It’s been many years since I sat in Professor Jim McCormick’s political science classes at Iowa State. It’s been years since I’ve sat in Professor Burns Weston’s classes on international law at the University of Iowa.
But I haven’t forgotten their observations about foreign affairs. The performance of US foreign affairs is a complex dance between the President and Congress. The Constitution divides authority, and for good reason. Our Founders wanted the will of the people to be weighed (Congress), but also wanted a strong leader for times of international crisis (President).
This week gave me a reminder of how complex that dance can be, and how sometimes either party to this routine can make errant steps.
First, there’s a wealth of observations this week about President Obama’s handling of the chemical weapons attacks in Syria. A couple of my favorites are here and here. At first the President wanted to go it alone, then resorted to briefing and requesting congressional authorization for a use of force, and now is hoping for an international diplomatic solution. Whatever the outcome will be in the coming days and weeks, he’s run the gamut on this one. Time will tell if it’s been a good decision making process or a poor one. I will just posit that this process has been noticed by other world leaders, and they will act differently toward the US in the future.
On to my congressional observations. This week we saw Congressmen King (R-IA) and Gohmert (R-TX) accompany Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) to Egypt. My first thought was that I had missed the last 10 months, and that Michelle Bachmann had indeed been elected President. I searched in vain for an objective link to a story about the visit. I will just post the YouTube link here, and you can watch for yourself.
In case you don’t watch it, the Cliff Notes version is this: Congresswoman Bachmann thanks the military junta leaders for overthrowing an elected government and for cracking down on the “evil common enemy of the Muslim Brotherhood.”
I think their appearance was probably not the best dance step I’ve seen from these Members of Congress. If you’ve been following the news lately, the military government of Egypt hasn’t exactly been the shining star of democracy, openness, or tact. Clearing demonstrators out with live bullets and killing several hundred, suicide bombings and political retributions may not be the things these Members want to stand up and support.
But they aren’t the first Members of Congress to go wading in deep international waters, and they likely won’t be the last. As soon as I saw the media and left wing backlash to their appearance, I remembered this great instance in congressional foreign policy making:
Yes, that’s current Secretary of State John Kerry, then a US Senator, alongside Iowa’s own Tom Harkin, meeting with Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua in 1985. This trip, as has been reported on widely, was proxy foreign affairs being waged with a foreign leader waging a proxy war with the US. Ortega is the once and current leader of Nicaragua. He was closely aligned with Russia, Venezuela, and now Iran. Ortega has maintained a pretty healthy anti-American stance over the years. His record on human rights, property rights, and personal property have been abysmal, to say the least. I’m not sure either Senator Harkin or Secretary of State Kerry wants to stand up in defense of that, either.
My personal opinion, for what it matters? I like strong, clear minded Executives leading our foreign affairs. When he, and someday she, makes a misstep on foreign affairs, the American people will hopefully hold him/her accountable.
I also respect circumspect Members of Congress who follow international affairs closely and work in concert with the Executive to advance our national security. And when they make mistakes and overstep their boundaries, I also hope the voters in their districts hold them accountable.
Yes, I know I’ll be disappointed. As with the debacle of Benghazi, I have been and will be disappointed in accountability.
But a guy has to hold on to some shred of idealism, right?