State, or with a foreign Power, or engage in War, unless actually invaded, or in such imminent Danger as will not admit of delay."

Cantor isn't even a member of the Senate; he's in the House.

N. Friedman said...

Fair enough, PG.

Bruce said...

Cantor's behavior does not rise to a constitutional breach; it's a matter of form, of protocol, of tradition that has evolved and been accepted--although perhaps in a way this particular "scandal" of the day is exacerbated by our growing de facto acceptance of a more imperial presidency on matters pertaining to foreign affairs. Cantor made a sloppy, boneheaded move, and it is appropriate to call him to the carpet. He has acted irresponsibly, and that is not to say that Congress has no voice under the Constitution concerning our relations with foreign states..

PG said...

What Bruce said. It's silly to make a constitutional complaint, but it's entirely valid to make not only a policy one (as David would) but also critique Cantor's practical wisdom. I doubt that those currently cheering Cantor (for substantive policy) would be similarly delighted if Keith Ellison promised Pakistan's leaders that he would serve as a "check" on the Obama Administration's policies in South Asia. Such an action certainly would bother me.

N. Friedman said...


I am not cheering for Cantor. I am, however, disgusted with Obama the narrow minded ideologue.

Anonymous said...


Pres. Lincoln stated: "I believe the Bible is the best gift God has ever given to man." But several Bible verses are embarrassing to Pres. Obama:
Proverbs 19:10 (NIV): "It is not fitting for a fool to live in luxury - how much worse for a slave to rule over princes!"
Also Proverbs 30:22 (NIV) which says that the earth cannot bear up under "a servant who becomes king."
And Ecclesiastes 5:2-3 (KJV) advises: "let thy words be few...a fool's voice is known by multitude of words."
Although Obama is not descended from slaves, he may feel that he's destined to become a black-slavery avenger.
Or maybe an enslaver of all free citizens!
For some stunning info on Pres. Obama and his fellow subversives, Google "Michelle Obama's Allah-day," "Obama Supports Public Depravity," "David Letterman's Hate Etc.," "Un-Americans Fight Franklin Graham" and also "Sandra Bernhard, Larry David, Kathy Griffin, Bill Maher, Sarah Silverman."
PS - Since Christians are commanded to ask God to send severe judgment on persons who commit and support the worst forms of evil (see I Cor. 5 and note "taken away"), Christians everywhere should constantly pray that the Lord will soon "take away" or at least overthrow all US leaders, including Obama, who continue to sear their conscience and arrogantly trample the God-given rights of the majority including the rights of the unborn. Do we need a second American Revolution?
PPS - For a rare look at a 180-year-old, imported-from-British-crazies endtime escapist belief which has long neutralized millions by promising them an "imminent rapture" off earth - which has diverted them away from being prepared to stand against all enemies, domestic as well as foreign - Google "Pretrib Rapture Dishonesty" and "Pretrib Rapture - Hidden Facts."

[spotted web item above. Ted]